By now we are all familiar with the term cryptocurrency or Bitcoin–digital or virtual currency designed to work as a medium of exchange. The blockchain is merely an append-only transaction ledger. Only new information can be written onto the leger. Previous information is stored in blocks and cannot be edited or adjusted. Cryptography links the contents of the newly formed blocks with each block before it. Any changes to the contents of the previous blocks would invalidate the data in every block thereafter. In short, blockchain is the underlying technology that allows cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin to exist. Don’t be confused, blockchain is not Bitcoin, it is just a way of keep track of things, and not just money.
Consensus-driven, blockchains reduce the ability for cybercriminals to digitally partake in crimes. For example, multiple computers are connected to a network. Everyone adding to the blockchain must compete to solve a mathematical proof. The results are shared with each computer on the network. Everyone connected must agree on the solution (hence the term consensus).
Over the course of one year, Google reported an increase of 250% in search requests for the keyword “blockchain”. Even the United States Senate is making mention of the blockchain phenomenon, dubbing cryptocurrency as its most prominent application. How does this affect businesses outside of the financial sector? For starters, its groundbreaking work in data management and exchange is taking different business sectors by storm, including healthcare.
Let’s take a look at how blockchain can solve many issues that currently plague the industry. For starters, heightened security and privacy: doctors and providers would have the ability to create a common health information database accessible no matter what electronic medical systems they use. In turn, time reduction for administrative tasks such as clinical trials, patient medical records, complex billing and medical research. They would have the ability to spend more time on patient care and increased sharing ability for drug and other disease treatment therapies.
Due to its flexibility, security, and distributed nature, other industries have taken notice and joined the digital wave.
Here are some ways that businesses can utilize blockchain:
There are two points along the supply chain route—where the item starts and where ends up. The middle is always unknown. Blockchain makes the whole transaction crystal clear. What, where, and when an item was shipped, how much it cost, who had it next, and who received it, all stored in the chain. Organizations can now leverage everything about their orders from A to Z, even environmental conditions during shipping. Food safety is another area that can benefit from blockchain. Walmart announced they are currently testing blockchain technology to track food from farm to store. This will help track down any problems that may arise as well as increase visibility on shipping conditions.
While not a new concept, self-executing contracts are considered more secure and accessible to businesses across the world through the use of blockchain. For example, when a homeowner rents out their house for the weekend, there is no need to hire a middleman to complete the transaction. A smart contract is executed, renter places payment into the blockchain, owner issues an electronic keycode to unlock the door of the property. On the agreed date and time both the payment and keycode are released. The same security reigns true for other contracts such as insurance or rental contracts.
Exchanging currency across international waters can be costly, lengthy and challenging. The structured and distributed nature of blockchain simplified payments more than ever before. Companies like Bitwage and Etch are making it possible to send payments internationally. Recently, American Express announced the launch of a real-time B2B international payment system, backed by blockchain technology.
Lastly, Information is key. We now have the ability to track our purchases from start to finish. Companies are forced to become more transparent and accountable in terms of releasing information and data privacy is heightened. Blockchain technology is definitely something this world was missing.