Best-fit application scenarios and models
The best-fit blockchain-based applications are elaborated to well exploring the reliability, immutability, and openness with blockchain technologies. There is not any superior participant in a blockchain system, in which transactions are recorded anonymously and cannot be altered or tampered. It is a prerequisite that the blockchain systems can address some pain spots with the subject scenarios, generally, through transforming a non-trustable environment to a creditworthy environment based on the blockchains.
As a distributed ledger, a blockchain system can be developed to be an ecosystem with blocks as its infrastructure, which is distributed not only at its architecture, but also at its data and operation rights. The ledger of the ecosystem is composed of a number of distributed peer nodes. The participants of the ecosystem are peer entities with equal privileges to each other. The data of the ecosystem records are private and self-regulated to decide which participants can receive and view.
There are tens of thousands of blockchain-based application systems have been developed for smart contracts, notarization, asset trading, bank clearance, ecommerce, social communication, Internet of Things, storage, data API, finance, to provide data-level, business-level, or service-level infrastructure. Many of them are shut down in a few years due to low necessity, feasibility or performance along with business operation issues. There are several basic concerns to be addressed when evaluating a blockchain venture, as shown by Fig. 1. Why is it necessary? How many benefits are expectable for the participants? What about its performance? Is it operable to start up? Furthermore, what are the innovations by introducing blockchains?
Blockchains for cryptocurrency and payment
It is the cryptocurrency Bitcoin that brings acceptance and prosperity of the blockchain-based technologies, as the blockchains provide secure, open, and decentralized transaction infrastructure for Bitcoin. Since then, thousands of Bitcoin-like or Bitcoin-derived projects have been launched. The numerous ICO (Initial Coin Offering) programs were prevailing for the time across the world. Most of the blockchain concepts are developed from the Bitcoin blockchain, and cryptocurrency and payment ventures are still emerging to be the most popular application areas, despite the fact that very few of them survive and Bitcoin is illegal in some countries.
Recently, two influential projects, the Libra by Facebook and the DCEP by Central Bank of China, are announced to be launched. The two projects are ambitious to provide anonymous digital wallets with no bank account, and make new electronic payment infrastructure across the world. The Libra is announced as a stable currency built on a secure and stable open-source blockchain, backed by a reserve of real assets, and governed by an independent association . The DCEP currency is issued and endorsed officially by China Central Bank . The two grand visions are destined to make tremendous impacts on transnational financial systems and international politics. Compared with the autonomous Bitcoin system, the two projects have been developed with tremendous resources and by most powerful groups either in America or China. Considering what the Bitcoin has made in the past few years, both the Libra and DCEP are becoming undoubtedly powerful catalysts for much more blockchain-based technologies and applications, which are changing the world.
Blockchains for product tracing
The blockchain technology is best fit for reliable activity tracking. A blockchain-based application in the healthcare sector was proposed to reduce prescription drug fraud, integrate the medical information, and connect the dental industry. The blockchain is used to solve the problems that medical information is frequently held by individual providers or private data collectors without full patient access. The authors believe blockchains can make an effective and trustable tracking of transactional information at each step of a process in a transparent and immutable way .
Several commercial blockchain IoT solutions have been put into the market. For example, IBM Blockchain IoT is developed to make the transactions between things trustable. Within an IoT construct, blockchain can build a trusted and efficient business network based on shared ledger, reduce cost of creating, maintaining and enforcing contracts based on smart contract, produce a permanent or indelible record based on IoT device data, and accelerate transactions through IoT events to trigger smart contract execution directly . Another example is RAIN RFID-IoT Tracking Services, which enable item-level tracking services both in-store and supply chain .
Furthermore, it is popular to use the blockchains to make anti-counterfeit solutions in that authenticity of products is verified by the blockchain network consisting of all market participants in electronic commerce (producers, merchants, and marketplaces) .
Blockchains for supply chains
The supply chain is one of the best-fit areas for blockchains as there are multiple entities in a supply chain and need a creditworthy mechanism to cooperate for a business. The blockchain ecosystem can be developed to provide secure, creditworthy, and complete information among the supply chain members to avoid cheating or commercial abusing. The creditworthy data are helpful for small and medium enterprises to get financial services, which is a painful issue with traditional industries. Also the author learns from some interviews and cooperative projects with industry partners that a number of blockchain projects have been underdeveloped in China to increase the efficiency of finance audit and solve the financial issues of the small enterprises. As illustrated by Fig. 2, the finance agency can lend money to the small suppliers and service providers due to creditworthy purchase orders. Several finance blockchain projects for supply chain can be found at information websites .
Further, with smart contracts, blockchains have the potential to make more secure and trustable trades or collaborative business among a supply chain. Smart contracts can be used to compose the entire transaction process and automatically executed in a cost-effective, transparent, and secure manner . For example, a blockchain-based production credit mechanism (PCM) for manufacturing services is put forward to regulate the cross-enterprise collaborations among socialized manufacturing resources .
Blockchains for business applications
The blockchains are supposed to be applicable at many business areas though most of the ventures have failed as mentioned above. A feasible application scenario is the key for a feasible blockchain application. The scenario should be elaborated to explore the unique blockchain features, and follow invented business rules within the evolved instead of the conventional business environments. It is encouraging that numerous attempts and ventures are under development around the world.
On the blockchain-related information websites, you may find thousands of blockchain projects for tens of application areas . Also, some blockchain attempts in can be found in the literature. For example, a scientific information blockchain system is proposed to lower the costs at scientific information access and make it open and universal. The intention is to make larger parts of the research cycle open to self-correction . A global higher education credit blockchain platform is proposed to constitute a globally trusted, decentralized higher education credit, and grading system that can offer a globally unified viewpoint for students and higher education institutions, as well as for other potential stakeholders . A digital identity blockchain ecosystem is developed to create secure and trusted digital identities to reduce identity theft and improve public safety, which allows citizens to carry out high-value and daily transactions online .
Blockchains for public services
The existing credit systems are not well recognized because of separate brokerage systems, non-pertinence, centralized and static evaluation models, and insufficient supporting information. The authors have been developing creditworthiness-related projects since 2009 and proposed an autonomous credit system to exploit potential feasibility and performance that the blockchain and smart contracts may make for online trading . The autonomous blockchain system is envisioned as the next generation of credit system in that it is trading-oriented and to match all the trading-related participants. It is developed to be an integrated, traceable, dynamic, and personalized blockchain ecosystem. The goal is to make the participants and transactions credible besides credible data in a blockchain system. It, therefore, supports creditworthy business commitments, with life-cycle and multimedia tracing information while no dependency on any credit brokerages.