By Colt Furnald and Donncha Carroll

What is blockhain and why should I care?

While Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies may be its most well-known application, the revolutionary technology known as blockchain is disrupting industries from medicine to agriculture.  This new platform is generating a significant amount of interest because it provides a secure and unalterable method for recording data and processing transactions.

It does this through a distributed ledger that decentralizes information management so that data stored on such a network is immutable, which means the data is impossible to change or modify ex-post.  As a result, every transaction becomes a transparent and permanent record that can be viewed by users of the network at any time.  This may not sound like much but the versatility the blockchain provides opens the door for powerful business solutions that can be developed for almost any industry.

The questions you need to ask are: how will the blockchain affect my industry, and how can I prepare to defend against disruption or use the technology to give me a competitive advantage?

For additional industry detail, please click the graphic below or visit here.

Will it affect my industry?

In the legal industry smart contracts are changing how assets are transferred between parties.  Using the Ethereum network, the second largest blockchain behind Bitcoin, a smart contract can now be written to specify the type, quantity, or timeliness of information that must be provided for the contract to be executed.  In the future, services like escrow will become automatic as contract logic is encoded in these contracts eliminating the need for a third party.  Conditional transfers of funds will be automatically executed and in seconds for nearly free, rather than take days and require the intervention of banks, lawyers, and wire transfer fees.

In the healthcare industry patient data will be cryptographically secured in the blockchain.  Between 2009 and 2016 more than 5.8 million patients had their medical records accessed and compromised by unauthorized external parties.  Hospitals can protect this data from would-be thieves while simultaneously making the information available to authorized parties.  This means the data can be used safely for medical research within and across institutions while protecting patient identities and other sensitive information.

In industries where the security and quality of the supply chain are paramount, a next generation blockchain called IOTA will be used to track product location, environmental conditions, physical damage to the product, and time in transit.  This is done in real time so that management can monitor the product, and then intervene quickly before a small problem turns into a catastrophe.  Imagine the added value created for a supplier of organic food, who can document the exact chemistry of their product, the ambient temperature of storage, and the amount of time spent in transit, and then report this information on a public ledger for any of their customers to see and verify.  Or for a pharmaceutical company manufacturing a temperature-sensitive product like insulin.

These capabilities will initially serve as significant points of differentiation for a business, but as the technology matures, this will become part of normal operations and be reflected in customer expectations.  Let’s talk about how you can prepare for a future with blockchain.

How can I prepare?

To thrive in a world where blockchain technology is changing how we collect, share, store, and utilize data, your business will need to adapt.  Staying up to date on the latest developments is a must, but there are 3 things you should be doing now to position your business for long-term success.

  1. Identify how blockchain technology will disrupt your business: Determine how the blockchain can be used to change how your customer or product data is recorded and managed in a way that delivers increased value to customers.  This will impact your organization design, resource requirements, and the types of capabilities you need to build for the future.  Use that knowledge to change how you operate and provide a key point of differentiation from your competition.
  2. Develop an action plan and solutions roadmap:  Identifying and understanding the ways in which your business could change isn’t enough.  Each industry will experience the impact of blockchain innovation in different ways but identifying where it will have a material impact on operating models, customer or employee value propositions, or go-to-market strategies will be critical.  Your business will need to develop a plan and prioritize actions based on where your business or workforce will experience the greatest amount of change.
  3. Build, Buy or Partner:  For those highest priority areas, identify and contract with technical expertise to begin building and testing prototypes that address each area of opportunity.  Leverage agile development practices to quickly iterate on these new models, incorporating important stakeholder feedback and customer input to rapidly commercialize or implement these solutions.

The first industrial revolution brought us steam powered engines.  The second gave us the assembly line and electrical power.  The third revolution gave us computers, electronics, and automation.  By most measures we are on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution bringing us AI, nanotechnology, quantum computing and yes, blockchain.  By taking steps today to identify how this revolutionary technology will disrupt your business, your organization will be prepared to navigate these waters and capitalize on disruption rather than fall victim to it.


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