From supply chain to equity, seven real-world uses of the blockchain today
The blockchain is moving out of the research and development stages and being used in the real world.
A blockchain is a digital ledger that is available for all parties to see, providing transparency across the chain – and businesses in financial trading, insurance, and supply chain management are all taking notice.
Read on for some real-world examples of the blockchain being used today.
1. Walmart turns to IBM for food transparency
One of the largest retailers in the world, Walmart, is running a trial with IBM to trace and track every step of the produce supply chain by using the blockchain.
The idea arose from a 12-month project to understand how technology could help the enormous business make its food supply chain more efficient and get fresh produce out to consumers more quickly.
Food safety VP Frank Yiannis told Computerworld UK that if the scheme works it should benefit all stakeholders – it would create trust about exactly where food is coming from, how safe it is, and cut down on waste in the instance of contaminated goods.
“The issue of being able to track and trace where food comes from, and how it flows from the farm to the table, has always been something companies have had an interest in,” Yiannis explained. “People have attempted to do it – but the way it’s done today is very inconsistent, there’s no standard.”
“Our view is for a solution like this there is the need to collaborate. This food system of ours is pretty complex, there are a lot of actors and players in it, so we envision a blockchain solution for food transparency to be collaborative, and we want as many people in food production to be involved and engaged in that.”
2. Maersk uses blockchain to track shipping containers
Danish shipping giant Maersk built blockchain technology based on Hyperledger to manage and track its tens of millions of shipping containers that traverse the oceans every year.
Ninety percent of goods shipped worldwide travel in shipping containers at some point. According to research from Maersk in 2014, refrigerated goods from East Africa to Europe can go through as many as 30 people and organisations, with 200 communications interactions between them.
Maersk enlisted the help of IBM to digitise the process for a proof of concept in September. Each participant was able to view exactly where goods were in the supply chain, plus customs documents, bills, and other data. The transparency, IBM said, helped to reduce fraud as well as cut down on waste and cost.
3. Northern Trust automates out manual processes in private equity
Financial services firm Northern Trust announced earlier this year that it had deployed its first private equity blockchain – assisting with transparency for both clients and regulators.
Also built on the Hyperledger Fabric and created in partnership with IBM, the platform was aimed at tackling existing problems in the private equity marketplace.
Private equity is still a very laborious and manual class of assets, with many documents going back and forth being different organisations and people before finally meeting approval.
The most immediate and obvious value, Northern Trust’s Peter Cherecwich told Computerworld UK , is in increasing the speed of transaction verifications along with transparency across those transactions.
4. Everledger builds Chai Method to prevent fraudulent wine shipments
In 2013, it was reported that counterfeit wine accounts for as much as 20 percent of global wine sales. And a high-profile counterfeiter who tricked the wealthy into splashing out for fake fine wine at auctions was made the subject of a 2016 documentary, Sour Grapes.
All this led wine verification specialist Maureen Downey to join forces with blockchain company Everledger – to judge the ‘provenance’ of valuable wines, tracking and tracing the full journey of a bottle of wine.
Everledger and Maureen Downey announced the ‘Chai Wine Vault’ in late 2016. It collects more than 90 data points, including high resolution photography, records of ownership and storage to create a digital ‘thumbprint’ certified on the blockchain.
“Similar to the diamond supply chain, the wine industry has been fraught with the movement of counterfeits and the threat of fraudulent bottles being traded through trusted sources,” said Everledger founder Leanne Kemp. “We have the potential to apply this technology to solve these problems and add a layer of transparency and trust to the good we trade and sell globally.”
5. Co-Op Food builds blockchain to track food sustainability
The Co-operative Food Group began building an alpha-stage blockchain platform with Provenance in the middle of last year – with a view to tracking and tracing the sustainability of fish products, from the catch to the plate.
The partnership went on to include other kinds of produce, with data generated at the farm, factories, and linked to systems data at Co-op’s warehouses and retail stores to build a “real-time digital history”.
6. BHP Billiton puts rock samples on the blockchain
Enormous mining business BHP Billiton is using an Ethereum-based blockchain to track and trace its rock and fluid samples – something that’s usually recorded manually and with more traditional processes like spreadsheets and email communications between people.
The Australian Financial Review notes, the blockchain allows technicians to attach data like collection time or add notes to existing entries, creating a record that’s visible to everyone while also providing transparency.
This product was built by blockchain startup BlockApps.
7. Everledger digitises Kimberley diamond certifying process with blockchain
Everledger built a platform on top of IBM Bluemix to digitally verify diamonds and bring more transparency to an industry that was once riddled with both counterfeits and conflict stones or ‘blood diamonds’.
The ‘Kimberley Process’ is a three-step verification system dating back to a 2003 United Nations resolution, agreed by 81 countries. And although the industry believes the process has helped – Everledger says almost all of the world’s diamonds are now from conflict-free zones – the method has faced criticism from campaigners for failing to address severe ethical concerns about the sourcing of diamonds.
While Everledger might not be able to solve these problems, the company believes its platform will cut down on insurance fraud and the tampering of Kimberley Process certificates.
8. SecureKey picks IBM 'blockchain as a service' for identity verification
Identity management business SecureKey has announced it will be using of IBM’s "blockchain as a service" platform – based on Hyperledger Fabric v1.0 – to make it easier for customers to verify their identities.
The product, which is currently in the trial phase in Canada, will launch officially later this year. SecureKey’s customers in Canada include Canadian banks such as BMO, CIBC, Desjardins, RBC, Scotiabank and TD.
Customers will be able to opt-in to the new verification scheme with a smartphone app. This app will allow users to pick which identifying information they share and to which organisations, with a view to speeding up verification and validation of the user for accessing new services.
For instance, if a customer has proven their identity with a credit agency, they will then be able to share that verification data with a utilities customer to quickly create a new account.
IBM explains: "Since the bank and the credit agency have already gone through extensive verification of the consumer’s identity, the utility can choose to rely on the face that the information is verified, and the consumer can be approved for new services."
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