Let's face it. 2018 has been a pretty bad year for cryptocurrency as an investment vehicle. I could get into comparing one coin with another and saying X coin has held up better against Y coin, but those stats are easily available and frankly at this point with the small sums of money (in the context of global finance) in cryptocurrency and with the market full of mainly speculators and pioneers, there really is very little point right now. Most people in the crypto space already understand that adoption and implementation takes time and that values will be reflected when they are being utilised to capacity - whatever form that might take.
The purpose of this piece is far more holistic than that. Who really is using blockchain? Or experimenting/testing? More importantly, do these entities or companies have the chops to get it off the ground? Or even, have they done so already? With that in mind, I decided to do a bit of digging and came up with something of a silly idea. Would it be possible to list the top companies in the world who are doing so in one place and if so, how to quantify that and catagorise it? Where would you start?
I decided to take the approach of looking at the top 20 companies in the top prominent markets around the world and due to the scale of the research required, break this piece down into four segments. Those being:
Part 1: The top 20 companies by market cap in the Fortune 500
Part 2: The top 20 companies by market cap in the FTSE 100
Part 3: The top 20 companies by market cap in the German Dax
Part 4: The top 20 companies by market cap in the Nikkei 225
There are of course multiple metrics that could be used to measure "top 20" but for the sake of nothing but simplicity and to keep things as even as I can, I have gone with Market Cap. I have no idea how many companies out of the 80 or so I will be writing about over the next four parts to this article are actively involved in blockchain research or application. I am however willing to bet that well over half of these companies will be testing or applying already.
So, lets start with America and the Fortune 500 shall we?
Lettuce. It's an everyday foodstuff and not particularly exciting. It was however the cause of a small outbreak of E. Coli in America as result of produce shipped out of certain farms in Northern California according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (1). Walmarts response to this was to join a trial program kicked off by IBM that (for their purposes and to begin with) tracked Romaine Lettuce from the farm to the point of sale. As its current progress stands, the program aims to get all of Walmarts farming suppliers working with the IBM Food Trust Solution (supply tracking blockchain) in order to track produce and thereby its safety by September 2019.
According to Bridget van Kralingen (IBM Senior VP for Global industries) this project aims to reduce the time taken to track the food source from what is a current average of around 7 days to only 2 seconds. The implications for food safety being obvious here: If you know where food has come from, you can know instantly whether it is safe. Remove unsafe food and reduce recalls and thereby costs associated with the produce. (2) (3)
- Exxon Mobil
Little information that I could find specifically on projects in the works, however Wole Olugbele is employed at Exxon Mobil HQ in Houston Texas as Emerging Technology Advisor(29) and lists investigations into A.I and Blockchain in his profile. If Exxon are working on Blockchain, in this instance I have come up short.
- Berkshire Hathaway
Perhaps slightly controversial here and without getting into the debate of Berkshire Hathaways' owner; Mr Warren Buffet and his "Bitcoin is rat poison squared" comment (4), it would appear on the surface at least that several Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary companies are indeed looking into at least a couple of facets of blockchain technology.
Trustchain is a blockchain tech initiative that aims to put diamonds and jewelery on a blockchain in order to track the precious substances back to their mined source in an effort to combat what are proverbially known as "blood diamonds" and practices of abuse in the industry. Richline Group and Helzberg are both companies who have joined the initiative in April 2018 and are both subsidiary companies of Berkshire Hathaway. (5) (6) The chain will attempt to track stones right from the mine all the way to the retail and purchaser giving consumers a direct insight into the ethical practices of the mine where their particular stone has originated from.
Prior to this in February this year, BNSF (another Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary) joined the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA). It is one of over 200 companies in the freight and more specifically the train networks with over 32'000 miles of track in 28 states in the USA as well as operations in Canada. BiTA is working towards developing blockchain standards for the entire freight industry. (7)
Mr Buffet might not like Bitcoin, but his companies certainly do seem to have an interest in real world application of the technology behind it. Its also worth noting that Berkshire Hathaway is such a vast company that If I were to dig through the other 66 companies it has majority holdings in (14), not to mention the plethora of companies it has minority holdings, it would be a safe bet to assume there would be more.
Almost everyone knows that Apple are a notoriously secretive company so the likelihood of finding info on specific projects that the company is involved in was always going to be slim. That said, in August this year, Steve Wozniak backtracked an earlier statement regarding his position on blockchain in an almost complete 180 degree turnaround.
