No matter which domain you belong to, you’ve surely heard of Blockchain. It was originally a concept designed to work with Bitcoin – a famous cryptocurrency. But since then, Blockchain has evolved into a phenomenon and got everybody intrigued. But, even if you know what exactly Blockchain is, there’s still one question: What role is there for Blockchain to play in the enterprise?To answer that question, we need to understand the working of Blockchain, but before that, we need to talk a bit about hash trees. Hash trees are data structures that are based on data encryption. These are essential in maintaining data integrity in a P2P network during data transfer. Hash functions gave rise to hash strings, which then were fixed at a particular length and decrypted at the destination to ensure safe data transfer.
Blockchain is a distributed and decentralized network of nodes, and every valid transition is added to the Blockchain ledger as a block. This ledger is available to every node on the network, thereby reducing chances of ambiguity.
How does blockchain work?
The Blockchain is automatically reconciled and the data is not stored at one centralized place. Instead, it is distributed across numerous computers spread across the globe. Because of this, there is no master or centralized version of data that can be forged, which provides enhanced security and transparency. Every transaction taking place can be verified from the source to the destination by all the nodes on the Blockchain network. If the transaction is valid, it is saved in a block on a ledger. These ledgers are immutable and therefore it’s not possible to forge or counterfeit any transaction.
The Google Docs analogy
One of the best ways to understand Blockchain is by using a Google Docs analogy. Like with a Google Docs document, both parties have access to the same document at the same time and a single version of that document is always visible to both of them. It is like a shared ledger, but is a shared document. The distributed part comes into play when sharing involves more than two people.
The way we share our data today does not allow more than one user to make changes to it at any point of time. The data is completely locked off for other users when one of the users is manipulating the data. The reason why this is done is to maintain integrity of the data. Even banks use the same technique while dealing with money in people’s account – therefore the balance is decreased before the transaction is complete. But, with Blockchain’s distributed ledger, quite like Google Docs, the transaction can easily be traced back and it can accommodate multiple people working on the same document/ledger.
One of the clear benefits of this approach is the added layer of security it provides.
Today, every platform that we use has a username/password system that is in place to protect our online assets. However, that is extremely imperfect and impractical, to say the least. To curb this, Blockchain uses the concept of encryption. Each user in the Blockchain has a unique pair of keys – which are known as public and private keys. The public key is a string of characters that helps identify users on a Blockchain network, whereas the private key is a secret key. A private key, in combination with public key, helps make a unique and independent signature for every user. Using these signature, the transactions are seamlessly validated and traced. This makes the data stored in Blockchain network incorruptible. Because data is not centralized, every participating node has access to the data, thereby providing transparency.
The Blockchain Hype
But, what exactly is the role of Blockchain in the enterprise?
Blockchain, as a technology, has gained amazing momentum in recent years and is an attractive tool for businesses around the globe. The concept of Blockchain can be successfully applied to numerous use cases – from financial services to retail to healthcare and more. A lot of big companies are trying their hands on Blockchain, including many of the Fortune 500 companies who are working on POC and pilots based on Blockchain technology to make their security tighter and their operations more efficient.
Blockchain use cases
Now, moving to the main theme of today’s discussion: a look at some of the real-world use cases of Blockchain and the various applications of Blockchain that can help revolutionize industries. Blockchain-based solutions, products, and projects have raised more than decent capital in recent years and with time, new use cases that span private and public sectors alike, are coming into the picture.
Let’s look at some of the most compelling use cases of Blockchain.
Supply Chain Firms
There has been one legacy challenge that firms dealing with Supply Chain have been facing. A severe lack of transparency between the suppliers haunts the Supply Chain industries today, and hence, increasing accountability for all the middlemen is a priority. Using Blockchain’s distributed ledgers, this issue can be seamless tackled.
Blockchain allows multiple people to access the same database, thereby increasing the transparency. Further, these ledgers are immutable and all the valid transactions are appended with a relevant timestamp which helps in future auditing and reduces counterfeits and thefts. This particular use case can help improve regulatory compliance, reduce paperwork, and significantly cut costs. IBM has recently released its Blockchain-based product known as Food Trust which helps implement this case.
Before this, IBM was in a partnership with Walmart to help track the journey of food items from supplier to the shelf. Blockchain can also help customers in finding out whether or not their product is genuinely genuine. Such a ledger system can also help pharma companies keep track of medicines and reduce the risk of counterfeits.
Digital Identity Protection
Identity theft has become an extremely common thing today, and somehow, all the improvements in digital security haven’t been able to provide a definitive solution to this ever-relevant problem. Using Blockchain’s immutable ledgers, users can store all their personal data securely. Because it uses a decentralized network, the data on Blockchain is not vulnerable to hacking. Further, a user ID can help users access their data without any hassles.
Civic’s Secure Identity Platform provides users with an authentication void of username and passwords. Verifiable ID is then created by making users go through various identity checks. This ID can then be used by governments or banks to review the user’s information is kept encrypted. Furthermore, this ID can also collect a user’s social media credential and even medical records, and store all that information securely, and this can help in stopping companies that monetize people’s data.
Enhanced Predictive Analysis
The Blockchain ledgers that store all the transaction data can help extract huge amount of data, and therefore insights. Blockchain-based AI can predict better, faster, and in a more accurate manner. One of the use cases of this is Endor, a Blockchain-based AI that uses NLP to answer questions in real-time. Using this tool, businesses are able to make use of Blockchain data in their projects, without any hassle.
As of today, people’s medical history and records aren’t properly documented – despite so much technological happen. The data sits on legacy silos, which is a source of major restriction when it comes to sharing data in real-time. Using Blockchain, the entire medical history of an individual can be stored safely on distributed ledgers. In doing so, the data will be made easily accessible whenever needed. Different stakeholders and participants can have conditional access to this ledger.
Blockchain also help keep an audit train on an individual’s medical history using timestamp. Further, users will also be able to monetize their medical data for research purposes. One of the startups working with Blockchain in healthcare is Medicalchain. While it’s yet to pilot, it uses the technology to record an individual’s entire health records. This information can then be provided to pharmacists, doctors, and health insurers. Blockchain also enables recording all these transactions to give users complete control over their data.
Blockchain provides a compelling solution for the energy market as well. By using a ledger to record people’s utility, Blockchain has data that can help people deal with energy like any other commodity. As of now, large corporations have the monopoly on energy and they sell at fixed prices, but with the implementation of this, the energy market will be forced to follow supply and demand.
The intelligent metering of electricity will put the users in the position of consumers as well as producers, which will surely reduce costs significantly. Power Ledger is an Australian startup that uses Blockchain-based ledger to track the usage of energy and help users trade energy without being reliant on a centralized grid. The aim is to provide more resilience to the energy market.
Real-estate is surely one of the domains that deals with many frauds. Here’s where a Blockchain-based solution can help – by using ledgers, the record keeping will be much more efficient, and reduce the chances of fraud. Such a solution will also lessen paperwork and help reduce manual labor. This use case has been adopted quite widely in recent years. Countries are joining in and tying up with Blockchain-based startups to implement such a solution. Most recently, China, India, Sweden, and several other countries have shown serious interest in this technology.
The future of blockchain
Blockchain technology has the potential to transform most of the operations as we know them. Currently, one of the major challenges stopping us from achieving that is this tech’s immaturity. However, increasing investments and R&D in this technology hint towards a brighter future. It’s definitely not an easy road, as many companies, especially traditional ones, can initially be reluctant in implementing Blockchain. But in any case, as more research happens around this, it’s sure that Blockchain will slowly but surely transform the enterprise as we know it.
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