Blockchain has proven to be the larger value of cryptocurrencies, with implications for almost every industry. And some companies are already using the emerging ledger technology in everyday business operations.
An October 2017 report from CompTIA found that 16% of companies had purchased blockchain-enabled tools, while 22% were developing tools using blockchain. Another 24% said they were exploring the technology, while the majority—38%—said they had no current plans to do so, or were unsure of plans.
Early adopters are using blockchain for digital identity (51%), asset management and tracking (49%), regulatory compliance/auditing (49%), distributed storage (48%), smart contracts (45%), and cryptocurrency/payments (44%).
SEE: Quick glossary: Blockchain (Tech Pro Research)
However, the technology remains mysterious for many companies. Here are six blockchain use cases that companies are using right now.
New rules to ensure drug integrity from manufacturing to consumption could save up to a million lives each year. Life sciences and healthcare companies create unique serial numbers for units of medication and pieces of equipment, which are scanned, captured, and verified at their point of origin, according to Scott Allison, president of healthcare at logistics giant DHL.
Applied the right way, blockchain can take track-and-trace serialization to the next level, cutting costs, elevating security and trust, eliminating error-prone data movements and enabling real-time supply chain transparency. "Using blockchain, as each item moves through the supply chain, additional verified information is appended," Allison said. "These blocks of data cannot be tampered with and are collectively validated by all stakeholders. The result is an end-to-end system that is simpler and more secure than anything we have seen before. It is more private, more transparent and more efficient, with less risk and it meets and exceeds global serialization requirements."
DHL is working with Accenture to establish a blockchain-based track-and-trace serialization system in six areas worldwide. The system is now populated by more than 7 billion unique pharmaceutical serial numbers, and handling more than 1,500 transactions per second, according to DHL president of healthcare Scott Allison
CGS, an organization providing business applications, enterprise learning systems, and outsourcing services, is hearing from fashion, apparel, and consumer goods clients that they are looking at new ways for streamlining the supply chain through blockchain.
"From the supply chain perspective, blockchain can be an enabler of trust between trading partners as well as with consumers," said Ajay Chidrawar, vice president of global product management and customer success. "From the farm to the shelf, consumers can now see the full lifecycle of the garment with blockchain technology. Consumers are going from blind trust to a full understanding of the journey of that garment. With blockchain, sustainability and compliance of an item can be tracked on the raw materials and manufacturing processes."
SEE: IT leader's guide to the blockchain (Tech Pro Research)
3. Cross-border payments
Binkabi, a cross-border agricultural trading platform, is tapping a blockchain solution from Sweetbridge to develop a system for fair commodity trading in underdeveloped countries, where access to banking services and working capital is a problem.
IBM also recently announced a new blockchain banking solution that allows financial institutions to more quickly and cost effectively process payments across international borders.
4. Food safety
IBM is partnering with food suppliers including Dole, Nestlé, and Walmart to better regulate food safety using blockchain. In the global food supply chain industry, this means all growers, suppliers, processors, distributors, retailers, regulators, and consumers can gain permissioned access to information about the origin and state of food in their transactions. All members of the ecosystem can use the blockchain network to trace contaminated foods to their source in a short amount of time, to ensure they are quickly removed from store shelves.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is also using blockchain to better track seafood.
"Consumers are increasingly calling for fully-traceable seafood that does not come from illegal fisheries or those that engage in human rights abuses," said Bubba Cook, WWF Western Central Pacific Tuna Program manager. "Wholesale and retail seafood buyers are asking for improvements in transparency and traceability to reduce the risk of their brands being associated with dubious and illegal activities. Layered into the real-time information coming from other electronic technology platforms, blockchains can provide unprecedented supply chain transparency and traceability that retailers and consumers want."
5. Humanitarian crises
The United Nations (UN) is exploring how blockchain can be used internally and externally to address ongoing humanitarian issues, such as child trafficking, according to Mahrinah von Schlegel, executive director of the nonprofit Embassy2.0. The UN is currently using blockchain across 16 agencies, including the World Food Program (to help refugees purchase food with only an eye scan) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (to improve donor financing, securing and monitoring supply chains, and data protection).
Microsoft and Accenture also recently announced a partnership to use blockchain technology to provide a legal form of identification for 1.1 billion people worldwide as part of the global public-private partnership ID2020.
- What is blockchain? Understanding the technology and the revolution (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- Visa to test blockchain system for international money transfers (ZDNet)
- Blockchain: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
- Yes, Blockchain could reverse the course of civilization and upend the world's most powerful companies (ZDNet)
- What is blockchain? And 5 other questions your boss needs answered ASAP (TechRepublic)
Alison DeNisco Rayome has nothing to disclose. She does not hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.