The world is digitising at tremendous speed, powered by the rise of connected machines and all kinds of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. ‘Blockchain’ thinking is the technology trend of the moment and organisations around the globe are getting wise to the benefits and opportunities it can bring.
As Peter Van Ostaeyen, Blockchain and IoT consultant at SD Worx says, Blockchain is already helping businesses stay accountable, build trust and cut out excessive red-tape and paperwork. According to a recent IDC report the global spending on blockchain solutions is expected to reach US$2.1 billion (€1.81 billion) through the course of 2018. Its full potential is yet to be realised though, as this figure is set to explode to$9.7 billion (€8.37 billion) by 2021.
It might come as a surprise then that blockchain could herald a rise of paper throughout the world… ‘smart paper’ that has the capability to interact with the IoT and all connected devices. RFID tags, the technology behind smart paper, are already widely used in retail and the supply chain. Blockchain’s barrier to entry may currently seem high to some, and RFID will lower the threshold to wider blockchain adoption – especially in industries and developing economies where paper still plays a central role.
RFID tags would mean that you can add information and make that page communicate with other connected IoT devices. Ultra-thin RFID tags can currently be added on to the paper layer and will soon even be integrated into the fabric of the paper itself.
Smart paper cutting fraud
So what tangible applications does this have? One example is how IoT and blockchain connected paper could cut down on banknote fraud. With smart paper every note will be integrated with a unique identification, time-stamped on the blockchain. This would allow you to scan the note with your phone to confirm its authenticity, as well as detailing the lifecycle of the banknote.
Furthermore, smart zones on connected paper could be used to recognise handwriting, specifically signatures, helping to reduce fraud and meaning the benefits of digital tracing can now be physical. Smart paper will also make education smarter.
Connected paper will mean that, once touched, a school’s multiple-choice exam cannot be altered in any form. The blockchain will verify this too, stopping students cheating on tests.
Additionally, IoT tags would enable teachers and students to scan paper written in a different language, and instantly translate via a tablet or smartphone. This way educators around the world can open up a whole new source of texts to their pupils.
Cracking smart paper
Think the days of buying reams of blank paper are over? Think again. Another evolution of smart paper comes in the form of sheets that you buy blank to be RFID scanned with their own unique blockchain address linked. Need proof of signage on your mortgage application? Check. Need to validate a business contract? Check.
This would provide all the benefits of encrypting important documents to a wide, global audience, opening up the possibilities of smart paper for any potential use imaginable. This also has significant implications for countries and industries where paper is still a crucial part of day to day business culture.
The potential for governments is also huge, as it would allow paperwork to be embedded with information that can only be accessed through a blockchain layer (using the public and private key principals). This vastly increases security and ensures sensitive documents aren’t tampered with and only seen by the right eyes.
Preventing tampering would also be a key benefit for payroll departments as information on payroll documents can be automatically transferred to government run blockchains for tax purposes, carrying time-stamped and validated references. This would also boost time saving and guarantee watertight security for payroll suppliers too, as all the documents they produce would be directly validated by the employer straight to the blockchain.
Blockchain isn’t just a future technology, it’s already linking the real, physical world with the benefits that connectivity and the IoT brings. Beyond this, businesses are already preparing self-learning paper, meaning they can write commands on the paper which will translate it into a fully encrypted smart contract, making blockchain technology even more accessible. So, don’t discount paper just yet – it’s time to get smart!
The author is Peter Van Ostaeyen, Blockchain and IoT consultant at SD Worx.