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We noted in our prior post that underlying the cryptocurrency called “bitcoin” is what, in the long run, may be the more important element at play here: the blockchain.  Our prior post quotes The Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims’ fine explanation of the concept.  Now we’ll look at some important applications of blockchain technology.

In logistics, Walmart already uses a blockchain to list for sale over a million items, including chicken and almond milk, that provides its supply chain with traceability all the way forward and backward from source to sale.

Global shipper Maersk uses IBM’s blockchain technology to track shipping containers and move them through customs faster.

Both efforts are expanding rapidly, and other companies cited by Mims include Kroger, Nestle,Tyson Foods and Unilever.

A company called Everledger was started in 2014 with the intent of creating a blockchain that traces every certified diamond in the world.  It already has over 2 million diamonds in its registry, and adds another million or so per year.  Everledger records 40 measures of each stone, lending it traceability “from when it’s pulled from the earth to the day it’s purchased by a consumer.”  Every participant in that chain from miner to retailer maintains a node with a copy of the database in the blockchain.

A company in Israel puts internet-connected sensors on pallets and uses business intelligence analytics to determine when and where items could be damaged.  Blockchain participants can record every stage of the package’s journey via package, pallet and shipping container.

Even whole countries are adopting blockchain.  Dubai intends to be “the first blockchain powered government in the world by 2020.”  By moving its central record of all real estate transactions onto a blockchain, it will be faster and easier to transfer property titles, for example.

As blockchain technology becomes more widely accepted and integrated into supply chains, it has the potential, as Mims notes, to be a “fundamental enabling technology,” similar to how new data transmission standards across networks made the internet we know today possible.  It could one day underlie everything from “how we vote to whom we connect with online to what we buy.”

That being said, it’s wise to recognize that the current bitcoin craze is merely one application of the blockchain technology.  Clearly, much more will be, and is, possible through blockchain.  Bitcoin may — or may not — be here to stay; but blockchain seems to have all the merits and rapid adoption of a technological foundation that could change the way businesses run.

 

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With all the hype surrounding bitcoin these days making it sound more and more like a modern-day equivalent of the 17th century tulip bulb mania, it’s important to remember that there actually is something important going on here.  And it’s not about the bitcoin.  It’s about the underlying technology for bitcoin – the blockchain.

Investment manias may come and go, and bitcoin will likely make some folks rich (it already has for those who bought bitcoin at the start of 2017 at $963 and watched its price soar to nearly $20,000 by year-end; it’s since fallen back to around $8,300 as of this writing), and likely leave some ‘greater fools’ broke a little further down the line.  After all, bitcoin has no intrinsic value, it’s not based economically on anything, and its essential value is merely the result of what some other person is willing to pay for it.  As a currency proxy, it has a ways to go.

But the blockchain that bitcoin is built upon – that’s another thing.  And a recent article by Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal provides some of the best explanation we’ve seen for why it matters.

What is a blockchain?  As Mims explains:

“It’s essentially a secure database, or ledger, spread across multiple computers.  Everyone has the same record of all transactions, so tampering with one instance of it is pointless.”

He goes on to explain that the underlying cryptography…

“…allows agents to securely interact – transfer assets, for example – while guaranteeing that once a transaction has been made the blockchain remains at immutable record of it.”

Blockchain has the power to transform industries for three reasons, notes Mims.

First, it’s well-suited to transactions that require trust and a permanent record.

Second, blockchain requires the cooperation of many different third parties.

And third is… the hype.  “The excitement around cryptocurrency gives blockchain the visibility to attract developers and encourage adoption.”  In this way, blockchain resembles the cloud, which also gave many industries “new business processes, disruptive startups and new divisions within existing companies, an ecosystem of supporting technologies, and new ways to charge for services.”

We’ll take a look at some of that disruption in our concluding post, so stay tuned.

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