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Harnessing blockchain technology for a competitive edge

As we continue shifting rapidly towards an increasingly digital society, it will become more and more important for professionals of all stripes, including engineers, to understand and make good use of blockchain.

Established in 2008 as a peer-to-peer electronic cash system, blockchain is a shared, permanent and transparent public digital database for recording transactions and tracking assets. Today, the technology is being embraced by a growing number of businesses, governments and non-profits to operate more efficiently, authenticate information more quickly and protect stakeholders’ privacy. Deloitte’s 2021 Global Blockchain Survey of 1,280 senior business executives found that 78% see a compelling business case for using blockchain, digital assets and/or cryptocurrencies in their organizations or projects.

“As society moves towards a more virtual environment, blockchain provides a layer of trust that allows for conducting transactions more securely and verifying the accuracy of information,”

says Mohamed El Kandri, an educator with Lassonde Professional Development at York University.

Through the use of cryptography, blockchain makes it possible to securely record the purchase or trade of anything of value: tangible assets such as property, vehicle or cash, or intangibles such as credentials, artworks or brands. The approach offers multiple key advantages:

  • as a decentralized system, it eliminates the need for intermediaries
  • sensitive data is significantly more protected against cyberattacks
  • information can be instantly traced back to its point of origin
  • organizations can process transactions much more quickly and cost-effectively

“We are seeing a rise in corporations, banks, law firms and other types of entities using blockchain to secure and verify information in real time,” says El Kandri, who is also CTO at technology solutions provider IR4LAB. “It’s a way to create efficiencies and reduce costs, which ultimately benefits customers and allows organizations to be more competitive.”

Walmart Canada is using blockchain technology to address data discrepancies in financial interactions relating to supply chain activity. The company used the distributed-ledger technology to create an automated system to manage invoices from and payments to its 70 third-party freight carriers.

To reduce paperwork for small businesses accessing government services, the governments of Canada, Ontario and British Columbia used blockchain technology to create the Verifiable Organizations Network. It uses digital credentials to streamline the process for companies when applying for things like registrations, licenses or permits.

Meanwhile, the global microfinance non-profit Kiva has made it easier for the world’s 1.7 million adults who lack access to financial services to open bank accounts and obtain loans. By establishing Africa’s first decentralized national digital ID system, which requires only a thumbprint and an ID number to verify a user’s identity, more members of poor and vulnerable populations can build wealth.

Engineers working in all sectors in a variety of capacities—strategic, operational or managerial—also have an important role to play in using blockchain to advance their organizations or practices. Harnessing the full potential of blockchain for greater business innovation and efficiency is the objective of Lassonde’s Blockchain Business Model Development course.

This three-day, three-module course helps professionals understand core blockchain concepts, models and platforms, get up to speed on current blockchain trends, and integrate the technology into their business plans. Delivered online through live instruction by blockchain technology experts, this course features practical assignments to help participants synthesize information, including producing a report on a specific blockchain business case.

“We provide decision models that allow participants to determine how blockchain might serve different business purposes,” says El Kandri, director of and instructor in the course. “Participants get a flavour of what blockchain is all about and gain knowledge and tools that they can apply to their own work.”