Much has been said and written about blockchain, since it was first implemented as a core component of the bitcoin cryptocurrency in 2009. In fact, next to big data and artificial intelligence, blockchain is probably the most hyped technology of the past decade. Some even consider it the most hyped technology ever. Now, while it is true that blockchain has long been a technology in search of applications, today it is far more than just the technology behind bitcoin. More importantly, as recent market research by the Belgian PXL Blockchain Lab shows blockchain looks more than ready to enter the mainstream.
The PXL Blockchain Lab was launched last year as a joint initiative of Agoria, Belgium’s largest employers’ organisation and trade association, business park Corda Campus and the PXL University of Applied Sciences and Arts. At the end of last year, the Lab conducted a study into the use of blockchain technology in Flanders and Brussels. That research yielded 68 actual blockchain projects. The vast majority of these had not yet left the research phase or moved beyond the proof of concept stage. But 15 per cent – or one in seven – of the identified projects were actually in production. Just for the sake of comparison: a similar recent study in the Netherlands identified 66 projects, with 15 per cent also in the production stage. So clearly, Flanders is not lagging behind in blockchain adoption.
Trust and transparency.
The distributed ledger technology that is blockchain, promises to solve the problem of digital trust through improved or, better yet, full transparency. This could have a profound transformative effect on various industries. As the Lab’s study shows, all sectors in Belgium are working to a greater or lesser extent with blockchain technology. However, finance and government are by far the most active sectors, representing more than half of the projects. Governments, especially the Flemish Government and the City of Antwerp / Digipolis, are actually involved in one out of three projects, at different levels: as the initiator, lender or simply as advisor to the project.
Reshaping trade finance.
Of the projects that are already in production, no less than half belong to the financial sector. And KBC Bank & Insurance clearly has a head start on the rest of the Belgian pack, as last year, in close collaboration with eight major foreign banks, it officially launched we.trade: the first blockchain-based trade finance platform in Europe.
We trade uses blockchain technology to seamlessly connect all parties involved in a trade transaction – the buyer, the seller, their banks and the shipper – from any connected device. Helping companies manage, monitor and secure international trade transactions and their financing more efficiently, we.trade allows them to do business with more confidence. So in this case, blockchain technology is specifically used to make international trade safer, more transparent and more efficient.
The foundation of the we.trade platform is a so-called smart contract: a programmed agreement that is drawn up in a certain programming language and laid down in a blockchain. Blockchain technology is used to generate an automatic payment when ticking off a number of conditions. Companies can only access the platform through their bank, so that the KYC (Know Your Customer) procedure is always followed. In other words, the customer is known to and checked by one of the banks, which offers more confidence.