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Blockchain Use Cases in Digital Sectors: A Review of the Literature

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Abstract

Blockchain technology is a ledger system that is popularly known as the backbone of the Bitcoin cryptocur-rency. Since its conception, the potential beneficial applications of blockchain in other digital sectors have been lauded in the literature, and related challenges have been disputed. In this study, the literature is reviewed for frameworks and use cases that fully realize the applicability of blockchain beyond financial applications and cryptocurrencies. A network analysis of the literature was performed to identify the most popularly documented digital sectors in this context, which include the Internet of Things (IoT), healthcare, supply chain management, and government sectors. For each sector, this review documents use cases in which an attempt is made to implement blockchain solutions. The main purpose of this paper is to probe each sector for the growing maturity of blockchain technology and to document the unique benefits and challenges arising from the use of this technology. The findings show that despite the growing reputation of blockchain technology, its implementation within these four sectors remains in infancy because the use cases lack concrete evaluations of its effectiveness and plausibility. Nevertheless, the categorization of current blockchain use cases demonstrates current applications and sector-specific concerns that suggest future directions for further research.
Blockchain Use Cases in Digital Sectors: A Review of the Literature
Shiroq Al-Megren, Shada Alsalamah∗†, Lina Altoaimy, Hessah Alsalamah, Leili Soltanisehat,
Emad Almutairi§, and Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland
College of Computer and Information Sciences, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Emails: {salmegren, saalsalamah, ltoaimy, halsalamah}@ksu.edu.sa
Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
Emails: {shada, sandy}@media.mit.edu
Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering, Old Dominion University, Norflok, VA, USA.
Email: lsolt001@odu.edu
§National Center for Cybersecurity Technologies, King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Email: ealmutairi@kacst.edu.sa
Abstract—Blockchain technology is a ledger system that is
popularly known as the backbone of the Bitcoin cryptocur-
rency. Since its conception, the potential beneficial applications
of blockchain in other digital sectors have been lauded in
the literature, and related challenges have been disputed. In
this study, the literature is reviewed for frameworks and use
cases that fully realize the applicability of blockchain beyond
financial applications and cryptocurrencies. A network analysis
of the literature was performed to identify the most popularly
documented digital sectors in this context, which include the
Internet of Things (IoT), healthcare, supply chain management,
and government sectors. For each sector, this review documents
use cases in which an attempt is made to implement blockchain
solutions. The main purpose of this paper is to probe each
sector for the growing maturity of blockchain technology and
to document the unique benefits and challenges arising from
the use of this technology. The findings show that despite the
growing reputation of blockchain technology, its implementa-
tion within these four sectors remains in infancy because the
use cases lack concrete evaluations of its effectiveness and plau-
sibility. Nevertheless, the categorization of current blockchain
use cases demonstrates current applications and sector-specific
concerns that suggest future directions for further research.
Index Terms—Blockchain; review; network analysis; health-
care; government; Internet of Things (IoT); supply chain.
1. Introduction
The blockchain is a ledger system that is popularly
known as the underlying technology of the Bitcoin cryp-
tocurrency that makes it possible to maintain the integrity of
transaction data [1]. The technology’s ledger is decentralized
and distributed, with transactions, agreements, and controls
stored in digital records. In 2015, The Financial Times
[2] stated that “At its core, blockchain is a network of
computers, all of which must approve a transaction has
taken place before it is recorded, in a ‘chain’ of computer
code. [...] The details of the transfer are recorded on a
public ledger that anyone on the network can see” [2].
Since the conception of Bitcoin, several improvements
have been proposed to overcome some of blockchain’s
weaknesses [3], e.g., scalability and lack of anonymity
. The underlying features of blockchain technology lend
themselves to financial services. In particular, blockchain
technology distributes the control of the registration of trans-
actions, the verification of identity, and the finalization of
contracts, which are financial services that are traditionally
centralized and managed by a third-party organization [4].
Numerous studies have also investigated the application
of blockchain technology in multitudinous digital sectors
that go beyond financial services. This increased interest
spans several diverse fields, including corporate, governmen-
tal, and cross-industry applications. Blockchain technology
has the potential to invigorate established corporate opera-
tions, such as those in healthcare and supply chain manage-
ment, to overcome issues relating to security, privacy, and
shareability by maintaining a common database of informa-
tion. Blockchain initiatives for new-generation information
infrastructures in the government domain have been under-
taken by several digital champion countries, including the
United Kingdom, the United States, Estonia, New Zealand,
and Israel [5]. Cross-industry interest in blockchain solu-
tions is similarly blooming due to the technology’s attractive
capabilities of maintaining a distributed immutable ledger
and thus creating a secure network among untrusted users.
