The sudden and profound impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic has been felt around the world. The full ramifications are yet to be understood but many industries have already experienced substantial impact on revenues and profits. Global stock and cryptocurrency markets have fallen substantially in the month of March. The S&P 500 is down 20% year to date and Bitcoin down by 50% (although slowly recouping) over this period. Global trading indices are reaching new record lows and businesses are struggling to adapt. Entrepreneurs and startups are running harder for funding as the quest to find investors is also happening indoors.
Great adversity drives innovation and change as well as creating new opportunities not only in how we work but also for investment. With the world’s workforce now based at home, this could drive permanent changes in the way we work. Digital communication in business operations is growing faster than ever and the Pandemic is forcing us to re-evaluate how work is done. In the end we might even figure out which meetings would have been better as an email?
Just after 9/11 a mere $15 would have bought a share each in Apple, Amazon and Ebay as they suffered from the attack impact combined with the dot com bubble bursting. Today’s value for your shares gives $5,629 or a 375x return on your investment and that is ignoring 20 years of dividends. If that is not enough, you could have bought control of all three companies and probably thrown in Google too for about $3Billion companies which are now worth approaching $3Trillion even with the recent slump.
We will look at the positive side of this pandemic and discuss the opportunities it may offer.
The COVID19 innovation surge has begun. Drones and robots are being used by supply chain companies to deliver their products reducing risk to delivery employees and customers. China's Antwork drone delivery startup entered the medical supplies niche in time to help hospitals respond to the developing coronavirus emergency. Police forces in Brussel are using drones to hunt youths breaking the curfew.
Disinfecting robots, smart helmets, thermal camera-equipped drones and advanced facial recognition software are all being deployed in the fight against Covid-19 at the heart of the outbreak in China. Pudu Technology, a Shenzhen-based robot manufacturing company for catering businesses, has reportedly installed its machines in more than 40 hospitals around the country to help medical staff. MicroMultiCopter, also in Shenzhen, is deploying drones to transport medical samples and conduct thermal imaging. The Chinese Government (using data from its health and transport organizations) and the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation have developed a “close contact detector” app which notifies the user if they have been in close contact with a virus carrier. “Coronamap” identifies the infected travellers' travel route and tracks mask inventory in South Korea in real time.
The innovations are not limited to healthcare or robot manufacturing organizations. VPN and messenger apps like Slack are the two most-used components in every business. Figures released by VPN provider NordVPN revealed that global use of its virtual private network technology had increased by 165% since 11 March. The share prices of Slack and Zoom have risen by more than 33% since February. Real estate agents in NYC are taking advantage of technological capabilities and enabling buyers to take virtual tours of homes that they are interested in, including 3D tours. Amazon has seen a surge in demand around the world as competitors’ physical stores are closed.
Businesses have attempted transformational change as they try to keep their human resources safe. Alipay Health Code assigns individuals the colour green, yellow or red. This indicates their ‘health status’ which determines their freedom of movement . It uses big data to identify potential virus carriers but the classification methodology is not shared.
Blockchain in times of COVID19
Is this the time for Blockchain innovation ?
Blockchain technology has been promised as a solution for many industries and indeed humorously for problems we have not even invented yet. Some aspects of the technology however including irrefutable data integrity and the unique item records could become very useful in the current emergency. We take a look at the potential uses in some industries.
Companies are developing interoperable blockchain solutions to allow collaboration and compatibility with existing solutions. It has never been more relevant than now to record medical data on patients showing flu-or virus-like symptoms as well as pre-existing conditions. This could be done in the form of anonymised public ID data for insurance companies, government compensation and farmers while allowing preventative measures along the supply chain to be more decisive. Testing and certification could also be linked, giving farmers, health officials and machine-learning algorithms accurate data to better understand the risk-level across regions.
Security and privacy experts worry about the potential use of this data by the state government and postulate that western societies are not ready to readily share details which could make them un-insurable or unemployable.
