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Beyond bitcoin: 7 ways to capitalize on blockchains

Peter Wayner | Sept. 1, 2015
Bitcoin’s widely trusted ledger offers intriguing possibilities for business use beyond cryptocurrency.

It’s easy to envision a future version of a blockchain that makes the process of limiting digital circulation simpler by tracking and validating the existence of digital goods, such as collectibles or coupons. Instead of limiting the blockchain to currency, it could allow users to add arbitrary objects and fields that could be anything but digital cash.  

Voting

A typical cash transaction takes place between two people, one paying and the other receiving. But the bitcoin exchange logic can include a requirement that multiple users all provide valid signatures.

Many corporate boards and organizations do a poor job with voting. Many votes are taken by voice, a process that doesn't record who cast votes. If a true tally is collected, it often isn't recorded, and if it is recorded, it often isn't perfect. Many organizations simply don't do a good job with minutes or records.

The blockchain's solution for binding multiple owners of cash can also be used to track whether people agree to do other things. By tracking votes and ensuring that the results are available to guide everyone long into the future, the blockchain can be the foundation of governance.

Bills of lading

Shipping goods is a complex process that usually involves people from many companies. If the packages get to the final destination, everyone is happy. If they don't, someone must pay.

One of the traditional solutions is a "bill of lading," a paper document that travels alongside the goods and tracks responsibility. A blockchain transaction mechanism is a better solution because it can use cryptographic signatures to eliminate distrust. If all of the shippers are part of the process of computing the blockchain, they will be more willing to trust the transactions.

Future versions of the blockchain could extend the process to abstract goods. A person signing off at the end of a work shift could transfer responsibility to the next manager. A security team could swap roles and responsibilities every so often and track these changes via a blockchain.

Ironclad predictions

Everyone has a guess on who will win the Super Bowl, but only the ones who predict the game correctly like to brag about it afterward. The blockchain is a perfect way for people to lock in their predictions in a way that can't be denied later.

This is becoming more and more useful as companies experiment with prediction markets where employees bet on the future. Getting people to wager real money (or points) on events usually generates better guesses and results than simple polls or relying on one so-called expert. The markets aggregate the wisdom of the crowds and produce better results.

While prediction markets are best known for guessing the outcome of elections, they can be quite useful inside the enterprise for aggregating the predictions of the employees. Some plan investments in new product lines by asking employees to bet on the first year's sales. There are dozens of business decisions that can be allocated to employees in a crowdsourced manner, like guessing on attendance at proposed future conferences or predicting which colors will prove most popular for upcoming products. All of these predictions can be certified by a blockchain.

 

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