There have been several surveys of blockchain technol-
ogy that have acknowledged its growth and progression as a
technical paradigm. General overviews of the advancement
of blockchain have been conducted to gauge current research
topics, challenges, and future directions from a technical
perspective (e.g., [6], [7], [8], [9]). These reviews were often
systematic, and their findings revealed the main focus of
blockchain research. The potential of blockchain has also
been reviewed in the literature for numerous domains and
1417
2018 IEEE Confs on Internet of Things, Green Computing and Communications, Cyber, Physical and Social Computing,
Smart Data, Blockchain, Computer and Information Technology, Congress on Cybermatics
978-1-5386-7975-3/18/$31.00 ©2018 IEEE
DOI 10.1109/Cybermatics_2018.2018.00242
contexts, including smart devices and distributed renewable
energy grids [10], the Internet of Things (IoT) [11], [12],
big data [13], business organization [14], and government
information services [5].
In contrast to the reviews mentioned above, this paper
explores the progression of blockchain utilization by its
most common advocates. The review first identifies relevant
digital sectors beyond financial applications and cryptocur-
rencies via a network analysis of the literature, the findings
of which highlight the IoT, healthcare, supply chain man-
agement, and government sectors as the application domains
related to the most commonly used keywords. The goal of
this review is to analyze, for each application sector, the
means of utilizing blockchain technology and its reported
impact within the thematic context, thereby addressing the
maturity of blockchain growth within the various sectors.
The remainder of this paper is organized as follows.
Section 2 presents background information on blockchain
technology. Next, the review design and methodology are
described in section 3. An overview of the findings across
the four identified digital sectors is presented in section 4.
Sections 5 to 8 present overviews of the four digital sec-
tors dominating the applications of blockchain technology
outside of the financial sector: IoT, healthcare, supply chain
management, and government. Section 9 follows with a dis-
cussion of the research questions and findings across sectors.
Finally, section 10 summarizes and concludes the paper.
2. Blockchain Fundamentals
The blockchain is a shared ledger distributed over decen-
tralized network nodes and holding transaction data [15]. It
enables peer-to-peer communication between parties without
the need for an intermediary, and it offers transparency
and trust between parties [15], [16]. Blockchain technol-
ogy first appeared in the Bitcoin ecosystem launched by
Nakamoto in 2008, in which it underlies the Bitcoin digital
payment system [1]. The blockchain can be divided into
three main components: a decentralized network, shared
records (ledger), and digital transactions. The technology
is decentralized since it is a peer-to-peer network in which
participating nodes exchange properties without the need for
an intermediary. Network participants are able to view the
entire shared ledger and add new digital transactions under
certain access control conditions. Digital transactions in the
blockchain can be stored as various types of data depending
on the context and needs of the application [16].
Blockchain is a chain of blocks linked in a series, where
each block points to the previous (parent) block by including
the previous block’s hash in its header. The process of
adding a new block to the blockchain involves several steps.
The sender first creates the transaction block and digitally
signs it. Then, the new block is broadcast to the network
participants. The new block will be added to the blockchain
as soon as the majority of the participants agree on its
validity. The validation of a new block involves a consensus
mechanism (i.e. mining) to ensure the consistency of the
distributed ledger throughout the network; for example,
proof-of-work consensus is utilized for Bitcoin [17].
For blockchain technology to be utilized in various
digital sectors, its original features need to be altered. One of
the main modifications (in developed versions 2.0 to 4.0) is
to incorporate access control into the blockchain by means
of unique identifiers such that all participants are known
[15]. Additionally, unlike in Bitcoin, a blockchain can have
a consortium structure (only predefined nodes can mine) or
a private structure (mining is performed by a single node)
[4]. The shared ledger and the consensus model are some of
the main concepts underlying recent blockchain applications
in sectors beyond cryptocurrencies.
2.1. Blockchain Benefits and Challenges
Benefits. Blockchain is a disintermediation technology,
since it avoids the effort required for controlling transactions
by eliminating third-party control. In addition, blockchain’s
decentralization of its shared ledger eliminates the threat of
a single point of failure and traffic congestion. The technol-
ogy also guarantees persistence, since it is computationally
impossible to delete or alter any transaction blocks once they
have been recorded in the ledger. A consensus property is
also achieved since the majority of miners must validate a
block prior to its insertion into the blockchain. Furthermore,
blockchain technology provides finality, since there is only
a single distributed ledger that serves as a trusted reference
for block verification [15]. Auditability is also facilitated by
the technology because each block maintains a reference to
its parent block and a timestamp.
