When blockchain was first conceived by so-called Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008, bitcoin just existed as a registered domain on the internet.
It was only the following year that the elusive developer implemented blockchain as a core component of the cryptocurrency, which led many to think of both as synonyms.
However, blockchain is not bitcoin and the digital ledger’s uses and impact go far beyond cryptocurrencies.
Although still a complex system which inspires mistrust and amusement in equal measure, several industries have already been disrupted by blockchain and many more are expected to be in the coming years.
Real estate, education, healthcare and politics are only some of the sectors experimenting with this technology outside the cryptocurrency exchange.
Its decentralised nature, lack of intermediaries and trustworthiness of the data have a great appeal to global supply chains and modern industries. Some are even talking about the impact that blockchain could have in governance.
Blockchain in Southeast Asia
ASEAN countries are already looking at the possibilities that blockchain could bring to businesses and the public sector.
To this day, Thailand has been the region’s keenest to adopt blockchain technology.
Dr Veerathai Santiprabhob, Governor of the Bank of Thailand, revealed earlier this month that the country’s central bank was undertaking a review of blockchain applications towards cross-border payments, supply chain financing and document authentication.
However, it is Singapore that has been the most receptive ASEAN nation at the time of embracing blockchain, particularly when it comes to Initial Coin Offerings (ICO).
After China banned ICO last year for considering them illegal fundraising tools, Singapore has become a top destination for them.
But Singapore is not stopping at ICO when looking at uses for blockchain. The energy sector is also seeing great potential and opportunities in blockchain applications.
The government and private sector have set up incubators and investment funds which focus on alternative uses of blockchain, and not exclusively on cryptocurrencies.
Last week, the island nation's Global eTrade Services (GeTS), a subsidiary of CrimsonLogic, launched the world’s first cross-border blockchain for trade linking ASEAN and China’s Digital Silk Road.
Under the name Open Trade Blockchain (OTB), the service is intended to help trade communities to boost overall efficiency, security and transparency for global trade.
Li Heng, VP of the China-ASEAN Information Harbour Company said that joining the OTB platform “will definitely help strengthen the transparency and trust of the trade activities from China to ASEAN through the Southern Trade Corridor and the Belt and Road Initiative.”
One of OTB’s features that makes it unique is its open infrastructure. It is able to provide fundamental utilities as building-blocks for the trade community to co-create and develop new services.
This means that a transferable electronic Bill of Lading could be developed to transform the efficiency of the whole trade ecosystem, including trade finance.
Another sector benefited by blockchain in Singapore is energy. Electrify, a startup founded last year by Julius Tan and Martin Lim, is set to change the way in which people buy electricity.
Through a web and mobile platform consumers can buy energy from electricity retailers through “smart contracts” which directly write the terms between the buyer and the seller into lines of code, enforcing the agreement through a blockchain network.
Consumers are more informed about their choices because Electrify’s proprietary engine collects and displays retail electricity offers.
They are given the possibility to choose between cheaper electricity prices to zero-carbon energy or energy-efficient offers. It also digitises the electricity contracts to eliminate the need for manual filling.
The creation of Electrify is a direct consequence of Singapore’s decision to deregulate its electricity market earlier in the year.
“Our main objective of introducing the Open Electricity Market is to promote greater competition in the electricity market,” said Singapore’s Energy Market Authority Chief Executive Ng Wai Choong. “With competition, consumers stand to benefit from competitive pricing, enhanced service standards and innovative packages from electricity retailers.”
In 2017 alone, blockchain startups raised around US$358 million in venture capital.
In September Malaysia will host the ASEAN Blockchain Summit. It expects to attract more than 500 senior decision makers from sectors as different as insurance, transport and retail, among others.
Startups will mix with CXOs and government leaders to study the ways in which blockchain can be implemented in the real world and beyond its still overwhelming use in cryptocurrencies.