In June in an interview with CNBC whilst he acknowledged "a lot of the blockchain ideas that are really good by coming out early they can burn themselves out by not being prepared to be stable in the long run" The general sentiment in that same interview was definitely on the negative side with the take out being a statement he made at the NEX conference in New York being “It was a bubble, and I feel that way about blockchain" referencing a comparison to the dot com bubble of the 90's. (8)
By August however, another piece surfaced quite literally turning the table on its head. Steve Wozniak, publicly a skeptic not more than two months before this, had joined Equi Global as co-founder (www.equiglobal.com) A blockchain focused venture capital start up. (9) Now it should be said that the history behind Equi before Steve entered the fray was somewhat...questionable. if the Financial Times is to be believed, Lady Michelle Mone (OBE) and her partners orchestrated an ICO in Feb this year, however after not raising enough funding, the ICO was canned leaving several unhappy investors and promoters. FT went on to run two stories the first questioning to some degree whether Wozniak was involved, the second almost in disbelief when it was proven he is. (10) (11)
The episode with Equi aside and whatever Wozniak has said in the public eye on the subject can probably be ignored as on December 7th last year, it came to light Apple had filed a patent for its own blockchain system (12)
Whatever the story is, I think it is a safe bet to assume apple is dabbling in the blockchain industry in some form or another.
- Unitedhealthcare Group
Outside of the USA, its possible not many people will have heard of Unitedhealthcare Group, however they rank number 5 on the Fortune 500 by total revenue. Not small then. (13)
In April this year, Unitedhealthcare were one of no less than five giant medical companies who came together to launch a blockchain pilot program.(15) The medical industry in the USA spends no less than $2.1 billion per annum chasing patient data. That is an extraordinary amount of money to be saved on a subject where immutable data is absolutely critical to patient welfare as well as the finances of medical insurance companies.
The other companies who joined the initiative at start up were:
- Humana (another a Fortune 500 company)
- Quest Diagnostics
It might have seemed like this project had gone quiet from that point as very little other information was released to the public re: project status or development since then. However on December 3rd, it was announced two more health-care giants joined the program; Aetna and Ascension. (16)
Between these seven companies there are hundreds of millions of patients who, if and when the project reaches live status will have far quicker responses to their requirements in medical care and potentially have decisions taken at a speed currently not available to them regarding the status of their welfare. The implication? Quite literally, in this application, blockchain could potentially save lives.
Another health-care giant, Mckesson actually looked at blockchain to solve the same problems Unitedhealthcare did before the latter got to it. In May 2017, Change Healthcare (a spin off company of Mckesson) got involved with both the Linux Foundation and Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 to address the issues I have already stated in the case above with Unitedhealthcare. (17)
In January this year, that project went live as the first "Enterprise scale blockchain solution for healthcare" under the name: "Change Healthcare Intelligent Healthcare Network with Blockchain" (I think they need a shorter name than that... but I digress!) The system tracks patient status and welfare as well as payment financial process for insurance providers. (18) The end result for this being a more efficient health-care system with lower costs and improved speed of assessment.
- CVS Health
On the surface my research with CVS has come up short with regards to direct involvement in blockchain research. However, CVS are in the process of acquiring Aetna who are already part of the blockchain program with Unitedhealth with the deal expected to complete very soon. (22) Whether or not this program moves upstream within CVS is up for debate of course, but it would be sensible to assume that efficiencies within an acquired company would absolutely have potential to be applied within the parent body.
Needing no introduction to anyone as the company that quite literally sells anything and everything (seriously... you can buy real live Giant Hissing Madasgacan Cockroaches on Amazon if you feel the burning desire to do so...(19)) Amazon announced their blockchain solution to the public only a few days ago. Some might argue that it doesnt fit the architecture of a blockchain as not only is it centralised, Amazon openly admit to that being the case. The platform has two elements to it. The first being the Amazon "Quantum Ledger Database" and the second being "Amazon Managed Blockchain". (20)
From an outsiders perspective who doesn't really have any love nor any hate for Amazon, I can see this application coming in for a lot of flack from those who are in the cryptospace. There are also multiple arguments against the centralised nature and the fact that QLDB is effectively far closer to a database than a blockchain, even if it is designed to plug in to the managed blockchain side of their proposal. So why do it? Given it is designed to be compatible with Ethereum and Hyperledger Fabric, I would assume that Amazon are planning to sell this as an enterprise level solution to corporates for specific applications. Will it work? I'm not sure I am convinced, but time will tell if there is space in the blockchain industry for a suite of products this niche.
