Phil Gomes likes to tell the story of the supply chain manager at one very large retailer who plunked a box of mangoes on the table in front of his staff and challenged them to determine if the fruit had been sustainably sourced. It took the team a month to arrive at an answer, says Gomes, who is senior vice president at the Edelman public relations firm and director of communications at the Chicago Blockchain Center.
Had his team been using blockchain, they would have had the answer in a couple of minutes.
Blockchain trends indicate that this is the year the secure distributed ledger will come into its own. Blockchain is best known as the technology underlying bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that has been the focus of a recent speculative explosion. But blockchain’s uses go far beyond buying things. It creates a single, immutable record of all transactions in a sequence that all parties can see. The more complex the sequence (and the more intermediaries involved), the better the fit for blockchain. This will be the year that applications come out of pilot testing and go mainstream.
This is happening right now in New York, where the Staten Island Multiple Listing Service is using blockchain to enable sellers, buyers and real estate agents to bid on properties, negotiate contracts and manage legal documents with full transparency and a verified audit trail. Using a platform from blockchain startup ShelterZoom, buyers can place offers online and close deals in a fraction of the time that’s usually required — and with less paperwork and administrative overhead.
Another startup, ShipChain, aims to disrupt the $8 trillion freight and logistics market. Its blockchain-based platform enables all parties involved in moving goods from source to doorstep to see the exact status of those products at every stage in the process. Meanwhile, Health Wizz is tackling the problem of disaggregated health care records by enabling patients to maintain, secure and share their complete medical histories via a blockchain-enabled mobile app.
Among the blockchain trends that are already redefining industries is the quiet revolution in venture capital. Initial coin offerings (ICOs), which are a type of crowdfunding that enables startups to sell stakes in their businesses directly to individual investors, took off in 2017. Unlike venture capital investments, which often take years to pay off, ICOs enable investors to buy and sell their shares freely. It also enables them to buy into individual projects and products. ICOs were virtually unheard of two years ago, but as reported by CNBC, in 2017 they surpassed early-stage venture capital funding as a source of capital for startups.
The blockchain revolution won’t be noisy and chaotic like the dot-com frenzy of nearly two decades ago. Rather, it will be fueled by practical applications in areas like real estate, law, records management, logistics and finance. In short, any industry that is characterized by complexity, high overhead and vulnerability to manipulation will look seriously at a technology that promises simplicity, accuracy and auditability.