A startling number of cryptocurrencies have recently emerged as superheroes of the digital age assertively pushing themselves to the forefront of any discussion on modern currency. However, in speaking with some of the top professionals across B2B and consumer-facing industries, it’s clear that the underdog known coyly as “blockchain” may end up surpassing the hype with a more methodical and effective approach to industry disruption – forget it, life disruption.

As the underlying technology behind the brightest cryptos, like Ether, Bitcoin, and Monero, blockchain innovation is poised to prove itself as something far more exciting than just a new way to buy and sell goods – it has become a symbol for freedom, transparency, and fairness. Right now, data is considered the most precious asset of all, and yet it exists in an ephemeral state, capable of disappearing or changing at any time.

Blockchain technology has the power to change all that by solidifying data and putting it back into the hands of the those who really own it, namely the user. But oddly enough, there are still plenty of “naysayers in the industry who don’t understand that blockchain is more than just bitcoin,” according to Shawn Wilkinson, Founder and CSO at Storj Labs, a leading authority on decentralized cloud storage. And for the technology to be embraced broadly by companies and mainstream consumers alike, education is the first order of business.

Because blockchain can record information in a secure and transparent manner, it has the ability to strengthen a wide variety of industry systems such as financial transactions and health records. It is a public, decentralized ledger, which means all of its data resides under the control of the interlinked network and the users themselves. And as a result, many fintech and innovation experts suggest its disruptive ability is far greater than the cryptos it was designed to support.

“Blockchain technology could help businesses streamline operations, provide faster service and reduce costs through application of the technology’s immutable ledger and smart contracts that eliminate costly middlemen and operational inefficiency,” says Heidi Pease, Cofounder, Los Angeles Blockchain Lab (USC/UCLA/UCI/City of LA).

To really understand the significance of blockchain’s possibilities, it’s worth considering how exactly its innovation can be applied to real-world situations to improve our everyday lives across the many industries on which we rely for data security and access, livelihood, health and more.

  1. Record keeping will be revolutionized. The modern world has turned paper trails into digital ones, but this hasn’t changed much of the fallibility within the system. In many cases, personal records and bits of transactional information exist in disparate locations which sometimes contributes to their inaccuracy, lack of consistency, and even worse, vulnerability to cyber attack. As Chrissa McFarlane, CEO of Patientory, a blockchain healthcare disruptor, reminds us, having a distributed ledger through blockchain would render “data as priority so corporations and businesses could actually focus more on their services and less on becoming the next target.” Blockchain has the power to keep recorded information in one easily accessible place where it is protected from theft, tampering, and misplacement, and this technological strength could improve the inner workings of any industry that depends on information integrity.
  2. Blockchain offers a new approach to securing data. As Pease notes, “Blockchain technology offers a unique solution to problems around digital identity through use of a cryptographic authentication system, also known as a private key. Whoever has access to this non-replicable key is the one and only owner of the key and therefore the key can replace the need for passwords. Blockchain identity authentication can help businesses with their notary, Anti-Money-Laundering and Know-Your-Customer requirements.”
  • While Wilkinson cautions us that the “blockchain currently doesn’t make sense in every market and for every application,” there is no doubt its innovation would add tremendous value to overall digital security and help consumers regain control over their own personal data.

3. Cloud storage will thrive. Although many users are not entirely sure what the centralized cloud does or why they even need it, the truth is the majority of people today depend on the technology to store their data on remote servers easily accessed from the internet. Pease describes it as “the Airbnb of data storage.” As such, the cloud has become one of the most valuable online resources of today and the main strategy for managing the hefty amount of information we all face. In fact, experts say the “cloud shift” will affect more than $1 trillion in information technology spending by the year 2020. Reporting from the Technology Association of Georgia’s annual TAG Summit, Atlanta Inno noted “The Coca-Cola Company, a Summit sponsor, will migrate all their information from data centers to the cloud, shortly. ‘By the end of this year, we will not have a corporate data center,’ Senior Vice President and CIO Barry Simpson said.”

