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Blockchain: the catalyst for a collaborative economy

Microsoft makes it quick for companies of any size to benefit from the collaborative economy with its Azure Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) program.

You might not know much about the collaborative economy, but if you’ve caught a ride from Uber, joined a Kickstarter campaign, or stayed in an AirBnB rental, you’re part of it. In fact, collaborative economy expert Jeremiah Owyang shows that more than half of North Americans are sharing goods and services directly with one another today.

Introducing blockchain, a distributed ledger

The new economy is about more than goods and services—it is about sharing information and, ultimately, making transactions finally move at the speed of the Internet. And blockchains, secure ledgers of broad bits of information shared by everyone in public and private distributed networks, eliminate the need for third-party validators such as contract executors, payment processors, and brokers.

Blockchain as a Service

We all know that payment systems based on a blockchain can fuel business growth for startups and established corporations alike with direct payment of digital currencies, but that’s just the beginning. Distributed ledgers can handle much more than payments—they can become a platform for smart digital contracts that apply across industries and revolutionize how businesses and people transact with one another in fundamental ways.

But how can businesses easily access blockchains? Microsoft makes it quick for companies of any size to benefit from the collaborative economy with its Azure Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) program. The open, hyperscale Azure platform supports an ever-growing number of distributed ledger technologies that address specific business and technical requirements for security, performance, and operational processes. With a distributed ledger ecosystem on Azure, our customers can take advantage of blockchain offerings that meet their unique needs.

In short, Azure BaaS provides a rapid, low-cost, low-risk platform for enterprises to collaborate by experimenting with new business processes and contracts to streamline everything from supply chains to trading in capital markets.

Blockchain technology and banking

No one is taking the blockchain ecosystem more seriously than banks. In 2015, financial innovation firm R3 established a consortium partnership with the world’s leading banks to provide distributed ledger technologies to economies worldwide. R3 now has partnerships with 42 financial institutions, who see blockchains as the underpinning for transformative new services.

Using Azure BaaS with multiple Blockchain partners such as smart contract platforms Ethereum, Eris, and Tendermint, R3 created a peer-to-peer distributed ledger that connects many of the consortium’s leading banks including Barclays, Credit Suisse, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Citi, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo. In a first test of the distributed ledger, the banks simultaneously simulated financial transactions.

And in its third experiment, R3 tested multiple cloud vendors as well, including IBM Bluemix, Amazon Web Services, and Azure with five different blockchain platforms. Azure emerged from the tests as the preferred cloud provider for R3 and its consortium because of its flexible, open, and comprehensive set of enterprise-grade grade services including Internet of Things (IoT), advanced analytics and machine-learning algorithms, security features, and developer tools.

Industry relevance

The benefits of a distributed ledger ecosystem extend far beyond the financial services sector. In the public sector, a secure, distributed ledger can provide more openness and transparency, and transform services and processes including licensing, personal identification, voting records, utilities, benefits management, and more. Industries such as retail and manufacturing can benefit from better supply chain management, smart contract platforms and digital currencies, and tighter cybersecurity.

And in healthcare, blockchains eliminate all the cumbersome, costly third-party verifiers such as health information exchanges by directly linking patient records to clinical and financial stakeholders. As a result, population health management can take a quantum leap forward. The IoT and predictive analytics capabilities in Azure really shine in this scenario too, with the ability to integrate and analyze information collected from virtually any source, including medical devices such as glucose readers, wearables like Microsoft Band, and electronic medical records systems. Information stored on a blockchain can be used to design more efficient treatment and provide fast, secure, authenticated access to personal medical records across healthcare organizations and geographies.

These are just a few of the potential benefits of this exciting new ecosystem, with many more to come.

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