One thing is for sure though. The time and resources committed to Blockchain by Amazon have been public for some time. With relationships built with R3 Corda, Hyperledger, Cisco Blockchain, Manifold and many more, it would be safe to say that Amazon are in this for the long game. (21)
The telecoms company has moved with the times and partnered with both IBM and Microsoft to release bespoke versions of blockchains that run with each of these partners respectively.
Cutting across a broad range of industries from manufacturing and retail through to healthcare, AT&T have a consultancy team and bespoke software solutions which are designed to work in tandem with IBM Blockchain and Microsoft Azure Blockchain products. The packages were released as enterprise grade suites to industry in September this year and are not experimental but are indeed fully live and operational. (23)
Following the launch, on December 3rd in Cleveland, Ohio, John Donovan, the CEO of AT&T said Blockchain is "Architecture that moves the world forward" at the Blockland Solutions conference. (24)
- General Motors
Yet another company making blockchain announcements on December 3rd. (perhaps a coincidence but it does seem December 3rd presented multiple sources of blockchain news!) General Motors is looking at blockchain as their solution to manage data in autonomous vehicles. (25)
The patent application filed with the US Patent office was published recently. Given the patent office need to wait for a period of around 18 months before releasing publicly patents, this would indicate GM have been quietly working on this project for quite some time, even if the news is only just coming to light.
- Ford Motor Company
Ford is one of four automotive giants who came together in May 2018 forming a coalition to explore applications of blockchain in vehicles and how it might be used. With General Motors, BMW and Renault as the other partners, it represents something of a shift in culture in the traditionally secretive automotive industry. Vehicle development and testing has always represented some degree of paranoia in the industry for fear of competition gaining an advantage should development be leaked, so for competitors to come together is quite something.
The coalition has software developed by IBM and is called the "Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative" or MOBI for short. Its mission is "To foster an ecosystem where businesses and consumers have security and sovereignty over their driving data, manage ride-share and car-share transactions, and store vehicle identity and usage information." (33)
Ford also looked at and patented a different application blockchain a couple of months prior to this with vehicles able to "talk" to each other with a view to alleviate and compensate for traffic movement and congestion with a cryptocurrency transaction between drivers. The project called the "Vehicle-to-vehicle cooperation to marshal traffic" was patented in March 2018, but little information has come to light on it since. (34)
- Amerisource Bergen
In 2017, Amerisource Bergen began a trial blockchain program which was designed to track and trace drugs in the medical supply chain from manufacture to end user. Owing to expansion of regulation in industry (and likely the simple logic of blockchain being the correct solution) In June this year, Amerisource Bergen expanded that trial program from one set of drugs to multiple products.(30)
If Chevron is working on something in blockchain, I haven't been able to find it. The only possibility (that seems to be available in the public domain) is their partnership with Microsoft Azure to automate infrastructure with cloud based services. (43) The azure suite of products from Microsoft does contain its own blockchain solution, however I have found no concrete facts which associate Chevron with that particular product use.
- Cardinal Health
In the public eye at least, Cardinal Health has taken a cautious approach to blockchain with articles on its own website assessing where and indeed whether (it believes) blockchain has an application in the medical care industry. (35)(36)(37) The tone of these articles all read identically in that the do not deny blockchain has potential, yet Cardinal do not yet appear to have understood benefits of how they may help the industry as a whole.
That said, Mediledger (38) is an open source distributed network targeting big pharma that has already signed partners including:
- Amerisource Bergen
As a result of a new law in America name Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) (39) Big pharma is coming together in order it shore up the way drugs are tracked, traced and administered in the market place. At a conference earlier this year, Eric Garvin, one of the co-founders of the Mediledger project mentioned Cardinal Health May join the program. (40) While this is yet to be confirmed, with the likes of Mckesson and Pfizer on board already, it would make sense for Cardinal Health to take the plunge.