Blockchain technology is presumed to have multiple
beneficial security properties. Integrity is achieved through
the fact that each transaction block must be digitally signed
with the owner’s private key and assigned a hash. Moreover,
the ledger is persistent, making it immutable and tamper-
resistant, which, in turn, ensures integrity. A security benefit
of blockchain technology is that each network user main-
tains a unique pair of keys (public and private) that are
used to sign and verify transaction blocks. As a result,
authenticity is achieved even in public structures. For the
same reason, a non-repudiation security property emerges
since participants cannot deny adding a block to the ledger.
Challenges. Despite the aforementioned benefits,
blockchain technology also faces several challenges in im-
plementation. One of the most significant challenges relates
to the scalability of the blockchain. In a blockchain net-
work, the entire ledger (consisting of millions of transaction
blocks) is stored in each network node. This raises the
issue of storage limitations at the nodes. Another drawback
pertains to the fact that due to the consensus process,
the throughput rate (for transaction validation) is relatively
low, and the latency is relatively high compared with a
conventional system. With a consensus mechanism such
as the proof-of-work mechanism, the majority of network
nodes must validate a transaction block for insertion into
the ledger. Additionally, there is likely to be an enormous
number of transaction blocks that require validation at the
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same time. For instance, the Bitcoin network can perform
only seven transactions per second. In fact, on average, it
requires up to 10 minutes for each transaction to be validated
and recorded. The mining process in a blockchain requires
a considerable amount of computation that consumes large
amounts of energy, which could arguably be regarded as
a waste of resources [15]. A final downside of blockchain
technology is that it does not guarantee confidentiality since
the block content is not encrypted and all nodes share the
ledger, in which all records are stored in plain text. This, of
course, introduces privacy issues, particularly in the case of
public ledgers.
3. Review Design
The goal of this research is to provide an overview of
fully realized and documented blockchain use cases in order
to identify themes beyond cryptocurrencies and financial
services. Thus, it is shown that the underlying ideas behind
blockchain technology, namely, a public ledger and a decen-
tralized environment, are applicable in numerous environ-
ments. Nevertheless, this review considers only research that
examines the particularities and challenges of the application
of blockchain solutions.
3.1. Research Questions
To achieve the review’s goal, the following research
questions (RQs) were formulated:
RQ1: What are the environments of blockchain ap-
plication beyond cryptocurrencies and financial services?
The main research question aims to identify applications of
blockchain technology that go beyond cryptocurrencies and
financial services. This question highlights the main environ-
ments in which blockchain has been utilized as a solution.
RQ2: What is the blockchain structure used within
each environment? The purpose of this question is to
identify the building blocks of the blockchain technology
when utilized within a given environment. These include the
type of blockchain, the type of data stored in the blockchain,
and the data storage and mining techniques.
RQ3: What are the potential advantages of
blockchain adoption in each environment? The potential
benefits of the utilization of blockchain technology have
been widely discussed in the literature. With this question,
the review highlights the direct benefits that stem from a
given environment’s needs and blockchain’s advantages.
RQ4: What are the challenges associated with the
adoption of blockchain in each environment? This ques-
tion serves as a counterpoint to RQ3, with the purpose of
identifying the unique challenges of blockchain technology
in the context of each of the identified environments.
3.2. Search Technique
An analysis of the Web of Science literature was con-
ducted using the NAILS tool [18]. NAILS performs statisti-
cal and social network analyses on citation data to identify
important authors, journals, and keywords in the dataset
based on occurrences and citation counts. The analyzed
dataset consisted of 411 publication, and each was asso-
ciated with 74 variables that were processed by the tool.
The keyword results were further analyzed to identify the
main environments of blockchain application (see section 4).
These results were then used to formulate the search string
for each of the identified environments. Each search string
consisted of two main components: the term ‘blockchain’
and the application environment discovered via the literature
analysis. The main electronic database sources into which
each search string was fed in order to search for use cases
were IEEE Xplore, Web of Science, and Google Scholar.
To identify which papers to examine, an exclusion stage
was performed to eliminate papers that addressed the appli-
cation of blockchain technology only theoretically, without
considering implementation.
4. Findings
The results regarding RQ1 were extracted from the
analysis of the Web of Science literature. Important key-
words were identified and sorted by the number of articles
in which each keyword was mentioned and by the total
number of citations for each keyword. Understandably, the
term ‘blockchain’ was the most frequently mentioned and
cited among the keywords, followed by ‘Bitcoin’ and ‘smart
contracts’. ‘Internet of Things’ followed next in the list
of most cited keywords, being repeatedly mentioned in
the literature. ‘Healthcare’ and ‘electronic medical records’
were found to have been used as keywords in various articles
and similarly received a considerable number of citations.
