What is Blockchain
Many people have heard of Bitcoin — the digital currency has skyrocketed in value since 2009 — and may know that it is built on “block chain” aka Blockchain technology. But what is Blockchain and why are so many organizations looking at its potential uses outside of digital currency applications?
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Blockchain is actually quite simple: It is a shared digital record book of transactions (called blocks) that are linked together in sequence (chain). Everyone who shares this record book has the ability to validate the transactions and add records, but not modify existing records.
This should sound very familiar to construction industry workers as they deal w/ Requisitions, Purchase Orders, Requests, Work Orders, Inspection Forms and other documentation that has the same characteristics: Records with sequenced line items that are tied to linked transactions.
In construction, however, this information is rarely shared between stakeholders in real-time. Often times, the transactions are completely disconnected and hidden among different systems and databases across many individuals and organizations.
There is a huge opportunity to improve construction project data flow and overall productivity by utilizing Blockchain technology.
SiteSense® and Blockchain
SiteSense has always maintained an activity feed for every construction resource and record document that logs and categorizes every activity in sequence relating to the resource. SiteSense also stores these transactions in a secure, private Blockchain that supports multiple shared stakeholders (or peers) connecting and syncing transactions.
A distributed data store gives us the assurance that our data is replicated and redundant. This eliminates downtime in the event of an outage in one server or even in a data center. This type of storage is optimal for SiteSense’s primary use case of tracking every activity for materials, equipment, workforce and the supporting record documents throughout the project’s lifecycle. Here are some other advantages construction project stakeholders can attain by using SiteSense Blockchain:
SiteSense® tightly couples with Sensors and the Internet of Things/Industrial Internet of Things (IoT/IIoT) and mobile technologies in order to automate and validate transactions. This helps relieve the pressure on the project workforce by reducing the amount of manual work involved in recording transactions. But it also adds a stream of timely and accurate, timestamped information to the record book that is used to validate manual entry and ensure that mistakes or misrepresented information is identified and corrected.
Construction projects have many stakeholders, from owners, Engineering, Procurement and Construction Firms (EPCs), Architects, Engineers and Construction (AECs), contractors, sub contractors, fabricators and other vendors who all contribute to a project’s success.
SiteSense® uses a hierarchical project based authorization system in addition to role based security in order to securely direct information to the correct user.
Peers connecting to the SiteSense Blockchain would have visibility of all transactions based upon their role and involvement on a project, this ensures that the correct information is automatically, securely and quickly shared across multiple stakeholders.
A project using a Blockchain for transactions has the opportunity to ensure all stakeholder’s enterprise systems have access to this shared ledger, and use the transaction log to make sure all of these systems are automatically synchronized, in real-time, with accurate information.
Conversely, transactions can be pushed to the Blockchain, enabling real time sharing of critical information.
For example, an EPC approves a purchase order for a large cooling unit. The line item details are instantly shared to the supplier, who begins fulfilling the order, while simultaneously the site construction team sees the transaction and the material status is updated with a contract delivery date. The supplier produces a detailed Bill of Materials (BOM) and updates the ship date for these line items. The site receiving team instantly knows when each item will arrive and construction work planners immediately have up-to-date forecast arrival information in their planning tools. As components arrive and are received and checked at site, these transactions are pushed to the Blockchain as well, where the receipt is automatically logged against the EPCs originating purchase order line item.
All systems are able to tap into real-time visibility and reduce the gargantuan manual effort of collecting this information.
While Blockchain holds a lot of promise for construction, it also unearths many challenges, which can be overcome.
Firstly, confidentiality and privacy is critically important in the relationship between architects, engineers, suppliers and owners. There are often complex contracts in place to protect the Intellectual Property (IP) of these organizations. Instituting an open record book of transactions is a challenge in this environment due to the IP. Each project’s overall data management strategy needs to be established from the very beginning to account for types of transactions and the data structure of each block, respecting the privacy and confidentiality of every organization.
Next, industry standards in construction are almost non-existent from an Information Systems (IS) standpoint. Today, each project enacts its own standards but by working with key stakeholders early in the project they will be able to champion wins with industry-leading organizations like the Contstruction Industry Institute (CII) and FIATECH to start the process of developing Blockchain standards for Construction Supply Chain and Materials Management.
Also, every organization has different technological capabilities. It may be difficult for some organizations to contribute to a complex ecosystem of integration or even host basic required components (e.g. servers, IT infrastructure, etc.) for a Blockchain implementation.
While Blockchain simplifies the execution of data strategy for construction projects, there are still the age old challenge of getting all stakeholders to buy in on a single methodology. Regardless, construction workers are no strangers to doing the work to build great things, and with SiteSense simplifying the implementation, there will be undoubtedly huge strides with this technology going forward.
Given that Blockchain is already used for billions of dollars in financial transactions globally, there is a huge opportunity to simplify the construction payment landscape in the future. By allocating funds in a digital currency in the same Blockchain with purchase orders, receipts and progress transactions, a great deal can be done to automate and simplify the payment process on large scale, multi-currency projects.
In addition, this can lead to additional revenue opportunities for organizations who dedicate resources to validating payment transactions (as opposed to paying other transaction processor fees), similar to how Bitcoin “miners” make good money by ensuring a smooth and consistent environment for payment processing.
Etherium, a newer cryptocurrency similar to Bitcoin has incorporated in each coin its own programmable ruleset and ability to create smart contracts. This would allow for the transactions themselves to understand the overall contract landscape of a project and change its own behavior accordingly.
Regardless, the future of Blockchain and improved visibility is already here and SiteSense is operating on construction projects around the globe to realize a lot of the benefits discussed in this article.
If you feel like your project could use SiteSense to improve visibility, data flow and productivity, give us a call so we can get started right away!