Practical business uses for blockchain technology


Blockchain was created as the public transaction ledger for the bitcoin cryptocurrency, but blockchain technology also has a variety of practical applications in enterprise business process scenarios.

The beauty of blockchain is that virtually any type of data can be put into the distributed ledger. Each record or block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, along with a timestamp and the transaction data. So, for all practical purposes, blockchain information cannot be altered by anyone without invalidating it.

Blockchain can be useful to organizations in any situation where security, authentication, identity management, third-party access to internal data, or validation across boundaries is important.

It can be particularly valuable in scenarios where two companies might be cooperating in one domain but competing in others. The companies may need limited access to each other’s documents and systems, but each party wants to feel confident the other is only accessing areas they are allowed to access and not changing data they are not supposed to. Essentially, blockchain keeps everybody honest.

Here are examples of how blockchain technology can be applied:

  • Banking, real estate, law, insurance: Blockchain technology can certainly be compute intensive, so it’s not practical, at least at this point, to use blockchain every time someone makes an ATM withdrawal, but blockchain is well suited to situations involving contracts and approvals for documents like mortgages, insurance policies, legal agreements, etc.
  • Voting: In both corporate and public scenarios, the use of blockchain technology can provide all interested parties with a high level of trust in the outcome.
  • Supply chain management: Modern supply chains can be highly complex and entail giving third-parties access to parts of the enterprise network. With blockchain, all parties in a supply chain can reach consensus across organizational boundaries.
  • IT service management: We’re all familiar with the scenario in which something goes wrong with an enterprise network process and vendors and service providers involved start pointing fingers at each other. If the process is complex to begin with, it can become extremely difficult for the help desk to keep track of who has been contacted, what the responses have been, what has been agreed to, what the timelines are, and what the next step is. With a blockchain, all of the incident response activities are documented in chronological order and everyone can see who has assumed responsibility.

How to get started with blockchain

While blockchain technology has promise, it is still relatively immature, at least for everyday enterprise applications. Industry-wide standards for enterprise blockchain have not been agreed upon. And we don’t have packaged, vertical industry specific blockchain applications that companies can buy and simply plug into their networks.

Many companies are interested in pursuing the technology, but are not keen on getting into the weeds on issues such as permission-based vs. permission-less blockchain, cryptographic hashes, and block mining.

For organizations that don’t want to take the do-it-yourself approach, the first step would be partnering with a trusted third-party technology services provider, who can help identify specific business processes that would be good candidates for a blockchain pilot program, such as a ‘smart contract’ or a specific supply chain tracking issue.

Much like the early software-as-a-service (SaaS) environment, there’s an emerging blockchain-as-a-service (BaaS) market in which vendors are beginning to build out cloud-based blockchain platforms designed to provide blockchain solutions to enterprise customers. A trusted third-party can help organizations navigate this environment in order to connect with the BaaS vendor best suited to the specific needs and requirements of the business.

Thomas Trias is Chief Architect for the DXC ServiceNow practice.

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