Do We Really Need Blockchain? Top 3 Use Cases

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Blockchain is a much-hyped technology that is still poorly understood by the general public, a situation which has allowed startups and businesses around the world to jump on the bandwagon and ‘adopt’ blockchain in order to impress investors and appeal to the public without doing much else.

Stocks in the Long Island Ice Tea company famously jumped 200% simply because the company changed its name to Long Blockchain without even integrating any blockchain solutions, highlighting the fad element of the blockchain craze.

The last few years have seen projects trying to put everything from celebrities to board games on the blockchain, feeding the notion that blockchain is the result of hype and nothing more.

Are there really any projects that need blockchain, or is the distributed ledger technology (DLT) an over-complicated solution being put in place to drum up funding and publicity? To answer that question, below are the top three use cases for DLT/blockchain technology.

Digital Identities

One of the most exciting use cases for blockchain is the creation of tamper-proof digital identities. The nature of blockchain systems is that the data is immutable and cannot be altered. To add new, updated information requires access to the system and a 51% consensus rate. This is one thing when using a centralized database which can manage this at the touch of a button from a single computer or server – with DLT systems, over half of many different computer nodes must agree before new data can be added to the chain.

This has a major use case in government IDs and other forms of identification. A company in India has already partnered with two municipal governments to put birth certs and passports on the blockchain, allowing potentially millions of citizens to store their data on a digital wallet that can prove with a simple QR code that they are who they claim to be.

Why blockchain is an improvement

The existing system requires people to queue for what can be hours in some cases in order to renew or apply for a passport, drivers license, etc. They must physically travel to the relevant government building and wait while staff getting paid by the hour do their best to make their way through the endless lines of people.

Documents must be reviewed and stamped, approved, charged for. The whole process is incredibly expensive, and for a nation with a population as large as India’s, streamlining those processes can save a huge amount of time and money. Blockchain allows the ID system to be automated so that there are fewer people involved in verifying identities, and once complete, the digital IDs are impossible to counterfeit which prevents ID fraud.

Healthcare

One of the industries blockchain can do some real good in is healthcare. It often happens that medical records are lost or improperly stored, resulting in delayed treatments and death in some cases. Since 2011 over 700,000 medical records were lost in the UK alone, including cancer screening results, and similar situations have unfolded in healthcare systems across the world putting patients at serious risk. Medical errors are the third most common cause of death in the US, with computer system failure leading to lost records listed as one of the factors.

Why blockchain is an improvement

Medical records are now being stored on distributed blockchain systems where they can only be lost if the entire system of multiple distributed nodes is destroyed, exponentially decreasing the risk of losing them.

Typically electronic health records (EHRs) are not owned or controlled by patients, meaning that patients in a hospital outside their residential area often have to wait for them to be faxed to the physician handling their case with numerous time-consuming steps required for that to happen.

Blockchain EHRs will allow patients to own and control their own records which can be immediately scanned from a smart device or a printed QR code on a card that will immediately allow doctors to access the records they need to provide the best treatment and avoid medical errors.

Supply Chain Tracking

The shipping industry has among the most inefficient and expensive tracking processes in the world. A combination of cross-border bureaucracy, outdated computer systems, and an over-reliance on paper documents has led to the processes of tracking and accounting for shipping containers full of goods a slow and difficult process exacerbated by the constantly increasing demand for consumer goods.

Shipping giants Maersk and IBM tracked a single shipping container from Kenya to the Netherlands and found that the cost of the paper documents required amounted to a staggering 15% of the cargo value. Important documents went missing only to be found later under stacks of paper, leading to delays of over a week. An IBM announcement stated findings that typically a shipment of refrigerated goods from East Africa to Europe needs to be verified and handled by 30 different people and organizations with more than 200 different interactions between them before reaching its destination.

Why blockchain is an improvement

Blockchain has already been adopted and integrated by many major ports and shipping companies, including IBM, the port of Rotterdam, the UK’s biggest port operator, and more.

The technology allows for easy verification of shipping containers that decreases the likelihood of containers being lost or unaccounted for, and thanks to the immutable data entry capabilities of DLT, far fewer people and interactions are required to verify the contents and status of the container.

Containers are assigned a code which is entered into the blockchain and scanned to update at each step of the journey. The best part – no paperwork. Suddenly the 15% of value being spent on paper is almost completely eliminated, something that will save literal forests worth of paper as well as saving the shipping industry a fortune on stationery costs.

Blockchain is set to generate an additional $1 trillion USD in world trade according to the World Economic Forum through streamlining the verification process and implementing the paperless cargo system.

While one could be forgiven for scoffing at blockchain after the many frivolous use cases bandied about in the media over the last few years, the technology is proving to be capable of truly revolutionizing many industries to the benefit of all, saving money, resources, time, and even lives.

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