  • So, what would it mean to create a decentralized archive for the internet using blockchain technology? According to Pease, it would mean users could submit information for storage using an immutable and decentralized system that would become the source of knowledge users deserve. Even though businesses have migrated to the cloud as a way to avoid hosting their own servers, data breaches are still common. With a blockchain approach, workloads will still be centrally managed and controlled, but information will be broken into encrypted fragments and intelligently distributed across dozens of nodes around the globe. This offers increased protection and enhances user privacy because the data and files are not accessible or controlled by a single third party—instead, they open only to the user who holds the private key.

4. People will save money. Through more instant and direct transactions comes less cost. An unchangeable ledger maintained by a number of decentralized sources could force the traditional institutions like banks to change how they operate in order to still be relevant. Consumers who come to enjoy the cost savings and convenience of direct transactions may not accept the fees associated with traditional banking and account management. Blockchain could, in essence, eliminate the “middle party” and trim the fat of online transactions while still transferring funds and digital assets with the utmost security and efficiency. And even more, these processes would become instant—no more waiting for transaction times and sluggish systems to work. “For global firms, digital currencies may eliminate payroll issues, foreign currency exchange rate charges and rate fluctuation,” said Pease.

  • Case in point: as a leading force in decentralized cloud storage, Storj Labs already uses the Ethereum blockchain to handle payments to more than 90,000 addresses each month – something that could never be done through traditional payment methods.

5. Smart contracts will emerge victorious. “Already, the maturing cryptocurrency markets and growing blockchain technology have boldly impacted the technology industry,” says Science Inc. Co-founder and CEO Mike Jones. This has never been truer than in the case of smart contracts. Smart contracts are simply streamlined versions of the age-old understanding of contracts, except they are fully trackable, immutable, and secure. They provide a level of security that is far superior to anything the world has ever seen, not to mention they lower transaction costs and remove the cumbersome relationship of the third party.

6. Information will return to the people. There was a time when a person’s private information was considered a hallowed asset. Businesses and citizens alike would never dream of digging into someone’s private records to make a buck or target sales—it was neither polite nor morally acceptable. These days, those beliefs are out the window as organizations around the globe vie for access to the sensitive data that lives on the internet. From Sony to Equifax to eBay, the phrase digital breach has become a global occupation. The time is now to reclaim the power of personal information to those who really own it, and blockchain technology makes that possible. The healthcare industry offers a perfect example of just how impactful this movement could be for citizens. As McFarlane says, “we are literally taking health data and giving that ownership to the patient. So, regardless of what hospital you go to—you can walk out of that appointment with all of your own information, easily accessed via your mobile device.” What this means in the practical world is staggering, as people can now “hold” the node of their own data, which they control and use in a variety of situations. It is not accessible by outside parties, and it is not for sale. This technology will essentially force outside parties to respect the integrity of personal data, stop abusing it for profit, and regain their sense of digital boundaries.

Of course, blockchain technology still suffers from some weaknesses. According to Pease, the “number one issue being its lack of skilled developers.” Without them, Wilkinson reminds us that “blockchains are still too slow and cannot handle the volume needed for mass market adoption.”

Blockchain is still a nascent technology in need of scalability and interoperability solutions. But given the unbelievable solutions it proposes to implement, for people and their precious systems, organizations must continuously innovate to survive and thrive, and cannot afford to decline the challenge.

According to Jones, blockchain may become the growth mechanism for companies in the future. “In two to three years, we can continue to expect a change in venture capital. I believe early stage companies will look for strategic and dedicated venture partners to help them build their businesses in the early days and will then turn to token sales for later stages of growth, when the concepts are proven out. This means VCs will need to be more than just pools of capital to stay relevant,” he notes.

Join the discussion by leaving your comments below: What B2B solutions or consumer applications would you find the most valuable for blockchain innovation?

This article was originally published on The Connector blog and reprinted with permission.