In the last instalment (Blockchain for Beginners), I looked at what the blockchain is. It's still new, and the building blocks of ledger and smart contracts are still being created, but here are a few potential commercial applications of the technology that are being imagined. All of these are part of the internet of value, where value is transferred between devices.

Imagine a smart building interacting with an Airbnb type service. At the point you agree to rent an apartment, a smart contract is created. When you first open the front door, the first element of payment is transferred. When you use the Nespresso machine, another fee is processed. When you use Netflix, or take a bottle of Prosecco from the fridge, or use the hottub, or access any one of the optional value add services, incremental fees are created. When you leave at the end, the contract is marked as complete. When the feedback is left, it’s automatically validated against the stay.

In smart cars, imagine a “super Uber” for car hire with the personalised insurance, actual petrol consumption, tolls passed, fines incurred, and optional entertainment services, all creating and update the contract and automatically making the associated financial transfers. Or even a smart car share where value passes based on actual usage.

Distributed power grids, where I can sell my excess solar generation to my neighbour when it’s sunny and I have excess at a pre-agreed unit price. This is being launched now.

Digitally authenticated cultural products, such as art or books – once it’s scanned to authenticate your identity as the owner, you can be inducted into a closed community of other readers or dialogue directly with the author. Along these lines, there are examples of pieces of art being split into fractions, and individuals owning 1/10th of the work, or limited digital editions – these can be traded, but all the time creating a digital record proving provenance. There’s also an example of music embedding a digital identity that tracks on the blockchain where it has been used, and triggers a payment against it’s digital contract – eg if it’s played on a radio station or used in a film or commercial, it automatically sends the payment to the artist. (See www.ascribe.io for more examples).

When considering large capital items, such as airplanes or even cars, being able to see the true & detailed history, including incidents, service intervals and the parts used, can all have a material impact on the value a new purchaser may be willing to pay.

A significant blockchain initiative that everis are involved in is the settlement of international payments between member banks, which reduces the time taken from 3 to 10 days down to almost instantaneous. This initiative also includes Treasury services where capital is moved within different locations globally, helping support a better overall liquidity management process in real time within the same bank. 

Central banks like blockchain too, as they can oversee and audit transactions in potetnailly real-time between banks where they are part of an agreed eco-system. The FCA are currently trialling different use cases. Everis are the second largest contributor to the Interledger (ILP) protocol which is expected to become the standard that will allow blockchains to interact with both other blockchains and also non DLT (distributed ledger technology) ledgers - a critical step forward in interoperability. 

Triple entry book keeping – in effect, creating an audit as you go throughout the year with entries being made onto the blockchain. This eliminates the end of year audit, with the associated cost & time savings, not to mention the risk of error or fraud. (Another bad year for certain auditors ahead).

From a retail perspective, the likes of Provenance are working to secure the supply chain (see www.provenance.org). Sectors as diverse as fashion to coffee to grocers are all exploring how blockchain can improve customer visibility, trust and brand loyalty. The supply chain is one dear to my heart – here, global freight will create records of every handprint and movement, helping with visibility, insurance, and planning. Walmart are already investing in creating a digital record of product lineage, so that any food risks (such as e-coli or horsemeat) can be instantly identified and isolated within the supply chain, rather than having to take all related products out of circulation.

When it comes to customers, two good examples are smart warranties and loyalty. For warranties, an automatically triggered agreement at the point the product is first used, recording any events that would invalidate the warranty, and potentially even triggering automatic replacement of parts or the whole item in the event of a failure. For loyalty, being able to create a range of activities beyond the initial purchase to allow customers to add loyalty points, such as social media advocacy, or friend referrals, or usage, or linked purchases – all held in a central online, secure record.

For luxury goods retailers, each individual item can have its own secure digital certificate of ownership, including any transfers and production history, countering the dual risks of fraud and theft.

For product suppliers, it starts to give visibility of individual consumer’s use rather than an aggregated retailer sales view. This raises the possibility of providing very targeted service and promotions – for example, timely advice on how to get the best value from the products, or relevant user communities who have a similar profile. Imagine Canon or Panasonic offering you a personalised tutorial on how to start using more than the basis click and shoot features most of us start with and never progress from. Or Goodyear advising us on how to prolong tyre life based on our own driving style. Or Britax reminding you that your water filters need replacing. Or Sodastream providing personalised recipes to meet individual’s health or sporting targets. (This raises a number of questions regarding who “owns” the data, and also reflects the real and changing relationship between CPG and retail – both topics of which merit further discussion beyond this article).

At the recent IoT World Forum, Don Tapscott used a great analogy of how blockchain is like a starling murmation – many, many participants, with no central leadership, defending the whole, creating beauty, with independent actors working in trust and synchronisation. (See Don’s keynote talk including the video at http://www.iotwf.com/).

Blockchain is here now. But we’ve only just started to scratch the surface of what it means, and what it will mean. Given the pressure on retailer’s budgets and attention, being able to work this out on your own is beyond the budget of most – I think it imperative that companies come together and collaborate across boundaries, and create shared value. Contact me if you want to be part of this discussion.