Blockchain technology, which allows information to be distributed on a digital ledger that details previous transactions but which cannot be copied, was originally pioneered by the developer of Bitcoin. Since its introduction however, blockchain’s potential has been recognized by many outside the cryptocurrency arena and is being adopted across myriad industries.
Don Tapscott, Executive Director of the Blockchain Research Institute, explains that blockchain is a vast, global database that's open to anyone or anything. It's not just a repository of information but can be used to safeguard anything of value—money, titles, deeds, music, art, scientific discoveries, intellectual property, even election tallies. Cached material can be moved and stored securely and privately.
Tapscott believes it's the technology most likely to change the next decade of business and will have implications far beyond financial services:
“On the blockchain, trust is established not by powerful intermediaries like banks, governments and technology companies, but through mass collaboration and clever code. Blockchains ensure integrity and trust between strangers. They make it difficult to cheat.”
Though it's still a key platform for many cryptocurrencies, how are developers maximizing blockchain technology right now, outside of the digital token realm?
Earlier this month, Santander (NYSE:SAN), a Spain-based banking group that operates internationally, launched a blockchain-based foreign exchange service that uses the blockchain technology behind Ripple to enable cross-border payments. This service, called Santander One Pay FX, is currently live in Spain, the U.K., Brazil and Poland with a wider roll-out expected in the coming months.
Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell's (NYSE:RDSa) trading arm, Shell Trading, recently invested in London-based Applied Blockchain to develop solutions for the the energy market. Applied Blockchain's CEO Adi Ben-Ari says, “this includes streamlining process and simplifying the way business in done with suppliers and customers.”
Blockchain-based trade finance platform Batavia, which was founded by Swiss bank UBS (NASDAQ:UBSI) in partnership with IBM (NYSE:IBM), recently finalized its first live, cross-border transactions using the technology. According to Coindesk, the trades involved corporate clients and included car sales from Germany to Spain and raw textile materials supplied from Austria to customers in Spain.
Other notable uses of blockchain technology include one of the first international property transactions completed using a blockchain-based smart contract in September 2017. The buyer, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, purchased an apartment in Kiev for $60,000, using the real estate start-up service Propy, without ever setting foot in the Ukraine. Reports indicate the transaction took place via a smart contract on the Ethereum blockchain and was paid for via cryptocurrency.
Melanie Mohr, founder of YEAY, a Generation Z smartphone shopping app and creator of WOM singles out KODAKOne as yet another great example of blockchain’s potential to give individuals greater control of their own intellectual property. Developed by the once mighty, Rochester, New York-based imaging giant Eastman Kodak (NYSE:KODK), KODAKOne is expected to use Ethereum's blockchain technology to build a digital rights management platform for photographs that buyers can purchase usage rights to using KodakCoin cryptocurrency. Says Mohr:
“It [KODAKOne] enables blockchain-enabled copyright registration to ensure that photographers can always prove and transfer the ownership of their digital photos. This gives photographers the control to earn an income through their agreed licensing, which is transparently documented by a smart contract."
Healthcare is another sector where blockchain is beginning to change the landscape. Mohr notes that “Medicalchain” is using the technology to securely store health records. “It gives medical professionals, from doctors to pharmacists, a way to request and receive access to up-to-date patient records including medical histories and to check patient progress.” she says.
Even NASDAQ (NASDAQ:NDAQ), the world's second largest stock exchange by market cap is "all in" on the technology according to Johan Toll, NASDAQ's Head of Blockchain Product Management. The exchange is currently collaborating with Citigroup (NYSE:C) to develop "an integrated payment solution to trade securities internationally that combines Citi's commercial, multi-currency payments network with NASDAQ's blockchain technology."
As more and more industries figure out ways to integrate blockchain technology into the very core of their business models, the possibilities for competitive threat or advantage, as well as complete industry disruption of a variety of sectors, becomes ever more possible...and highly likely.
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