Some 84 percent of companies are “involved” with blockchain, according to a new report by analyst firm PwC. That could include everything from a proof-of-concept to a full-fledged product. (To collect its data, PwC surveyed 600 executives from 15 territories worldwide.)
That’s an extraordinarily high percentage for a relatively nascent technology, but PwC suggests it’s driven by very real business concerns. “As a distributed, tamperproof ledger, a well-designed blockchain doesn’t just cut out intermediaries, reduce costs, and increase speed and reach,” read the report. “It also offers greater transparency and traceability for many business processes.”
At least on paper, blockchain is a pretty simple concept: It’s a distributed database that maintains a chain of “blocks,” or records with a timestamp and link to a previous block. It is difficult (although technically not impossible) for a user to retroactively alter data within a particular block without someone noticing. This renders blockchains secure by design, making them ideal for everything from “smart” contracts to unalterable shipping manifests to, yes, cryptocurrency.
However, only a relatively small number of companies (15 percent) have a live product that relies on blockchain; some 20 percent are still in the research phase, while 32 percent have moved onto development, and 10 percent are piloting something.
This high level of business interest dovetails neatly with a recent report from Upwork that placed blockchain among the hottest skills of the freelance job market, as well as Dice data showing that experts in the technology can earn six-figure salaries. Companies interested in blockchain need tech professionals who understand the technology, and they’re clearly willing to pay for the right talent.
According to PwC, financial institutions are viewed as the leaders in blockchain, followed by firms that produce industrial products, energy and utilities, healthcare, and government. This seems logical, as blockchain is widely seen as a way to keep track of real and virtual assets—everything from cryptocurrency to shipping containers full of raw materials.
However, substantial barriers to adoption still remain. Top among those: regulatory uncertainty, which 48 percent of respondents cited as a real issue. Lack of trust among users came in second, with 45 percent, followed by ability to network together (44 percent), separate blockchains not working together (41 percent), inability to scale (29 percent), intellectual property concerns (30 percent), and audit/compliance concerns (20 percent).
Those issues will take quite some time to work out—if they’re ever solved at all. In the meantime, though, the PwC data suggests that, despite the turbulence surrounding Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, blockchain is very much here to stay in terms of business usage.