An early (incorrect) report on the IBM blockchain solution engaged by Walmart had Costco taking part in the program as well. Since then multiple sites issued corrections noting that costco were not part of the project at all. It would seem Costso have taken a different approach. Whilst there is no specific blockchain press release per se, Costco have tapped Zest Fresh Labs to look at the shelf life and journey of their fresh produce on sale. (44)
Zest Labs are an Agricultural tech company who have considered and understand the benefits of blockchain on their company website (45) It should be said at this point there doesn't look like any official confirmation this is in the works, but the positive tone suggests it may be in the future.
Guardtime are an organisation with decades of cryptography experience and offices in 6 countries around the work. In their own words, "if Google index information and make it accessible, Guardtime validate information." (41)
Verizon have partnered with Guardtime to leverage their experience in Blockchain and deliver service based products in their business. Alex Shlager, Exzecutive Director of Security Services at Verizon said “Increasingly, our enterprise customers want to effectively leverage blockchain to meet the security demands from their customers. They are looking for proven, reliable solutions and Verizon is recognized as a market leader in managed security services. Combining our security expertise with Guardtime’s blockchain platform offers customers an advanced solution.” (42)
The project is scant on detail however it sounds like Verizon are attempting to both satisfy additional customer requests as well as expand on their capability in the the digital security market.
Just as Walmart is a giant in the food industry, Kroger is too... and just as Walmart joined the IBM food safe initiative, Kroger also did. At the same time.
“Safety is a key value for Kroger, and our partnership with IBM positions us to explore and test blockchain technology as a solution for enhanced food safety across our business," Howard Popoola, Kroger's VP of corporate food technology and regulatory compliance at the point of joining the initiative.
Oh, its probably worth mentioning these were not the only two food giants to join the program. Multiple other retailers, farming organisations and producers joined simultaneously, Including:
- Golden State Foods
- McCormick and Co
- McLane Co
- Tyson Foods
The power of blockchain is quite literally the perfect application here and it doesn't take a genius to know one farm supplying one supermarket is one thing, but multiple farms supplying tens of thousands of supermarkets (Walmart alone have nearly 6800 stores) is another thing entirely. (27)
- General Electric
GE opened its press release on blockchain with the bold heading "Move over Bitcoin, here comes digital energy".
The release went on to write "Engineers at GE Global Research are looking for ways to use blockchain to connect consumers and producers of electricity with batteries supplied by wind and solar farms. “Through blockchain, we think there’s an opportunity to create a marketplace where we can connect these participants,” says John Carbone, a principal engineer at GE Global Research. “We try to pull them all together in a way that increases the reliability and access to renewable electricity.” " (26) This early release in 2017 looked into some experimental lab programs using blockchain in the allocation of energy with hardware as simple as a Rasberry Pi.
Since then, GE have increased their research and exposure in blockchain. A recent report has GE taking an innovative and perhaps amibitious approach to the application of blockhain in creating "virtual powerplants". That is the theory of using blockchain in the management of harvesting and allocating energy from multiple sources without the need for mega sized power plants, A field the company has had little exposure or experience in but is actively now taking an interest in. (28)
- Walgreens Boots Alliance
It seems my research came up short with Walgreens Boots Alliance. However as a major player in the retail pharmaceuticals industry and given the evidence of all other players in pharma so far, it is possible there is something behind closed doors. This is however no confirmation and I have found nothing so far that confirms or even alludes to this being the case.
- JP Morgan Chase
The powerhouse that is JP Morgan Chase of course recognise the potential behind blockchain and as a result have set up their own "Blockchain Centre of Excellence". The team are responsible for experiments and application of blockchain across all JP Morgan Chase business units. (31)
Whilst current projects do not seem to have a large amount of detail in the public eye, the company has released a public guide on their website for fund and asset managers to leverage blockchain.(32) It would appear on the surface at least JP Morgan have committed significant resources into the subject of blockchain and will attempt to grow that in the future.
Whilst regulatory clarity is absolutely required within the cryptospace, the application of blockchain itself is searing ahead in America at a fantastic pace. I started this piece with a bet that well over half the companies in this list would be involved in blockchain in some way or another. It turns out that number is closer to 80% of the top 20 companies! Some applications and experiments are as a result of new laws, others as a result of age old problems that only blockchain can solve due to the nature of its design. Usage and utility it seems...is king. Sound familiar?
Next, I'll be writing about my home turf. The United Kingdom and the top companies in the FTSE 100.
To be continued.
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