In the past few years, many companies have raised an incredible amount of money via ICO. Some of the biggest and most successful ICO projects include NEO, Ethereum, Spectrecoin, and Lisk. More info about ICO can be found on the Investopedia website.
That said, I am not going to discuss ICO in this article. Instead, we shall explore blockchain applications in businesses. Though we can use blockchain for all kinds of business applications, whether or not blockchain is suitable for a particular business depends on the nature of the business, the business model, the requirements, and many other factors.
Before implementing blockchain, the C-level management team of a business organization should conduct a feasibility study to determine whether it is necessary and plausible to adopt blockchain technology. You should ask the following questions:
- Can blockchain add value to the current business?
- Can blockchain increase the organization’s competitiveness?
- Do you need to deal with many trustless parties?
- Do you need a decentralized and distributed database system?
- Can blockchain improve workflow efficiency?
- Can blockchain increase revenue and profit?
- Do you have enough financial resources to implement blockchain?
- Can blockchain technology integrate with existing systems?
- Do you have enough talents to manage the blockchain system?
Once you’ve decided that implementing blockchain would benefit your company, you need to carry out the following steps:
- Identify a suitable use case.
- Assemble your team.
- Design the blockchain architecture.
Identify a suitable use case
To embark on a blockchain project, you need to identify the most suitable use case for your business. The best way is to examine use cases in an industry that is similar to your business. Generally, there are three areas in which blockchains can perform very well.
Data Authentication & Verification
This includes immutable storage, digital signatures, and encryption. Data in almost any format can be stored in the blockchain. Blockchains can create public-private key pairs and also be used for generating and verifying digital signatures. Therefore, it can be used for data authentication & verification.
One of the best usages is counterfeiting prevention. For example, Luxtag, a Malaysia-based blockchain company, has patented an anti-counterfeit technology. This technology enables businesses and their customers to protect the authenticity and ownership of their valuable assets by providing digitized certificates using blockchain technology. They have rolled out their first product, known as e-Scroll, for a consortium of Malaysian public universities to verify and validate certificates using a blockchain-powered web application.
Another area related to authentication and verification is data provenance. One of the most successful companies in this area is Everledger. This company has built the Diamond Time-Lapse Protocol, a traceability initiative built on a blockchain-based platform for the diamond and jewelry industry. The system is to ensure that there is transparency along the entire diamond’s lifetime journey, instilling consumer confidence and driving industry growth.
Another application is supply chain management. The most notable is the initiative by Walmart using blockchain technology to ensure food safety. Walmart has been working with IBM on a food safety blockchain solution requiring all suppliers of leafy green vegetables for Sam’s and Walmart to upload their data to the blockchain by September 2019. By placing a supply chain on the blockchain, it makes the process more traceable, transparent and fully digital.
Watch the following video about food safety:
Other business applications could be medical records management, insurance, KYC management for banks, and more.
Digital Asset Management
Any asset that can be digitized is considered a digital asset. Digital assets include ebooks, digital art, images, video, music, journals, newspapers, audio books, online training courses, recipes, and more. With the invention of blockchain technology, digital assets also include crypto assets. Crypto assets can be cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other altcoins, or the tokenized version of a real-world asset such as gold, silver, oil, land titles, property, paintings, etc.
Currently, most digital assets are traded over the Internet via the centralized e-commerce marketplace. However, digital assets can be traded more efficiently over the decentralized peer-to-peer blockchain platforms.
Some real world use cases for digital assets management in blockchain include:
- AlphaPoint. Provides enterprise-grade software that enables institutions to convert assets to securities tokens and trade those assets on an exchange.
- Polymath. Enables trillions of dollars of securities to migrate to the blockchain.
- Harbor. Offers a digital securities platform for compliant fundraising, investor management, and liquidity.
- Powerledger. Provides a platform for peer-to-peer energy trading.
A smart contract is a programmable contract that enables auto execution of a contract the moment it fulfills certain terms and conditions. It is akin to a vending machine – you get your product by inserting some coins or banknotes.
According to Investopedia, smart contracts are:
“self-executing contracts with the terms of the agreement between buyer and seller being directly written into lines of code. The code and the agreements contained therein exist across a distributed, decentralized blockchain network. Smart contracts permit trusted transactions and agreements to be carried out among disparate, anonymous parties without the need for a central authority, legal system, or external enforcement mechanism. They render transactions traceable, transparent, and irreversible.”
Almost any blockchain business application involves the use of a smart contract. A famous use case is Cryptokitties. A smart contract is executed when a user acquires a unique virtual kitty from the Cryptokitties collectible marketplace via a bidding process. The highest bidder gets to own the digital asset. Other dapp transactions also make use of smart contracts.
Blockchain-powered supply chain management makes use of smart contracts to handle transactions between manufacturer, suppliers, wholesalers, and retailers.
In the insurance industry, the client who wishes to buy insurance can provide personal information including sensitive data like medical records via a smart contract to the insurance company. In the health care industry, a patient can get faster and more accurate diagnoses and treatment via a smart contract that allows them to share medical records.
Assemble your Team
After conceptualizing a business use case that is suitable for your business, you need to assemble your team to kick-start the blockchain project. Getting the right people in your team is crucial to success. Your team should comprise people with business skills and also people with technical skills. People with business skills should be able to see the overall picture of your business model and know how to execute it. They must also have good interpersonal skills, strategic thinking, good networks, and financial knowledge. The people with business skills should be assigned the posts of CEO, CFO, marketing manager, business development manager, and so on.
In addition, if you plan to raise funds via ICO, you need to employ a compliance officer, preferably a lawyer who understands the guidelines provided by the security commission and the central bank.
Designing the Blockchain Architecture
You need to decide whether to build the blockchain network from scratch, or use a third party blockchain solution like Azure blockchain, Oracle, or AWS blockchain. The former is time-consuming, whereas the latter could be up in as little as 30 minutes.
Each of the the aforementioned enterprise blockchains offer their own functionalities and features as well as cost advantages. Both AWS and Azure offers solutions for Ethereum, Hyperledger Fabric, Corda, and Quorum, while Oracle only caters for Hyperledger Fabric. We can compare their features in the following table:
The cost of setting up Azure Blockchain Workbench is roughly $400-$500 depending on your region and usage. The main costs are three VMs and one app service. Two VMs are for the default blockchain network, and one VM is for the microservices on Workbench. For AWS Blockchain pricing, refer to: https://aws.amazon.com/managed-blockchain/pricing/
- How to set up a private blockchain on Azure
- The cost of setting up Azure Blockchain Platform