Blockchain innovation: What's on the horizon?
It seems that many organizations are testing out the blockchain, but there are no killer apps as yet — unless you count bitcoin.
However, there are ever-increasing numbers of businesses and big banks developing a wide range of innovative tools for the blockchain. And there is always something innovative on the horizon.
Financial is the 800-pound gorilla
Looking at blockchain innovation, the first obvious segment is in the financial sphere. Joe Fernandez, communications lead at Lisk, said in an email to Blockchain Tech News that the greatest current tool in the blockchain is, "The ability to create automated smart contracts without the need of a middleman."
Deva Annamalai, director of innovations and insights for the digital banking group at Fiserv, believes that the blockchain also is changing interbank transactions in a major way.
"Blockchain transactions can reduce transaction times to minutes and can be processed 24/7," Annamalai said in an interview with Blockchain Tech News. "This feature enables interbank transactions to occur much faster, eliminating the processing time that can take days for clearing and final settlement, especially outside of working hours."
Despite the hype, not everyone is convinced that big banks and financial institutions are ready to adopt blockchain in force.
"Even though banks and other corporations are currently looking into blockchain, it will take a while before they adopt the technology," Fernandez said. "Banks are relatively rigid and careful with upgrading their current architecture."
Rights and identity management
Digital identity management is another area seeing rapid growth, thanks to the development of blockchain solutions capable of creating an immutable record of an individual's identity.
Ascribe offers a service designed to ensure that musical artists get attribution, copyright protection and, in some instances, remuneration for their work registered on the blockchain. The Ascribe platform generates a public URL and a Creative Commons license for every piece of work registered.
A recent example of identity management is the partnership between Microsoft and Avande to develop a digital solution for identity management. The companies' goal is to help create an identity system to serve the 1.1 billion people around the world who have no formal documentation, including many refugees from war-torn countries.
Their solution is works with other identity systems to gather key biometrics such as fingerprints. This data can then be accessed by users — but only with the permission. This is especially useful for refugees who often lack the right documents.
Of course, other verticals that are experimenting with the blockchain, as well.
"While public blockchain-based coins like Bitcoin and Ethereum are inherently popular with their growing value, many enterprises around the world are actively engaged in testing the applications of blockchains in their respective areas," Annamalai said. "Blockchains are tested not only in the financial industry, but also in areas like health, transportation, and logistics; government processes like resource titling and ownership recordation; valuable resource provenance tracking, distributed identity verification, KYC, AML and other areas."
The United States Postal Service released a document last year examining possible use cases for the blockchain for its services, such as supply chain and device management.
IBM has also created several blockchain tools to allow companies to manage a variety of tasks such as enforcing service level agreements for telecommunications or supply chains.
Additionally, IBM is working with Walmart to develop a blockchain solution for food supply chain management. In the event of a recall issue for a particular food item, the retailer can use the blockchain to track down the source in the supply chain to determine the source and extent of the issue.
Why aren’t we there yet?
While blockchain builders have been tremendously busy developing applications for the technology, it has yet to be implemented at scale in any vertical.
"The complexity and the speed of changes in cryptocurrency technologies are proving to be a challenge for mass adoption," Annamalai said. "Due to the nature of blockchain-enabled applications, unless enough players collaborate to launch a solution, most efforts stall due to lack of momentum. On the other hand, when the right solution implemented on blockchain surfaces, it will reach a tipping point of adoption."
Luis Cuende, co-founder and project lead for Aragon, believes that, blockchain is still in the early adopters phase.
"However, in two or three years we may be in the mainstream," he said. "Currently, there is a lot of speculation in the industry. I’ll consider it widespread when there are users using it not because they think they see quick financial gain, but because it makes their lives easier and more efficient."
If Cuende is right, the blockchain has a bright future ahead of it.
Fernandez also sees blue sky for the technology, and believes that one day the blockchain will be just as pervasive as the internet.
"I believe we will see blockchain becoming a standard protocol similar to the Hypertext Transfer Protocol, making it a household name," Fernandez said. "Blockchain applications will be accessible to everyone in the world and blockchain platforms will be fully interconnected."
Bradley Cooper is a Technology Editor for DigitalSignageToday.com. His background is in information technology, advertising, and writing.www