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Blockchain, a secure new technology, entices world-leading companies and governments

  • Blockchain is a record of transactions that allows users to share information quickly, freely and under the radar.
  • Blockchain is being used by leading companies, such as Wal-Mart and IBM.
  • Governments are also launching blockchain initiatives to figure out ways to leverage the technology.

In middle school, Eileen Lowry swapped her band class out to try her hand at computer science. She hasn't looked back since.

"I've always been fascinated with 'how do things work?'"

Today, she's tackling what some analysts are calling the most transformative technology since the dawn of the internet as a program director for IBM Blockchain Labs & Garage North America in New York City.

Blockchain is a record of transactions — a transparent and tamper-proof digital ledger — that allows users to share information quickly, freely and without fear that it could be altered without user detection. While many associate the technology with the digital currency bitcoin, its uses have expanded in a big way, currently being applied by leading companies like IBM and Wal-Mart across industries including financial services, retail and logistics.

"It's just a fascinating technology — there are so many different aspects to it from talking about transactions and instilling trust in that," Lowry said. "That's my every day, talking to clients as to why they want to instill trust in their transactions and with their clients at well."

Globally, IBM has 1,500 employees working on blockchain and is looking to hire 150 additional workers around the world in the space. IBM and Wal-Mart are currently working together to leverage blockchain to address food-safety challenges. The technology can be used to trace food from "farm to fork," a process that typically would take nearly a week, in just seconds.

"It allows people to exchange value without knowing the identity of each other necessarily, in a secure way on the back end," said Jason Kelley, IBM's global manager for blockchain services. "On the front end, it's simplicity, transparency and trust. Think of all the cost, time and often waste that happens in the exchange of value — blockchain rids that from the system."

Jason Kelley, IBM Global Manager for Blockchain Services, says the company is working with Wal-Mart in leveraging blockchain technology to ensure transparency in food safety.
Karina Frayter | CNBC
Jason Kelley, IBM Global Manager for Blockchain Services, says the company is working with Wal-Mart in leveraging blockchain technology to ensure transparency in food safety.

Aside from the capital big companies are putting into the technology, investments are flowing into private companies in the space, topping $4.5 billion this year around the globe, according to a recent research note from Pitchbook.

Analysts say it will only continue to create direct and indirect job opportunities for years to come.

"Blockchain creates a single source of truth based on the immutability of the data," said Eamonn Maguire, KPMG's global lead in blockchain for financial services. He said it will be a job creator because it has effectively created "a new set of developing protocols. And those today who have been doing developing work in other kinds of languages and other kinds of solutions are now going to be challenged to acquire new skills and capabilities in the coding of prototypes."

The government is also figuring out ways to leverage the technology. The state of Delaware launched the Delaware Blockchain Initiative, to allow for more efficient governance and structure for some 300,000 companies incorporated in the state, said Kristopher Knight, deputy secretary of state.

"We really wanted to allow for a platform by which these corporations could better utilize technology," Knight said. "It makes us extremely competitive and gives more advantages for companies to form in Delaware. We wanted to create the most innovative environment, … a sandbox if you will, and have all of these corporations feel comfortable in that sandbox trying out new technology."

Since then, Knight says companies and even other states have reached out to figure out how they can best leverage the technology and follow Delaware's lead.

Back at IBM, Lowry says one of the biggest challenges is finding qualified workers because the technology is still fairly new. The company looks at traditional candidates with backgrounds in computer science, but also at applicants' soft skills. In addition, it hires "new collar" workers — those who might not have a traditional four-year degree, or might have just come out of the military, and trains them for roles on the blockchain team.

"Finding people with the right experience and expertise in the enterprise isn't easy — but there are people with adjacent skills in software development, cybersecurity, cloud development. Leveraging those skills, as well as industry experts, allows us to bring together many opportunities for people looking to work in blockchain," she said.

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