Blockchain Is Here

Mark L. Johnson / October 2018

The greatest thing since sliced bread may be the blockchain protocol. One website says it’s “among the fastest-evolving areas of technology.” Some say blockchain will be as revolutionary as the internet. What is it?
    
In simple terms, a blockchain is a shared ledger. It can store data “in a way that is nearly impossible to fake,” says MIT Technology Review.
    
You may have heard of blockchain associated with crypto-currencies like Bitcoin, and indeed that is the origin of the technology. The blocks in blockchains each have a crypto-puzzle forming a digital fingerprint and encryption system that is nearly impossible to alter. So blockchains are secure.
    
But, will blockchain technology affect drywall companies? Yes.

No More Banker’s Boxes
According to the website Crunchbase, the first enterprise blockchain tailored for the construction industry is Brickschain. Bassem Hamdy, Brickschain CEO and co-founder, describes his product as a special kind of database. It’s immutable, which means the blockchain data can never be changed or deleted. The blockchain gives construction companies a high level of surety about the documentation supporting the work they have done.
    
“The ledger can show everything that has ever happened on a project,” Hamdy says. “Brickschain indexes the information so that it’s easy to find and extract. The costs for discovery on a construction claim can now be zero. No one has to pay lawyers to go through paper documentation that’s just buried in banker’s boxes.”
    
Acting similar to a land-title registry, the Brickschain protocol registers documents and ensures they can’t be altered. In this way, a blockchain democratizes data.

Data Interoperability
Brickschain specializes in data coordination regardless of the data’s originating system. So, if your project managers use Slack for messaging, then you could set up their channels to record messages directly to the blockchain. The Slack message, “What thickness drywall should I use in room 500?,” would be recorded and time-stamped. The GC’s response would be permanent, too. It would serve as “provenance” of what was agreed to—in case anyone later questioned it.
    
Architects could upload new construction documents using Google Drive, Dropbox or another file-sharing system on their end. Everyone else in the supply chain could access the new files in the blockchain.
    
Wall and ceiling mechanics using just about any mobile time-management, productivity app could record their work reports, and all major parties in the supply chain could view them.
    
As for pricing, Brickschain licenses its protocol to each player. Players pay $1,000 to $2,000 a month for a “node”—that is, in tech terms, a database with unlimited storage. By licensing a node, a drywall firm could connect its blockchain to its Dropbox, Google Drive, Slack channels, Revit files and more.

Get Paid Faster?
GC superintendents could make change-requests by using the blockchain to record their emails. The blockchain would bypass two companies’ IT departments and separate email systems and record the data. Later, you could extract the data from the blockchain ledger. You could verify the date the request came in, when it was completed and the up-charge the GC agreed to pay. Now, I’m not sure about this, but you may get paid faster when you fulfill change-order requests in the field.
    
So, a blockchain is pretty handy. It can guard your project records and make them easy to extract. But would a drywall firm want its project messages and files stored forever in an unalterable format? Hamdy says yes.
    
“We’re not looking for people to share their trade secrets. We’re looking for them to share what they’ve already been sharing,” Hamdy says. “And we’re not asking them to change the way they run their businesses either.”

Mark L. Johnson is an industry writer and marketing communications consultant. Reach him at @markjohnsoncomm, and at linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.