What’s next for blockchain

It’s an evolution, not a revolution, but it’s going to shake up every industry — and even technologies like IoT and cloud. Here’s what you need to know about the rise of blockchain:

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While we’re still waiting for the blockchain ‘revolution,’ that doesn’t mean we’re at a standstill. Most industry watchers say this change will take place over decades — not a few months or years — perhaps making it less of a revolution than an evolution.

But it’s an evolution that could fundamentally change the way we do business in almost every industry imaginable. While you may not be entrenched in blockchain just yet, it should be on your radar.

At its simplest level, the blockchain is composed of a series of blocks (a chain, if you will), and each block represents a unit of information. These blocks make up the public ledger (a record of transactions) that can’t be altered or tampered with, having obvious implications for trusted transactions. In many cases, it will cut out the middleman and associated costs.

So, which industries will be disrupted by blockchain? “All of them,” says blockchain expert and assistant professor Christian Catalini in an article for MIT Sloan. “The technology is what economists call a general-purpose technology, and we will see many applications across different verticals.”

Catalini believes this disruption is on the same scale as the Internet itself, but will take place over decades — though some industries, like finance, will see change much sooner.

Indeed, it’s already happening.

J.P. Morgan, Royal Bank of Canada and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. (ANZ) recently announced the Interbank Information Network (IIN), which will use blockchain for processing global payments. The Bank of Canada is partnering with TMX Group and Payments Canada to explore how blockchain could be used to clear and settle securities. And U.K.-based Barclays and Swiss bank UBS are experimenting with blockchain to speed up back-office functions.

Aside from finance, blockchain has the potential to affect pretty much any industry, from music and ride-sharing to government and retail. Here are just a few ways we’ll see change:

Education: Blockchain could be used to certify academic credentials and educational credits. IBM, for example, is working with Sony Global Education on a new educational platform that uses blockchain to securely share student records.

Real Estate: Blockchain could be used to record and track everything from land titles to property deeds, speeding up transactions and helping to reduce errors and possible fraud. Startup Ubitquity, for example, is working with land records in Brazil through its software-as-a-service blockchain platform.

Healthcare: Blockchain could allow healthcare providers to securely share data across platforms, helping to improve accuracy of diagnoses and provide more effective treatment plans. The Philips Blockchain Lab, for example, is seeing Philips Healthcare partner with blockchain startups Gem and Tierion to help create the infrastructure behind better data collaboration.

Blockchain could also be built into technologies such as IoT and cloud. For example, it could provide a public ledger for a network of IoT devices, allowing them to interact without the need for a central hub. It could also be used to decentralize cloud storage solutions, resulting in improved security.

While it’s (sort of) early days, it’s time to start thinking about blockchain, staying on top of advancements in your industry and educating IT decision-makers in your organization about how it will affect them ­— so as blockchain evolves, you’ll evolve with it.

Image: iStock

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