While bitcoin is causing a frenzy among currency speculators, there’s a lot more to blockchain technology.
With an eye to digital security, version control and permanency, many enterprises see value in harnessing blockchains to store, process and exchanging digital contracts, data, and documents. Transparency Market Research says the global blockchain market will reach $20 billion by the end of 2024, up from $316 million in 2015. These big numbers reflect blockchain’s growing impact across multiple industries. Here’s some examples:
UPS recently joined the ‘Blockchain in Trucking Alliance’. Linda Weakland, UPS director of enterprise architecture and innovation praised its "potential to increase transparency and efficiency among shippers, carriers, brokers, consumers, vendors and other supply chain stakeholders."
Blockchain-based systems certainly make land freight processes more efficient, and will do the same for shipping at sea. As part of an EU research project, IBM and Maersk recently shipped freight from Rotterdam to New Jersey using blockchain (and a boat, of course). Proponents see its potential to make existing processes more efficient, while also decreasing fraud and increasing security. In another EU research project, systems that tie vehicle mileage to a secure database proved highly effective in the prevention of odometer tampering, rife across Europe’s second-hand car market.
2. Air transport
Air New Zealand is now testing blockchain-based systems for several business applications, including booking, baggage tracking, and loyalty programs. One of the biggest names in air industry technology, SITA, recently tested FlightChain, a blockchain-based flight data system. Jim Peters, CTO, SITA, said: "Blockchain is a viable technology to provide a single source of truth for data for airlines and airports, specifically for real-time flight information."
Blockchain also has potential to provide digital efficiency to existing administrative processes. Dubai-based cargo carrier, Dnata is working with Emirates Innovation Lab, IBM and flydubai Cargo on a blockchain-based system to make existing paper-based cargo distribution processes more efficient.
3. Retail and hospitality
Once you get blockchain-based processes working across the freight and logistics industries it’s easy to identify how the tech may transform retail and hospitality. Not only does it make it easy to manage stock, but the potential to automate, verify, and monitor distribution and ordering systems should unlock new business efficiency. This is also good for customers who can look forward to being able to track items they purchase right back to where those items were produced. A great example of this emerged in the U.S. at Thanksgiving 2017, when agricultural conglomerate, Cargill, used blockchain to track turkeys back to the farm they were raised on. Customers could access this information using their smartphone.
Holiday booking companies have already adopted Bitcoin payment systems. Lockchain is developing a booking system that can be deployed in multiple bespoke scenarios: a developer could build a hotels in London app, for example. Tech-focused hospitality trade organization, HTNG, recently launched a new workgroup to identify where blockchain can be applied.
4. Government and policing
The UK Ministry of Justice is looking to develop a blockchain-based system to prevent evidence tampering. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is also researching use of blockchain. These are just some of the ways the technology is improving government, and underscores implications for the evolution of blockchain processes in smart city management. A recent change in the U.S. defence spending bill is likely to see more investment in this space, as it authorizes cost savings to be spent on such innovative technologies.
5. Farming and agriculture
From stock control to distribution, payments, ownership proof and more, blockchain has potential to improve agricultural business processes, a recent Australian blockchain test showed. CBH Group and AgriDigital used the tech to handle transactions in the domestic grain market. "Creating digital title and matching it to payment in an atomic transaction is significant for farmers and indeed all sellers," said AgriDigital founder, Emma Weston. One key advantage: farmers maintain ownership of their product until the moment they receive payment from the buyer, eliminating some of the risks of the trade.
Big food industry names are also paying attention. Nestle, Dole, and Tyson Foods are collaborating to identify how blockchain systems can deliver greater transparency and help meet food safety standards.
6. Conflict minerals
Everledger is using blockchain tech as a tool for asset management and tracking. It has created a bitcoin-based diamond registry to aid the fight against diamond theft and fraud. De Beers is using blockchain to differentiate legitimately sourced diamonds from those mined in conflict zones.
7. Health and education
The University of Melbourne is developing a secure student records system, based on blockchain. In the U.S., the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) want to use the tech to secure medical records.
8. Identity for the stateless
With an estimated two billion people lacking even basic birth ID, the World Identity Network and UN are developing a solution to help prevent child trafficking by documenting the existence of children who are currently not registered under any existing system.
There is also potential for blockchain-based systems to help bring new people into the existing financial system. BanQu uses blockchain to help refugees displaced to Kenya create financial identities, an essential first step toward accessing banking services.
All this activity means that there is little doubt in the inherent value of blockchain to transform multiple industries. Executives will have to heed Forrester’s warning that unknown software bugs and quantum computing may pose future security threats to these systems - criminals are already testing for weak spots in the tech as recent attacks on cryptocurrency exchanges show.
Read what our expert contributors have to say about Dubai’s ambitions to use blockchain to improve public services and other use cases of blockchain.
Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.