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Like most of you, I try to keep up with the incredible pace of emerging technologies around the world. I am always trying to figure out how these technologies can apply to me and to my business/clients. Sometimes it takes a particularly perceptive article to make things clear.

For a while, I have been following blockchain from afar, but had always viewed it through the lens of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. While interesting, these are not currently relevant for me personally or professionally. Then I read an article in The New York Times (Blockchain: A Better Way to Track Pork Chops, Bonds, Bad Peanut Butter?) and it became clear how pertinent blockchain could be for any company looking to keep track of inventory by tracing supply issues and more. I highly recommend reading the article, but the summary is that blockchain technology is really just “a bookkeeping method that ‘chains’ together entries so that they are very difficult to modify later. It provides a way for large groups of unrelated companies to jointly keep a secure and reliable record of their transactions.” 

Yes, blockchain can be used in currency exchange and to track stocks and bonds, etc. But it can also be used to track any other inventory, physical or virtual. Companies like IBM and Microsoft are developing versions of the technology to solve tracking issue for companies like Maersk and Walmart.

My favorite part of the article describes how, in 2014, a small team at IBM started working with Bitcoin and blockchain on their own, with no real support from the company. Arvind Krishna, the director of the research group at IBM, was ready to shut the project down (cybercurrency is not a key area for IBM) but the group convinced him of the wider application for tracking shipments without needing to rely on a central authority.

From there, the group presented to top executives at IBM and got approval from CEO Virginia Rometty to build a working prototype. Now they are building client-facing solutions for companies like Maersk, to help them avoid fraud and delays around loading and unloading of container ships.

So, what are the learnings from this article? To me, it means constantly looking at cutting-edge technology and digital trends and trying to see use cases that are relevant to my business (or the businesses of my clients). Blockchain is a great example of such a technology, but there are many others that have similar potential possibilities of changing the world. Some of my favorites to explore with clients right now are:

  • Virtual/ augmented reality
  • Internet of Things
  • Drones
  • Autonomous transportation
  • Behavioral biometrics
  • Voice-based computing

All of these emerging technologies are going to dramatically change the world in the next 10 years. Figuring out how your organization can take advantage of one or more of them would be great food for thought this weekend. Maybe you can become the Arvind Krishna of your organization as a result.

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