Alipay, along with the Zhejiang Provincial Health Commission and the Economy and Information Technology Department, has launched a blockchain-based platform that enables users to trace the demand and the supply chains of medical supplies. This included the recording and tracking of epidemic prevention materials, such as masks, gloves and other protective gear.
Acoer provides health care and life sciences institutes with blockchain solutions to easily track the virus and visualize how it is spreading around the world using an app called HashLog. One of the newest functions is to process coronavirus claims, helping the firm to reduce paperwork and the need for back-and-forth document delivery to clinics.
ProCredEx has a credentialing system to speed up verification of healthcare workers and can also connect with the existing credentialing systems.
US-based MediLedger has a blockchain for traceability of pharmaceuticals. Participants in the pilot program include the major wholesalers Pfizer, McKesson, Genentech, Gilead and AmerisourceBergen, among others.
California-based iTradeNetwork has a blockchain traceability solution that is being used by the food producer Dynasty Farms.
Supply Chain and Digital Certifications
Blockchain is helping supply chain and health care companies track drug supply chains, medical supplies, managing medical data, advising citizens and identifying symptoms of infection.
Ant Financial’s online mutual aid platform Xiang Hu Bao is a blockchain-based collective claim-sharing platform with over 104 million users.
San Diego-based Bumble Bee Foods is using SAP blockchain for seafood traceability.
Teaming up with Taiwan's Google Developers Group (GDG), FiO has indicated that it intends to create an AI-driven blockchain for the inventory system if given the go-ahead. This will make the system's data records immutable, cut costs and reduce the need for human labor. Developed in partnership with IBM, FiO uses its Hyperledger Fabric modular blockchain framework to create Middleware technology that connects conventional operating systems and databases with network-based applications. This allows FiO customers to build problem-solving blockchain applications in a very short time with little to no technical skills.
The education sector has shown a surprising amount of change. Thousands of colleges and universities are affected including Harvard and Stanford canceling in-person lectures and replacing them with virtual meetings using video platforms such as Zoom, Google Classroom or Skype. Time will tell if this is a temporary or permanent change but the cost and efficiency savings may be too great to ignore. This will be compounded by the fact that many educational institution’s revenue models rely heavily on fees charged to overseas students. These same students may have lost enthusiasm for living overseas, might be prevented from travelling or find the cost of air travel prohibitive. South Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) has issued blockchain-stored diplomas to its new graduates. Chinese students are already using platforms like Alibaba's DingTalk or Tencent's Ketang rather than going to class and with 82k reported cases being less than 6 thousandths of 1% of the population (using China as an example) , who will risk bringing back all of the students versus using these online methods?
This was and still is the most popular use-case of blockchain - global payments and remittances is still yet to be explored by the global companies but some have touched a few niches in the sector. The move away from physical cash was already accelerating before Covid but with the virus living for days on surfaces including cash this has become a stampede with many vendors refusing cash. In an extreme (but perhaps successful ) method to prevent transmission, all Chinese banks are now required to literally ‘launder’ their cash and then store it for 7 to 14 days before releasing it to customers.
Blockchain technology is showing its potential in an archaic financing system. Since the Lunar New Year holiday, 87 China-based businesses have received more than $200 million in loans through a pilot cross-border, blockchain platform. Donors can see where funds are most urgently needed and then track their donations until they are provided with a verification that their donations have been received. Hangzhou-based blockchain startup Hyperchain developed a donation-tracking platform that has already attracted $2 million in donations.
Businesses around the world are continuing their operations but have put in place alternative ways of working to keep employees safe, including shift-based working, staggered meal breaks, flexible leave arrangements and physical distancing. But adding to the change in work culture, companies have shown the growth in innovations which have helped multiple sectors of the economy in uncustomary and exceptional ways. Blockchain and other technologies are evolving in a bid to solve some parts of the crisis. The reality of a major pandemic has already been accepted in every part of the world. The question of whether blockchain with other disruptive technologies can engender trust in the public with innovative solutions will now be put to test.