Blockchain efforts move beyond the hype: ‘This is happening now’

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(Bloomberg) -- There has been more talk in recent years about how blockchain technology can change the world than actual projects showing what it can do.

But now, after years of research and development, companies are using blockchain networks to conduct trade finance, track diamonds and prove the provenance of marijuana.

That’s a big leap for firms focused on using networks of linked computers to cut costs and the time it takes to conduct business in finance, trade and health care, said Brian Behlendorf, executive director of blockchain-software developer Hyperledger Project, which is backed by International Business Machines Corp.

“This is happening now,” Behlendorf said Thursday during a panel discussion at the Distributed 2018 conference in San Francisco. "There are running systems now on top of this technology.”

Earlier this month, a consortium created by Deutsche Bank AG, HSBC Holdings Plc, Banco Santander SA, Societe Generale SA and other financial firms, said it completed seven real-world transactions involving 10 companies in cross-border trade. Everledger, a diamond tracking venture using the blockchain, is now active, Behlendorf said, and GreenStream Networks Inc. has been monitoring legal cannabis farming using a blockchain network. All of these firms are Hyperledger customers.

Blockchain has captivated Wall Street because it could process virtually any kind of trade or money transfer in minutes. That would vastly reduce the capital that must be set aside before settlement. Industries such as health care, supply-chain management, pharmaceuticals and mining are intrigued by its potential to improve efficiency. Widespread adoption faces several challenges, however, including regulatory approval and persuading competitors to work together to form networks.

“I would hope we’re still at such an early stage of this technology that we should be thinking really, really big," Sheila Warren, project head of blockchain and distributed ledger technology at the World Economic Forum, said during the panel discussion.

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