Since it first came to prominence in 2008 (after the birth of Bitcoin), blockchain has been the buzzword to end all buzzwords; following poor, unsuspecting technology employees around conference centres, internal meetings, the internet and political debates – remember when the UK government was going to solve the issue of the Irish border with the blockchain?
While there are a lot of questionable use cases out there in the world right now, it’s not all financial services or cryptocurrency. In recent years, lots of examples have started to emerge of established, global companies using distributed ledger technology in some interesting and innovative ways. The UK is not immune to this development however, with a number of British companies taking it upon themselves to solve problems with this technology trend.
Below are three examples of UK companies using blockchain technology in innovative ways.
DHL and Accenture
Back in 2018, global logistics company DHL partnered with IT services company Accenture to launch a blockchain-based serialisation prototype to track pharmaceuticals across the supply chain in six regions.
Global supply chains are notoriously complex, with diverse stakeholders, varying interests, and many third-party intermediaries all becoming involved at some point throughout the process. While this is less of an issue with some products, when it comes to something as vital as pharmaceuticals, the risks of getting it wrong are far too high.
Each year, 1 million lives are reportedly lost as a result of counterfeit or black-market medications and Interpol has estimated that as much as 30 percent of pharmaceutical products in emerging markets could be fraudulent.
The two companies launched a proof of concept which contained nodes in six geographies. These nodes are able to track the medicine and record its journey on the blockchain – also known as a shared ledger – with various stakeholders including manufacturers, warehouses, distributors, pharmacies, hospitals and doctors.
Blockchain technology has the capacity to handle more than 7 billion unique serial numbers and 1,500 transactions per second and can achieve a higher standard of safety whilst keeping costs and complexities to a minimum. Those involved with the process also become more accountable as blockchain technology encrypts information which can then only be altered upon the agreement of all stakeholders.
Andreas Baier, Accenture’s lead for travel and transportation, said in a statement: "Using a common, indelible and secure ledger, the industry can achieve much higher safety standards, from the factory to the patient, at much lower cost. This is one of several opportunities blockchain affords to restructure business processes while reducing cost and complexity."
The Co-operative Food Group began building an alpha-stage blockchain platform with Provenance in the middle of 2017 – with a view to tracking and tracing the sustainability of fish products, from the catch to the plate.
Several British supermarkets had found themselves in trouble in recent years after claiming that some of the produce they were selling came from a particular source, only for that to be disproven by customers after they’d made a purchase. The Co-op wanted to challenge this distrust amongst customers and build a solution where products could be tracked from farm to plate.
When starting out on the project, the company decided that it wanted to the solution to work within the confines of existing processes and tracking or verification technology; keeping costs low and complexity to a minimum.
Existing systems such as suppliers' sales and invoice software were accessed and connected together using Provenance's technology, resulting in a blockchain-based solution that can track produce sold at the Co-operative supermarkets in real time, across every part of its journey. At the same time, data is gathered about the supplier its locations and the environmental and social impact of each business.
Although the platform was originally built to track fresh food, the partnership has gone on to include other kinds of produce, feeding all the data collected at the farms and factories into a database to create a "real-time digital history" that can be accessed by store workers, Co-operative employees, and shoppers.
Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays
In April this year RBS and Barclays announced that they, along with 40 other companies, had completed a blockchain technology trial using R3’s distributed ledger technology. The scheme aimed to reduce the time it typically takes to complete a property transaction.
Most of the property market still operates on a system where multiple third parties all exchange information that exists in a paper or email-based format, meaning that purchasing a house can take around three months from beginning to completion (if your're lucky).
The proposed outcome of the project was to streamline the process and use blockchain technology to remove duplication, costly reconciliation processes and eliminate the need for unnecessary middlemen. Although banks have previously looked towards blockchain technology for financial purposes, this trial represents the first example of financial institutions using a distributed ledger for consumer products.
The first trial transaction that was carried out took less than an hour to complete and Instant Property Network (IPN) – the real-estate transaction company that oversaw the trial – estimated that applying this technology globally would save $160 billion a year.
Since the success of the trial, IPN has brought together a consortium of participants and new companies to help further develop the platform before its September launch.