“Blockchain will profoundly impact the intersection of business and people by unleashing a new era of efficiency.”
The meteoric rise of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin thrust blockchain to the forefront of the daily news in late 2017, and its subsequent epic fall cast a new pall over a technology that was just beginning to overcome its early reputation as a perfect vehicle for swindlers, drug dealers and traffickers. While awareness of blockchain has increased markedly over the last few years, most organizations and people are still unable to grasp what this new technology will really mean to their businesses and lives.
Today, blockchain technology is about where the Internet was in the early 1990s. It’s an exciting and important technology, but one that is still in its fledgling stage. The truth is, similar to how people were trying to figure out the Internet in the early 1990s, no one really knows exactly how it will revolutionize economies and cultures. But we do know—much like the Internet in the early 1990s—that blockchain is going to be a game changer.
Blockchain: The Efficiency Revolution
Blockchain will profoundly impact the intersection of business and individuals by unleashing a new era of connectivity and efficiency. Because blockchain is secure, streamlined and can be both transparent and anonymous simultaneously, the technology will revolutionize operational processes by eliminating costly intermediaries. Suppose, for example, a VP of engineering in Beijing, China is being relocated—along with his wife and two daughters—to a new long-term position based in Perth, Australia. Historically, just finding and securing housing across borders has involved an overwhelming amount of paperwork, people and processes. Local real estate protocols are fraught with legacy registry systems, sprawling bureaucratic channels and intermediaries including brokers, title agents, title attorneys, notaries, escrow agents, land registry officials and bankers in both countries. These processes are bloated, expensive and susceptible to fraud. The streamlined transparency and security provided by blockchain technology will eradicate many of those wasteful and vulnerable practices.
Blockchain enhances efficiency not by collecting data, but by securely connecting data across a decentralized network of participating computers called nodes. Nodes store the blockchain’s data, follow the rules of the blockchain’s specific protocols and communicate with other nodes, which can be located anywhere. Each follows the same rules and maintains an identical copy of the network’s immutable data set. New information is added only when the nodes agree, and the change is distributed simultaneously to each node. To alter it, would-be hackers would not have to simply hack one node, but all (or most) of the individually protected nodes distributed throughout the world. By ensuring the data is simultaneously tied together and yet independent, anonymous and secure, blockchain ensures the integrity of the data network. This allows all participating parties to know that the shared data is valid, and no intermediaries are needed to confirm that a home buyer has enough money, or if the house has water damage, or if the title deed has been signed, notarized and delivered.
Blockchain In Growth Economies
Blockchain is gaining traction and disrupting growth economies at an increasing rate. Not only is it being touted as a possible solution to endemic and institutionalized corruption, but it is also gaining acceptance in important industries, especially financial services, healthcare and government.
Blockchain first gained traction in growth economies as the technology behind Bitcoin, the first digital currency. However, experts soon recognized that blockchain’s transparency and security features could significantly change the financial services industry—much as the Internet changed the media and entertainment industries 20 years ago. Banking institutions across the globe are adopting blockchain and advanced distributed ledger technologies for a wide range of functions, including trade settlements, payment processing and cross-border transactions. In fact, India recently launched India Trade Connect, a trade finance strategy that uses blockchain platforms to empower an unprecedented collaboration between IT juggernaut InfoSys and seven of the nation’s biggest banks.1 Modern blockchain technologies allow these financial entities to streamline trade finance systems and oversee international supply chain transactions at every step of the operation.
The global healthcare industry manages vast amounts of clinical and administrative data, from the pharmaceutical supply chain to patient medical records to claims management. The introduction of smart medical devices including everything from personal fitness trackers to connected surgical suites, is introducing an entirely new ecosystem of information to mine. The pool of data collected from healthcare-related devices is growing exponentially. Accurate, accessible data is critical to improving clinical outcomes and reducing waste, and blockchain’s immutability and ability to connect currently siloed information and serve as the “single source of truth” are key enablers. In South Korea, the healthcare industry has been very proactive in implementing blockchain to centralize patient information and marginalize the prevalence of counterfeit drugs through transparent supply chain management. Blockchain records of patients’ medical histories provide Korean hospitals and caregivers with a single, accurate record of a patient’s treatments, procedures and pharmaceutical needs.2
Governments in growth economies around the world are using blockchains for everything from property records and voting registries to driver’s licenses and financial histories. Its ability to provide a chronological and immutable digital record makes it ideal for transactions that impact populations and economies—from single individuals to entire industries. Blockchain increasingly allows governments in Africa to better organize records and services through improved identity management systems—which legitimizes processes key to successful societies, from collecting taxes to counting votes.3 For many growing nations, blockchain may soon offer the potential to leapfrog from antiquated and bloated operational processes, fraught with malfeasance, to streamlined, incorruptible systems that attract international investment and encourage entrepreneurship. Blockchain is gaining rapid acceptance with businesses and policymakers in part because the continent doesn’t have deeply entrenched incumbents or legacy systems that might resist this new technology in an effort to maintain their influence.
Blockchain: The Unknowns
When the Internet gained acceptance in the early 1990s we knew that the ways human beings communicated and interacted with information was about to experience extraordinary changes. We didn’t know, however, that it would lead to the rise of other revolutionary forces such as Google, peer-to-peer file sharing platforms like Napster, ubiquitous smartphone devices such as the iPhone, or the invention of social media channels like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. All cultural disruptors that continue to shape the world in significant ways, from unhealthy personal digital addictions to the influence of government-sponsored disinformation campaigns.
Blockchain promises similar benefits and risks. The impact it will have on growth economies, international commerce and human culture cannot be fully assessed or appreciated at this point. But its potential is real and pervasive in every region of the world. Businesses, CEOs and governments should adopt strategies that don’t necessarily mandate a call to action, but a call to awareness—an earnest effort to gain a sophisticated understanding of the technology and how it can create positive changes, or negative consequences, in a world that is still figuring out how the Internet of the 1990s has transformed the human condition.
To learn more about blockchain read Mercer Digital’s Blockchain 101 Overview.
1Infosys Finacle Pioneers Blockchain-based Trade Network in India in Consortium with Seven Leading Banks: Infosys Limited - https://www.infosys.com/newsroom/press-releases/Pages/pioneers-blockchain-based-trade-network.aspx
2Will Blockchain Transform Healthcare in South Korea: https://techwireasia.com/2018/06/will-blockchain-transform
3Why Africa’s Emerging Blockchain Movement Is Growing So: https://media.consensys.net/blockchain-month-in-africa-920945771100