According to Gartner, over 88% of organizations transitioned their employees to remote working in response to shelter-in-place orders over the past few months. Now, as some businesses begin to reopen and others declare permanent remote work options, distributed ledger has proven to be a top-of-mind solution for business leaders. In fact, according to a recent survey by Wipro, 90% of top-level executives said they consider blockchain and related technologies a strategic priority, and about 69% of mid-senior management expressed the same opinion. The focus and value continue to be on operational efficiencies and enhanced interoperability.
Blockchain’s core functional components, a combination of distributed ledger, distributed storage, smart contracts, and encryption, have the potential to greatly benefit the healthcare, financial services, and manufacturing sectors through truly unlocking underlying business capabilities like interoperability, decentralization, and enhanced cyber-security. When you consider our current quarantine-induced situation, these industries have been hit particularly hard in varying ways beyond revenue, since they represent the industries that are respectively responsible for a COVID-19 cure, ensuring continued monetary stability, and the manufacturing and delivery of ventilators, masks, and more. Including data breaches, supply chain and production disruption, and limited remote working capabilities, the current issues being faced unavoidably are all areas where the utilization of blockchain technology would bring cohesion and connectivity to the chaos this crisis has caused -- and save these industries from their current and future issues.
Ensuring Patient Care and Privacy
The healthcare industry has seen unprecedented losses while also struggling to get personal protection equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies needed to ensure the safety of healthcare workers, first responders, and patient caregivers. National Nurses United revealed that 87% of nurses surveyed have had to reuse single-use equipment while tending to COVID-19 patients. Another recent report shows over 125 data breaches on U.S. healthcare systems since the first U.S. COVID-19 case in 2020, affecting the privacy of millions of people.
To combat the PPE shortage and mismanagement of materials, blockchain’s decentralization and distributed ledger features create accountability for all parties, whether production, shipping, or sorting, by providing transaction and party details for each action made. Since these actions are recorded on the ledger’s network, the information is distributed so no one person holds power over the other.
To ensure patient privacy, blockchain provides a number of security features, including decentralization, encryption, and cryptography. Encryption converts information into randomized alphanumeric codes so that it cannot be deciphered. The decentralized networks also prevent hackers from altering the network for their benefit, and cryptography provides additional firewalling. In many cases, like for healthcare, blockchain is capable of tackling multiple pain points. Unfortunately, though, some of the pain points that will remain beyond COVID-19 include the breached medical data, fraudulent supplies purchases, and difficulty in efficiently distributing medical materials to areas of need.
Additionally, as reported by Science Magazine, COVID-19 has brought with it the biggest explosion of academic literature and research papers, literally, ever. The current publishing average is 4,000 papers per week globally -- far too much for any research institute to ever sift through in real time, forget about retroactively. As they note, “the COVID-19 literature published since January has reached more than 23,000 papers and is doubling every 20 days—among the biggest explosions of scientific literature ever.” Additionally, 20-50% of these papers are behind paywalls and not accessible. There are now, as a result, hundreds of teams globally focused on organizing and managing all of this data and figuring out what technologies can be used to effectively manage this flow going forward. To date, machine learning was utilized to create the CORD-19 data set, which brings together data from 59,000 existing papers and articles, but Blockchain’s DLT and smart contracts, in combination with massive cloud-based computing power and AI integration, would be the best pathway through which to eventually manage this information as real-time as possible, while dynamically providing for data permissioning and restricted/automated access rights for research and medical professionals.
Securing Financial Customer Service and Digital Support
Financial services have undertaken a great responsibility during COVID-19, as many face financial uncertainty. Over 40.7 million Americans have filed for unemployment, and 4.4 million Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans have been approved. Additionally, banks like PNC and JPMorgan Chase have announced a temporary closure of up to 25% of their branches, making online banking the only option for many.
Security and privacy are the two most important elements of financial services and with the increased use of digital services to protect their physical security and health, customers’ information is put at an even higher risk for data breaches. Much like Healthcare & Life Sciences, decentralized networks, encryption, and cryptography play a key role in protecting financial services and customer data. An added benefit to blockchain technology is its ability to process transactions and produce faster settlements, facilitating the transfer of money quickly and securely.
On a related note, we’ve also seen a renewed push by Facebook for global utilization of their Libra crypto-currency, and the global quarantine might literally be presenting them with the best possible situation to gain market adoption. With millions of people around the world forced to stay home and others losing their jobs, more and more are relying on digital services and help from friends and family, despite living far apart. As Facebook notes, “The Libra mission is to build a simple global payment system and financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people.” Since the beginning of quarantine, Facebook has revamped the Libra platform, re-situated their go-to-market strategy, and hired a new executive by snatching away HSBC bank’s former legal chief. They have also focused strongly on Facebook-Whatsapp interoperability with payments integrated, as well as released Facebook Messenger Rooms to rival Zoom and Teams. In the meantime, both China and the U.S. are working on or considering the usage of digital currency domestically and beyond.
Mitigating Supply Chain Issues and Aiding Production
According to a recent survey by the National Association of Manufacturers, 53% of manufacturers expect a change in operations, and 35% are already experiencing supply chain disruptions. On top of these supply chain disruptions is the need for social distancing and other employee safety measures to prevent company-wide outbreaks. According to Gartner, up to half of the manufacturing workforce will not be able to return to their usual job on site, and many of these worksites do not have the digital capacity to convert work functions remotely.
Manufacturers now have the opportunity to upgrade their digital tools to provide remote and distanced working for their employees. Blockchain technology must be an element of this advancement to ensure accountability, security, and -- most importantly -- interoperability for supply chain and production.
When managing manufacturing functions at a global scale, there are many stakeholders to account for like vendors and suppliers, partners, customers, installers, shippers, and warehouse workers. Blockchain’s distributed ledger allows the entire network to view details of each action and participant, with read and write capabilities enabled per group per data element, creating ownership and reassurance when it comes to detecting issues. Furthermore, interoperability allows for this information to be shared across systems and teams, providing room for manufacturers to evolve and scale at a faster pace and making a vendor-agnostic model more possible.
With encryption, interoperability, decentralization, distributed ledgers, and more, blockchain can help the industries most impacted by COVID-19 like healthcare, financial services, and manufacturing. Businesses must look at how they can implement blockchain technology because whether they reopen or remain remote, the way we work and interact has changed forever, and blockchain can help us prepare for that future.