How blockchain is emerging as a core building block

Bitcoin is an example of blockchain. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Blockchain technology seems to warrant our attention. Once seemingly confined to cryptocurrency, today blockchain is relevant to entities across many industries. It is even enabling some longstanding competitors to collaborate for mutual benefit. With applications that seem endless and enriching, blockchain may require consideration by companies and potential regulatory oversight by governments.

So, what is blockchain? In its simplest form, it's a way of storing and sharing digital information without an intermediary. Once the data is recorded, it can't be changed, and users can access it anonymously. The most well-known use of blockchain is probably bitcoin, a digital currency. However, there are many other uses for blockchain, such as tracking loyalty points and allowing people to pay for purchases using virtual wallets.

For Deloitte's 2019 Global Blockchain Survey, Deloitte's independent research team interviewed 1,386 senior executives from companies that use or may consider using blockchain, and employees from 31 companies that facilitate blockchain use. Fifty-six percent of survey respondents believe that blockchain is no longer a theoretical concept, but a technology that companies should consider using to keep pace with their competitors.

Houston innovating with blockchain
As an InnovationMap article notes, multiple Houston companies are embracing blockchain. Iownit.us has developed a platform for digital private securities, providing an easier ongoing connection between companies and their investors. Data Gumbo is using blockchain to create smart contracts between businesses in the energy industry. Social Chain allows individuals (rather than social networks) to earn money when their personal data is sold to marketers. Another Houston company, Topl, has six platforms to provide supply chain information — e.g., in agriculture, tracking food products from farm to shelves. Houston innovators have formed the Houston Blockchain Alliance, a blockchain networking group that meets regularly to discuss opportunities.

Beyond cryptocurrency
Now that the focus is no longer on if blockchain will work, but how, business leaders are faced with the challenge of incorporating it into their business models. Deloitte's 2019 Global Blockchain Survey states, "executives should no longer ask a single question about blockchain but, rather, a broad set of questions reflecting the role blockchain can play within their organizations." These questions address topics ranging from how blockchain is expected to change industries to what the organizations' "blockchain blind spots" are.

Collaborating with competitors
Blockchain is usually not organized and run by a single entity. For optimal effectiveness when using blockchain, some companies may opt to join a consortium, which as the InnovationMap article states, allows companies to come "together with others in [their] horizontal or vertical ecosystem, in common purpose." Consortia members must agree on their goals, governance, funding, intellectual property ownership, and more. Despite these challenges, 92 percent of survey respondents are either already consortium members or plan to join one within the next year.

Conclusion
The future of blockchain appears bright. This technology is no longer a vision, but a reality — one that companies and countries should consider implementing as technology becomes more and more relevant across industries and around the world.

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About Deloitte
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Building Houston

 
 

Houston-based imaware, which has an at-home COVID-19 testing process, is working with Texas A&M University on researching how the virus affects the human body. Getty Images

An ongoing medical phenomenon is determining how COVID-19 affects people differently — especially in terms of severity. A new partnership between a Houston-based digital health platform and Texas A&M University is looking into differences in individual risk factors for the virus.

Imaware, which launched its at-home coronavirus testing kit in April, is using its data and information collected from the testing process for this new study on how the virus affects patients differently.

"As patient advocates, we want to aid in the search to understand more about why some patients are more vulnerable than others to the deadly complications of COVID-19," says Jani Tuomi, co-founder of imaware, in a press release. "Our current sample collection process is an efficient way to provide longitudinal prospectively driven data for research and to our knowledge, is the only such approach that is collecting, assessing, and biobanking specimens in real time."

Imaware uses a third-party lab to conduct the tests at patients' homes following the Center for Disease Control's guidelines and protocol. During the test, the medical professional takes additional swabs for the study. The test is then conducted by Austin-based Wheel, a telemedicine group.

Should the patient receive positive COVID-19 results, they are contacted by a representative of Wheel with further instructions. They are also called by a member of a team led by Dr. Rebecca Fischer, an infectious disease expert and epidemiologist and laboratory scientist at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, to grant permission to be a part of the study.

Once a part of the study, the patient remains in contact with Fischer's team, which tracks the spread and conditions of the virus in the patient. One thing the researchers are looking for is the patients' responses to virus complications caused by an overabundance of cytokines, according to the press release. Cytokines are proteins in the body that fight viruses and infections, and, if not working properly, they can "trigger an over-exuberant inflammatory response" that can cause potentially deadly issues with lung and organ failure or worse, per the release.

"We believe strongly in supporting this research, as findings from the field can be implemented to improve clinical processes-- helping even more patients," says Wheel's executive medical director, Dr. Rafid Fadul.

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