Document workflow is the journey of documents between people or groups of people within your business. It seems boring and routine, but improving the way this process works can dramatically increase the efficiency of your business.

Digitisation has brought document workflows a long way, offering businesses more security and efficiency. As technology continues to improve, what’s the next big thing on the horizon that will improve things even further? The answer lies in a popular alternative currency called Bitcoin.

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a digital currency that exploded into the world of tech finance in 2013 when its price rocketed from just £7.50 in January to its peak in November at £750 a coin, making a 1,000% increase in value in just 11 months.

Although today the price has evened out at around £350, many financial experts believe the technology is here to stay. The Winklevoss twins, who co-invented Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg, have even suggested that the value could climb as high as $40,000 (~£23,000).

What is there to back up these incredible claims?

One of Bitcoin’s biggest selling points is that it’s decentralised and ‘trustless’. This means that there’s no one party that has control over the currency, nor one that has the responsibility to keep a ledger of who owes who.

Currently, if we spend money on the Internet using our credit/debit cards, we put trust in companies like VISA or PayPal to carry out the transfer for us accurately. The companies charge for their services, so it costs time and money to make digital payments.

Two aspects of Bitcoin remove the need for this third party to exist. First, Bitcoins are transferred over the Bitcoin network which, rather than being owned by one person, is run by thousands of people across the globe who donate their computing power.

Secondly, Bitcoin transactions are verified by consensus on a public ledger, meaning there’s no need for a third party to take the responsibility. The technology behind this is called the ‘blockchain’, and it’s been touted as the most important invention since the Internet itself.

What is a blockchain?

A blockchain is essentially a record of digital events shared between many different parties. It can only be updated by consensus of a majority of the participants in the system, and once information is entered it can never be erased unless the whole network is erased, which is extremely improbable.

Because the blockchain is updated by majority consensus, it’s almost impossible to hack, as this would mean the hack would have to somehow interfere with over 50% of the participants in the network.

Crucially, although the blockchain is public, it does not compromise privacy. It allows you to give certifiable proof that a transaction happened without revealing any of the personal details, such as the names of the parties involved.

In terms of Bitcoin, its blockchain contains a certain and verifiable record of every single Bitcoin transaction ever made. But it’s not just Bitcoin that can use this technology, and its use isn’t limited to currency – it can be used to quickly, securely and transparently pass any kind of digital information between parties, from family photos to deeds for a will. 

Technologies such as Ethereum already exist that allow you to create and execute ‘smart contracts’ for almost anything across the Ethereum blockchain network. In fact, the technology allows whole apps
(decentralised apps, or Dapps) to be built in Ethereum’s own coding language, allowing developers to take advantage of the security and privacy of the blockchain for any imaginable use.

How could blockchain tech improve document workflow?

Electronic document workflows are already used to automate the flow of information within a business, which eliminates errors, interruptions and duplications that can occur in manual, paper-based workflows. If a business process is repeatable and definable, then it can be automated, reducing time and cost whilst increasing accuracy.

Using blockchain technology adds another layer of security to this process. ‘Smart contracts’ like those available on the Ethereum platform can be automated so that they execute only when certain conditions are met. Due to the consensus system, you can securely carry out any transaction, globally, without any possibility for errors – either accidental or forced.

Tallysticks is a great example of how this technology is already being used to improve the invoicing process. Rather than being its own invoicing system, Tallysticks is a blockchain layer that can integrate with existing payments software, increasing efficiency through automation and adding security benefits.

This is particularly useful in the field of invoice financing, where companies sell their outstanding invoices as debt to third parties. Kush Patel, co-founder and CEO of Tallysticks said: 

“With invoice financing you have four elements: the buyer, the seller, the lender and the payment network. The problem currently is that none of these elements are talking to each other, which slows the whole process down and increases the chance for errors.

“You get three main benefits from moving this process onto the blockchain: transparency, immutability and accountability. Ultimately, these three factors decrease risk and increase profitability, making invoice financing an attractive option for more businesses.”

Don’t just take Kush’s word for it. Tallysticks was recently accepted into the Barclays Accelerator – an exclusive programme for kickstarting FinTech startups. Investors also currently value the company to be worth over £1m.

It’s easy to see how using smart contracts in a similar way to Tallysticks could vastly improve the efficiency and security of many more business processes. We’re now just waiting to see what comes around the corner next.

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