Discussions around blockchain technology are often overshadowed by focussing on its application as an enabler of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. While the Crypto Crash of 2018 may have made people wary of the financial applications of blockchain, the truth is that as a technology it has many more applications, and often more relevant ones for a business like us. Cryptocurrencies will come and go but the blockchain is radically changing the digital landscape by enabling a level of trust we haven’t seen before in this space. That’s what I want to discuss in this article, along with the way in which this security enables people to create new networks around projects and causes.
At its core, blockchain technology is simply a way of creating completely secure networks, where each link in the chain continually verifies what came before it. Take note that this all happens without the need to refer back to a central authority, therefore the networks are independent, quick, and don’t leave gaps where fraudulent links can be created. It’s this quality that cryptocurrencies use to provide security to their offerings, but it’s only one application for the technology.
One of the key spaces where blockchain is projected to go into over the next few years is the Internet of Things. As this network of smart devices grows, the need for it to become secure does too, and blockchain allows for the creation of networks that are both scalable and secure. There are a range of software tools now available from big vendors (including the Amazon solutions we use at Swipe iX), which makes it easier to custom-develop blockchain enabled solutions without needing to develop an entire system itself from scratch.
An incredible example of blockchain-like technology being used to revolutionise whole systems can be seen in the country of Estonia. It’s often described as the world’s first fully digital society and leads the European digitisation effort. Almost all civic- and social services are run digitally, whether you’re paying taxes, seeking healthcare or opening a business. This means a wealth of information needs to be both digitised and shared, and the country uses its own proprietary analogue of blockchain called X-Road to make this happen. This allows different institutions to store and share data without the need for a central registry, giving citizens the ability to grant access to their information wherever they need it.
We’re closely monitoring applications of blockchain technology that are being used to streamline business in more practical ways too. There are a number of projects, for example looking to secure supply chains and logistics using the technology. This is a relatively simple application, focussing on goods rather than people or financial assets, but one that can make a big difference in the commercial space. It ensures that goods get to where they go for a start, but also that they are verified at each step of the process so that any issues in the supply chain can be dealt with as they occur.
Blockchain can also do more than just ensure that assets are tracked and recorded as they’re moved. Large companies including Walmart and Nestle are using blockchain to record the individual sources of their products so that any issues can be traced directly and efficiently back to the source. This use is also increasingly important as consumers are demanding more transparency in their value chains – ensuring that they’re not supporting bad business practices through what they buy. De Beers has tapped into this kind of sentiment through their diamond verification process Tracr, giving customers the certainty that what they’re purchasing is not only the genuine article but also cruelty and conflict free.
With blockchain tools becoming more accessible we’ll definitely be looking at ways to implement it further in our projects. South Africa scores relatively low on trust indices globally and as a technology it allows us to build in increased levels of security in solutions to go some way to mitigate this. For us it also gets exciting in its ability to create networks of trust outside of established institutions like banks. This means we’re able to create solutions that are more agile and responsive to meet the needs of our clients and context. Get in touch if you’d like to find out more about how we’re using these technologies in our work, and how we could come on board to create a smart system for your project.