Your Blockchain close encounter of the first kind

Jim Blasingame

This is the third article in a series about Blockchain technology and its implications. The first was an introduction, and the second was how Blockchain works and its role in creating digital trust. This article is about your likely first contact. 

As small businesses have increasingly become vertically integrated with Big Business customers, they've had to step up their Main-Street-Mom-and-Pop game to become more sophisticated while continuing to be nimble, quick, versatile and efficient. With this integration, larger customers have notified smaller partners of their evolving expectations, as driven by macro events and trends.

Consequently, over the past 25 years, millions of small businesses have received letters requiring compliance with four of those macro markers: the first was about new quality standards (e.g. ISO 9000), the second was about Y2K preparation, the third was about cyber-security standards and practices, and the most recent is about sustainability/climate change expectations. In addition to ongoing compliance, these expectations accumulated as elements of future bid specifications.

The next expectation "letter" may be your business's close encounter of the first kind with Blockchain. A larger customer will inform you that future business won't be established with an inert, analog contract you'll sign and return, but rather using a "Smart Contract" powered by one of the Blockchain platforms. If you haven't been keeping up with Blockchain business applications, that will be a maddening, expensive and potentially perilous moment. You just got T-boned by a Quantum Leap Challenge because, as you should know by now, you can't get up-to-speed on Blockchain overnight.

Now that you're on notice, let's get you ready with a few likely first-use Blockchain applications.

Smart Contracts
If you've prepared for this handy/disruptive technology, there might be good news in that Blockchain notice. In addition to holding the terms and specifications of the proposed work, your Smart Contract will also include triggers that unambiguously authenticate when you accomplish certain performance steps as digitally specified "proof-of-work." And here's more handy: That crypto-contract may – likely will – also include payment triggers that occur automatically as part of that authentication. How would your cash flow improve if monthly billing was replaced by Blockchain proof-of-work payments?

Supply chain 
Your incremental contribution to the production, value-add and/or delivery of a product or service may soon result in your being asked to authenticate progress and performance on a Blockchain. Examples could be participating in the assembly of a new house, automobile motor, dishwasher or airliner wing. The encrypted authentication process includes tracking supply chain participants, specified contribution, documenting performance proof-of-work, irregularities/failures, and ultimately, payment.

Today, Blockchains are tracing every step your Romaine lettuce took to get to your plate, including who did what/when/how in the planting, watering, harvesting, packaging, and shipping. Blockchain supply chain applications won't kill e coli, but it will help track the path of produce so the bad stuff can be isolated more quickly from the good.

Now it's your Blockchain 
One day soon, as you hire a marketing firm, engage a temp service, or buy advertising, you'll use a handy Blockchain app to encrypt your project specification on a Smart Contract that successful bidders will join and comply with. Just like when you were the vendor, proof-of-work triggers will authenticate vendor performance, contract progress, and payment. And buckle up for this rude inevitable irony: Where you once responded to a customer's Blockchain requirements, eventually a prospective vendor will tell you they only do business with a Smart Contract - and expect to get paid in cryptocurrency.

Gig Economy
It's difficult to imagine how this future-of-work paradigm will proliferate without some Blockchain solution automating and authenticating a request, engagement, performance, delivery, and payment. As the Gig Economy becomes ubiquitous and more granular, you'll engage someone on the other side of the planet to do a micro-task – like an hour of work or consultation. You'll use a Smart Contract app to plug in the job particulars so an engagement begins and ends – including payment – with the single press of an Enter key. With help from associated technologies like Factom, this level of Blockchain solution will be as easy as sending e-money to your kids and ultimately will be executed hundreds of millions of times a day around the world.

Now let's puts Blockchain's evolution as a stand-alone technology in perspective. In the beginning, Bitcoin use came first, which activated a Blockchain. Today, a Blockchain can establish a business relationship, monitor and authenticate the progress, and finally release payment, possibly in Bitcoin. That's Blockchain from alpha to omega with the cryptocurrency only appearing – if at all – at the end.

Your first Smart Contract will likely be on the Ethereum Blockchain (which also delivers the cryptocurrency Ether), as it's considered more versatile for smaller applications. But don't be surprised if you encounter a Blockchain equivalent like RAIDA (cryptocurrency Cloudcoin), which is cloud-based and not dependent on a distributed ledger network. That's why I often use the term "Blockchain-type" technology. Indeed, our quest for digital trust will be technology agnostic.

If you take away only one thing from our time together, it's that some form of digital trust technology will ultimately become ubiquitous. Because without a digital answer to the analog human primordial requirement of trust, the Digital Age will come to a grinding halt. An early sign of trouble is the regulatory debates about anti-trust, privacy, etc. These aren't really about monopoly, or some other marketplace manifestation. But rather, the resolution of our unrelenting quest for trust.

Write this on a rock ... As Satoshi knew, the headwaters of our crypto-quest springs from the primordial human requirement and devotion to trust, as it manifests in some digital form. Like Blockchain.

Recommended reading: Beyond Bitcoin: The Future of Digital Currency, by Sean Worthington

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

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