Posted on March 15, 2018
Blockchain is on the verge of disrupting all kinds of businesses from traditional finance and real estate companies to startups like Airbnb and Uber. You’ve heard of blockchain, but how is it going to affect your business and what skills does your company need to leverage this new technology?
According to leading job website Indeed.com, Blockchain related job postings have increased 207% from 2016-2017, and 631% when measured against 2015. Furthermore, the blockchain market is expected to grow from $411 million in 2017 to more than $7.6 billion by 2022. To address this growing need, businesses will need to educate their employees on blockchain technology. The stakes could also be high depending on your industry. You’ll want to be ahead of the pack as you assess the impact of blockchain on your business and equip your workforce with the right skills.
First, what is it? A blockchain is a ledger that keeps a permanent record of all the transactions that have taken place in a secure, chronological and immutable way. With a blockchain, all parties can share and have a copy of the same ledger, rather than storing their own version of a transaction in their own database.
In this way, instead of having information stored in different databases, everyone records the transactions on the same blockchain and can verify that the information is correct instantly. In contrast, when two banks transact with each other – each bank keeps a version of the transaction on their own centralized database. By using blockchain, all parties share the same ledger and keep an identical copy of this single source of truth. In this way, all parties can have rapid access to all transactions, and verify that the information recorded is correct.
These features make blockchain a highly effective system for addressing and optimizing business processes that involve multiple parties and require having an accurate, trusted record of all transactions. Think real estate, financial services, or supply chain management.
So how does it work? Bitcoin was the first to use blockchain technology to manage the transfer of assets peer-to-peer over the Internet without a middleman. By using blockchain technology across a network of thousands of computers with a shared copy of the same blockchain, Bitcoin enables the transfer of a valuable digital asset peer-to-peer over the Internet—without needing a third party such as a bank or a credit card.
Once a Bitcoin transfer has taken place, it is recorded on the Bitcoin blockchain using advanced cryptography, thereby preventing anyone from ever changing the record acknowledging the transaction has taken place. This immutable quality makes the Bitcoin blockchain impervious to fraud and tampering as it becomes impossible to modify the history of any transactions. Additionally, once you have successfully done a transfer of Bitcoins, the Bitcoin blockchain is updated across the entire Bitcoin network with the new information indicating the transfer took place. This ensures that all parties are notified and immediately aware of the transaction, thereby eliminating any discrepancies. In contrast, when you transfer money from one bank to another, each bank has to update its own database to reflect that a transfer has taken place—a process that is time-consuming and could also lead to human error and possible tampering.
So beyond Bitcoin, how can blockchain technology apply to other industries? Currently, blockchain is successfully being implemented and tested for various financial service offerings such as recording the transfer of land and property titles, digital identity management, and managing voting records to help eliminate voter fraud.
For example, supply chain management is an industry that is being massively disrupted by blockchain. With help from IBM, Walmart has developed and piloted a supply chain management blockchain solution to track food products, including pork products in China. Every time a product is passed along the supply chain—say from farmer to food processor to food distributors and finally to retail locations—the transaction is recorded on the blockchain. This record is unchangeable, immune to fraud or tampering, and available at any time should it be needed. If any food contamination or outbreak should occur, Walmart can instantly detect the provenance of the tainted product which will help contain the problem. Previously, tracking the movement of food products along the supply chain occurred across different separate systems and multiple paper forms, taking days or sometimes weeks to find the source of any problem and subject to possible manipulation of documents. After implementing the Walmart blockchain, test results from the pilot program have shown that the time to find the provenance of products on the supply chain has been reduced to a matter of seconds or minutes. Moreover, there is a far higher confidence in the reliability of these results. These are just a few examples of how this new innovative technology is transforming businesses one blockchain at a time.
So how can learning & development leaders prepare employees to become blockchain savvy and help your business ride this wave of innovation?
First, there are two key groups of employees that you’ll need to train:
● Managers and leaders at your company from finance and marketing to product development so they can grasp how this technology is going to change your industry.
● Software developers who will need to acquire the coding skills to build and support blockchain applications.
Managers and leaders: Your managers and leaders all need to become well versed in blockchain technology to help leverage this new technology for your business. For example, your VP of Finance will need to understand how cryptocurrency might disrupt your industry so you can develop a plan of action. For leaders and managers at your organization, I recommend taking my online course Bitcoin and Blockchain Fundamentals on Udemy and Udemy for Businessas as a first step. The goal of this course is to educate leaders on what the technology is, how it works, and its implications. My course is designed for people who don’t know anything about blockchain and serves as a launching pad to learn more about it. I also provide regular updates and a wide range of other resources to students that enroll in my course featuring the latest blockchain news and technology development trends so they can stay up to speed on this rapidly-evolving topic.
Software developers: Developers will need to learn how to program for blockchain. In particular, they should become familiar with and learn how to use a technology called smart contracts. Smart contracts, which can be programmed to run on a blockchain, are very similar to traditional contracts. However, they are programmed and signed using digital signatures, rather than a written document that needs to be signed and notarized. These smart contracts leverage the qualities of blockchain technology, and thereby help eliminate the need for a third party such as a lawyer, notary, or other trusted intermediary. Smart programs can also be programmed to be fully autonomous, thereby eliminating the possibility of human tampering and changing the contract terms.
It is important to note that Bitcoin is based on a public blockchain, meaning that it is an open network in which anyone can join and participate in. However, it is also possible to create a private blockchain where an organization can determine who can participate in the blockchain and clearly establish the various permission levels for its participants. Here are two of the blockchain technologies your developers might want to become familiar with, depending on the nature of your business.
● Ethereum: Ethereum is a public, decentralized platform that runs smart contracts. This means that developers can program applications to run on Ethereum, and they will run exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud or third-party interference. Ethereum is used by a wide range of organizations, including notable entities like the United Nations, which has built a refugee aid system on Ethereum. This Ethereum-based blockchain system has helped make the process of delivering aid to over 10,000 Syrian refugees more efficient, secure and transparent. Solidity is a key language that your developers will need to learn in order to develop smart contracts for Ethereum. Ethereum and Solidity: The Complete Developer’s Guide is a Udemy and Udemy for Business course that can help your developers come up to speed on the Solidity skills required.
● Hyperledger Fabric: Hyperledger Fabric is a business blockchain framework mainly developed by IBM and now hosted by The Linux Foundation. It is open source, and its network is permissioned based, but not public. This feature enables businesses to have full control of and determine which parties will have access to certain information and rights. Because of this, Hyperledger Fabric is used often by enterprises for setting up permissioned networks and building private blockchain solutions. The Udemy and Udemy for Business course on Hyperledger Fabric Using Composer can teach the specific development skills to build your own blockchain network on Hyperledger Fabric.
Finally, blockchain is part of the wider technological wave happening across industries. It’s being implemented along with a wide range of other technologies such as big data, robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and many others. You can look at this new wave as a threat or an opportunity. The impact of blockchain is very similar to the advent of the internet. It will disrupt and change many businesses as we know it. Your choice is to ride this wave by innovating and transforming your business with all the new possibilities opened by this revolutionary technology or run the risk of being left behind and rendered obsolete.