Bitcoin and blockchain. It’s still a mystery to many, including C-level corporate executives. And yet Bitcoin has come to its own, as a cryptocurrency, having closed on October 3, at a price of about $4300/coin. It has become a major disruptor of traditional financial institutions and financial transactions, despite naysayers like Jamie Dimon.
But it is not the bitcoin currency itself that is causing such a stir. It is the technology behind the transactions – blockchain. And it is this technology that is now capturing the attention of a variety of industries, not just financial.
Just What is Blockchain?
Consider that financial transactions in traditional banks are all housed in huge databases of ledgers. When a customer wishes to access his/her account online, he can see every transaction over a selected period of time and be given a real-time balance. This is a personal banking ledger and it is a part of the larger ledger databases that are reconciled overnight, every night.
Here is the issue: these ledgers can be altered, either by those who have digital permission to access them or, unfortunately, by hackers. They are therefore not unalterable, permanent records.
Blockchain technology was developed to make financial ledgers permanent and unalterable. Here is how that works:
All activity (e.g., a banking transaction) is entered as a part of a block of transactions over a specified period of time (e.g. ten minutes). These transactions are verified by multiple people, and the block of activity is then “hooked” to the previous block and to the block that follows it. Blocks are permanent and can never be altered once verified and entered. No one has permission to access and modify, and, if anyone did attempt to do so, the other verifiers would immediately know and shut that down.
The use of blockchain transactions is especially attractive to enterprises that wish to do business in countries in which financial institutions and currencies are unstable. Using a cryptocurrency and an unalterable ledger of financial transactions keeps such transactions safe and secure from corrupt governments as well.
Ethereum is another blockchain organization that began with a cryptocurrency of sorts (called an ether), and individuals can purchase Ethereum tokens just as they do Bitcoins. But these individuals or organizations can use ethers to conduct far more than just financial transactions, as is the case with Bitcoin.
Early Ethereum Blockchain Adopters Have “Shown the Way”
The UN has been an early adopter of Ethereum, with the following activities:
Getting financial aid to organizations in countries with unstable/corrupt governments and financial institutions.
Monitoring the actual activities of countries in climate change initiatives. Right now, there is discussion of using Ethereum blockchain to record the activities of all signers to the Paris Climate Change Accord, as well as the trading of carbon assets. Interestingly, IBM and a company called Energy Blockchain Lab are collaborating to use blockchain technology to record the carbon trading market in China.
Permanent record of people’s identities. More than a billion people are unregistered as citizens of any country. This means that they are not eligible for critical benefits of their home countries. The ID2020 Alliance is a new UN organization with a goal of providing everyone in the world a digital identity, using Ethereum blockchain. In fact, Microsoft and Accenture have already developed a prototype for doing just this.
Corporations are Coming On Board
The prospects of creating blockchains through Ethereum for a host of business activities is what is now attracting corporations to this organization. In addition to financial transactions, Ethereum has opened its technology to a host of organizations and corporations, and all sorts of activity can be permanently recorded on the back of Ethereum blockchain technology. Ethers can be purchased by corporations for the use of this technology.
Consider the following corporate uses of Ethereum blockchain technology:
All of a company’s financial records can be housed in unalterable blocks, not only for its own use but for “proof” if ever needed for tax or legal purposes
Personnel records and all personnel actions can be entered into blocks and never changed – a permanent record that can never be altered by anyone
Financial transactions between suppliers, wholesalers, and customers can be memorialized permanently
Contracts become permanently recorded and cannot be altered. And any agreed upon modifications to contracts can be entered in blocks of the chain as well.
Corporations that deal in Bitcoin can enjoy the collaborative effort between the two blockchain technologies as well as the use of Eidoo.io, a clearinghouse of sorts, which simplifies buying, transferring, and exchanging cryptocurrencies by both individuals and corporations.
Permanent, distributed public ledgers makes blockchain technology a “natural” for supply chain management. If a company has multiple suppliers from multiple states and countries, it is hard to keep track of them all, when orders were placed and fulfilled.
Smart contracts. These are a major part of the Ethereum technology. All parties have access to all terms, and, because the record is permanent, the contracts enforce themselves.
The potentials for blockchain technology are just now beginning to be understood by many more organizations and enterprises than just the financial industry. Already, education is being disrupted, by allowing a permanent irrefutable record of students’ coursework, especially when it comes from multiple institutions and some online. And, no matter what industry niche corporations are in, the use of blockchain can provide security, consistency, permanent records of every transaction and internal activity – records that are publicly available and that provide a transparency that has not previously been there.
Once business owners and C-level executives see the value of blockchain technology, and what it can do to streamline and provide transparency within their operations.