Blockchain isn’t just for cryptocurrencies anymore. As Open Source notes, most people associate blockchain with bitcoin, but the technology is far more than just a basis for cryptocurrency.
A blockchain is, as it says on the box, a series of blocks that form a chain. Within each of those blocks is data which is marked by a timestamp, and this data is kept on a number of different computers or locations making up the blockchain network. In order to cause the chain to change, at least half of the computers on the network must agree on the change. Thus, thanks to its use of consensus, it makes for a self-correcting, accurate system for the keeping of records. So how can we use this in our everyday business lives?
1. Records and Paperwork
As we noted before, a blockchain is a very accurate method of keeping information secure. Once something is added to the chain, it’s virtually impossible to inflict a change on that record in the future without that change being noted. IBM notes how useful blockchain can be in recordkeeping, but NGO’s aren’t the only companies realizing the usefulness of having immutable records. Companies that rely on logistics and shipping information stand to gain a lot through the elimination of clerical errors and the generation of fraud-proof records.
2. Quality Control & Supply Chain Management
As downstream providers like distribution stores and fast-food outlets know, quality control goes hand in hand with supply chain management. As USA Today mentions, the recent outbreak of E. coli in Romaine lettuce is a good example of how poor quality control can affect a large volume of the population.
For businesses, having a blockchain where food is inspected at each point of failure and marked safe can be a priceless feature. Dynamic use of IoT devices in combination with a blockchain can decrease the response time in dealing with a potential outbreak prior to distribution. The blockchain provides a useful balance where businesses within this field need it the most.
3. Ledgering and Transactions
The idea of blockchain (and by extension, cryptocurrency) stems from the idea that consensus across a wide range of individuals in a network can increase the security of the data within that network. In essence, blockchain is a distributed ledger – a record of all transactions that has taken place, ordered by time.
The fallback mechanism of consensus makes it a very useful tool for financial institutions that want to have a more secure method of recording the movement of financial instruments. For a business, this means that all transactions are recorded as they happen and any disputes that may be raised can be verified by the data on the network, which is tamper-proof. It provides peace of mind to both the business and the consumer, since data cannot be falsified by either party.
4. Data Storage Across Nodes
Decentralized data storage can be thought of as a more secure method of cloud storage. Whilst both cloud storage and decentralized storage can potentially mean continued uptime for the user, the data stores in a cloud account are owned by the user, but at the mercy of the cloud provider.
In the case of decentralized storage, such as a Bitcoin wallet, the data is stored on a distributed network, meaning that the user still has full access to his or her data, but they fully own that data. There is no need to worry if the owner of the cloud storage system is tampering with any data stored on it or if they would potentially remove the user’s account. The user owns the data and any access to that data is immediately updated on the blockchain. This level of security can be useful in companies that require a large pool of data storage that must also be accurate, like companies that deal with mutual funds or investments.
5. Smart Contracts
Currently, the idea of a middle man for financial transactions is a must. Usually this is an escrow company, or some other financial institution that holds payment until services or goods are delivered. The idea of a smart contract ties into blockchain because it utilizes the immutability of the blockchain in order to ensure that the contract as defined cannot be changed.
According to Raconteur, the growth of interest in smart contracts has been directly proportional to the growth of interest in blockchain. Smart contracts only have two possible states (filled or failed) and a deadline date by which the contract must be executed. If by that date the contract is not completed, it is marked as failed and the supplier will be liable to the compensation outlined within the contract.
The upside is that contracts cannot be tampered with after they have been agreed on, but this also means that flexible options can only exist with an addendum to the contract noted by both parties. Companies that require their goods and services delivered at a particular date and time would be the most suitable businesses to adopt this blockchain methodology.
The Future of Business?
While there are a number of other uses that can be attributed to the blockchain, it should be noted that there is still a lot to learn (and innovate upon) when it comes to this frontier technology. As more and more companies start adopting, researching and adding to the knowledge pool, we will begin to see more things we can apply the blockchain to. The only thing we know for sure is that now that we’ve discovered blockchain, it’s very hard not to see places where it can be applied to make business more efficient.