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Blockchain: what it means for construction, property (and recruitment)

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My last blog explained, in what I hope was plain English, what blockchain is and how it works.  This time, I’m going to consider its possible impact on business and the economy.

By offering a very secure digital environment for transactions and information, blockchain can be used in more or less any area of business. For example, it’s already being deployed in marine insurance, while IBM, Walmart and various food companies have been collaborating on a project to use blockchain to improve food safety worldwide. Its use is being mooted as a means of safeguarding the environment, and former Guns N Roses drummer Matt Sorum is working to use the technology to allow artists to sell their music directly to their fans without the need for the traditional intermediaries of banks and band managers, especially as some of the latter have famously ripped off their artists for years. 

This removal of intermediaries and the creation of direct links between those selling a service and their customers is seen as one of the areas with most potential for blockchain.  

Think, for example, of one of the most stressful times of anyone’s life: buying and selling a house.  The large amounts of information and money involved in this currently require specialist help.  Much of that specialist help will still be required of course (houses don’t – yet – survey or build themselves), but having every aspect (block) of the process together in one secure place (the chain) seems an obvious thing to do. 

A blockchain can even assign title rights because, when properly set up to detail the exchange agreement, it provides a record that would be legally acceptable. And, if this comes to fruition, which I think it will, then blockchain has the potential to disrupt the current model of house buying, with all the intermediaries currently involved becoming online blocks in the chain which leads to reduced timescales and costs for the entire process.  That’s going to be great for the purchaser, but how estate agents, surveyors, lawyers and the others respond to this is going to be crucial. They must not bury their heads in the sand and hope it’s going to go away: rather they should embrace it and seek ways to use blockchain to their – and, most importantly, their clients’ – benefit. One of the first things to happen should be for the Registers of Scotland to be at the heart of any such property blockchain as that would massively speed up the process of recording and finding property details.

Then there is the actual business of designing and constructing a house, or indeed anything else.  There are already project management tools, and of course Building Information Modelling, that allow work to be controlled and monitored via software, but nothing that totally integrates the entire process together securely in the way blockchain should do.  Blockchain will be able to build on BIM, letting architects, design engineers, construction companies, local authorities and estate agents to work seamlessly together, retaining intellectual property rights and ensuring compliance and consistency throughout the entire project lifecycle. As with the business of buying and selling, it’s vital that the industry embraces the benefits that blockchain could bring rather than trying to fight them.  

Clearly, process and project-based work are the obvious areas where blockchain can have a major effect.  This includes recruitment. Last month’s edition of The Recruiter magazine notes that there is already at least one software company “integrating its peer-to-peer review platform with blockchain for roll-out next year.”  Here again, there is the potential for the middleman to be removed from the process. Recruitment lends itself to blockchain, because then every bit of data that is involved in someone moving job can be held in one place, with all the relevant parties having secure access.  This has obvious implications for the (expensive) ATS and candidate attraction strategies that currently are used by most major companies’ recruitment teams, with the added advantage that all parties, including recruitment agencies, can be part of the process as required.  Yes, I think that this will, ultimately, have an impact on recruiters and make some of us have to re-skill, but in the long term, as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s own research has shown, the vast majority of candidates want a human being involved in their recruitment into a new job. That’s not to be complacent, but just to note that, no matter how much technology impacts on any industry, ultimately it’s human beings that matter - until we are all replaced by robots!

Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment

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