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Many businesses are seeing the COVID-19 pandemic as a watershed for technology and innovation investment. Technology budgets have been reprioritised with a laser focus on near-term return on investment as a necessity for most. At the same time remote working, lockdowns and supply chain challenges have accelerated digital transformations that otherwise might have taken a decade to achieve. Organisations also face mounting pressure to enhance their sustainability and ESG performance to such a level that small, incremental change will not be sufficient. So where does this leave the role of blockchain?

We see enterprise and government clients focusing on the following three areas: provenance, identity and tokenization, and at a recent Blockchain Opportunity Summit we learned about three contemporary examples of just how blockchain technology can help to address some of the world’s most challenging issues. Let’s take a look.

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Provenance — Group Renault’s XCEED compliance platform

Automotive supply chains are about as complex as it gets, with large OEMs needing to manage a global, multi-tiered network of suppliers and yet maintain visibility and adherence to an ever-increasing array of standards. Recently Groupe Renault along with Faurecia, Knauf Industries, Simoldes, and Coşkunöz, in association with IBM, have announced a new partnership to scale XCEED (eXtended Compliance End-to-End Distributed), a blockchain-based platform that can trace the compliance of thousands of parts assembled in a vehicle in near real time.

The initial focus countries will be France, Spain and Turkey, but the platform is open to any OEM. It is easy to onboard suppliers of any size, and protects companies’ confidentiality, intellectual property and data ownership while ensuring Renault, its customers and regulators can get full transparency of parts and materials used across the life of a vehicle. It’s a far cry from leafy greens and other food supply chain applications, showing the successful application of blockchain in increasingly complex supply chain use cases.

Identity — IBM Digital Health Pass

COVID has escalated the consideration of digital health data and self-sovereign identity to a level never seen previously. Having worked with governments, airlines, sports and entertainment venues, large employers, academia, and many others over the last 12+ months, it is clear that verification of health credentials is a highly challenging and controversial topic. Government policies vary on the topic, standards are only just starting to emerge, and citizens and enterprises are rightly focused on preserving privacy and equality with our national and international responses. IBM is supporting countries like Germany as well as the State of New York to issue trusted, privacy-preserving credentials.

It’s also important to note that “health passports” exist on a spectrum of sophistication and in most cases do not yet include tethering to a verifiable personal ID capability, so a second form of identity is required alongside the certificate to authenticate the holder. Furthermore, many national solutions (and public perceptions) are focused on vaccination certifications, where we need to be looking broader to include testing, proof of recovery or other methods to allow for inclusion of those who haven’t, won’t or can’t vaccinated against COVID-19. Public-private partnerships will be essential if we are to achieve this at speed and scale.

Tokenization — IPwe’s marketplace for Intellectual Property (IP)

The recent announcement with IPwe was exciting for a number of reasons. IP management and patents are complex domains that, while relatively democratised in terms of the application process, suffer from a significant amount of manual and legal effort to manage. Here’s where the tokens come in: IPwe sees significant potential in issuing patents and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to allow them to be more easily sold, traded, commercialised or otherwise monetised, bringing new liquidity to this asset class for investors and innovators. This should also make the transaction process far simpler across a potential global audience.

For small businesses, representing patents as digital assets is particularly powerful because it allows IP to be treated as collateral or assurance of an organization’s value, also allowing it to be more easily leveraged when seeking funding — in the “traditional” finance world, or even in the world of DeFi (decentralised finance). This initiative is also going to require a significant focus on interoperability between different NFT marketplaces which operate on different blockchain protocols. I’m genuinely excited to see this partnership and marketplace progress.

Finally, if you’re looking for some light-hearted listening on topic of tokenization, I got together with a few blockchain leaders from a range of disciplines to talk about the good, the bad and the very, very ugly of the NFT space today. You can check it out here.

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