The term ‘supply chain’ was mentioned several times in the
literature, while the term ‘distributed system’ was more fre-
quently cited. Terms related to the government sector, such
as ‘government’, ‘smart government’, and ‘e-government’,
were the least frequently addressed in the literature.
The answer to RQ2 is presented in detail in sections
5, 6, 7, and 8 for each of the environments identified. The
benefits (RQ3) and challenges (RQ4) of blockchain adoption
within the context of each of the environments identified are
summarized in Tables 1 and 2, respectively. The results are
further discussed in the following sections for each of the
selected environments.
5. Internet of Things
IoT can be described as a collection of connected de-
vices and sensors that have the ability to sense and gather
data from their surrounding environment. Within an IoT
environment, the sensors are typically small and limited in
resources, and the network demands low latency and has
limited bandwidth. In addition, an IoT network can connect
millions of devices with various storage and computational
capabilities. Due to this heterogeneous nature of the data
and resources, IoT is vulnerable to a number of privacy
and security issues. Blockchain technology is a promising
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Benefit IoT Healthcare Supply Chain Government
Accountability 
Adaptability  
Anonymity 
Auditability  
Availability  
Credibility 
Confidentiality  
Decentralization  
Immutability  
Integrity  
Provenance  
Transparency  
Trust  
TABLE 1. THE BENEFITS OF BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY ADOPTION
WITHIN THE DIGITAL SECTORS/ENVIRONMENTS.
Challenge IoT Healthcare Supply Chain Government
Computational
overhead
 
Interoperability 
Latency
Privacy 
Scalability
Storage  
TABLE 2. THE CHALLENGES OF ADOPTING BLOCKCHAIN
TECHNOLOGY WITHIN THE DIGITAL SECTORS/ENVIRONMENTS.
solution for a verifiable, secure, and immutable method of
recording data obtained through IoT techniques.
A blockchain infrastructure has been utilized to provide
software update availability and innocuousness for IoT de-
vices from different manufacturers [19]. The proposed solu-
tion consists of three components: a web portal, a blockchain
infrastructure, and several devices. Device manufacturers
deploy software updates via the web portal. These updates
are pushed into the blockchain to store. Meanwhile, IoT
devices periodically check for updates from the blockchain.
Once an update becomes available, a device downloads and
installs the update and then sends an acknowledgment to
the blockchain infrastructure. The utilization of blockchain
technology for software updates can dramatically improve
their availability to IoT nodes due to block immutability and
persistence while also mitigating risks.
A lightweight architecture for IoT that utilizes Bitcoin’s
underlying blockchain technology has been proposed to
overcome challenges related to computational overhead and
latency [20]. A proof-of-concept IoT system was presented
as an example, which consists of three components: a smart
home, an overlay network, and cloud storage. It eliminates
the original resource-consuming Bitcoin mining strategy and
the concept of coins. The devices are centrally managed by
a home miner, i.e., a device for monitoring transactions. A
blockchain is utilized to maintain the transactions, which are
governed by a policy header. Transactions vary to enable
data storage, access, and monitoring to ensure security.
The effectiveness of this concept against security attacks
was analyzed. The results demonstrate that the proposed
architecture incurs a lower computational overhead while
achieving significant security and privacy advantages.
FairAccess is an access control framework for IoT that
is based on blockchain technology [21]. In FairAccess,
the blockchain is used as a database for storing all ac-
cess control policies and for logging users’ transactions
to ensure auditability. Bitcoin-like addresses are used to
uniquely identify interacting nodes, and authorization tokens
are implemented by means of digital signatures to assign
access rights. Access control policies are enabled via smart
contracts; therefore, each access to resources constitutes a
transaction that is verified and validated by miners in the
blockchain network.
6. Healthcare
Information and communication technology (ICT) is
enabling an emerging generation of intelligent healthcare de-
livery models that are integrated, holistic, personalized, and
even mobile [22]. However, patient-contentedness requires
informed decision-making processes that are shared among
care providers. This can only be achieved throught seamless
access to relevant siloed information held in discrete Elec-
tronic Medical Record (EMR) systems [22]. Nevertheless,
current systems fall short because of their heterogeneity
and the inconsistencies across EMR systems in terms of
security policies and access control models [22]. Blockchain
technology is seen as offering promising possibilities for a
technological revolution, and thus, is seeing an increasing
wave of interest in its application in healthcare. Although the
limited work reported is still premature, there are a number
of promising proposals that may contribute to enabling
personalized care through blockchain-based EMR solutions.
Azaria et al. [23] proposed MedRec to overcome the
existing barriers and threats to effective cross-organizational
information-sharing caused by legacy healthcare information
systems or traditional EMR systems. This should eventu-
ally address miscommunication issues between patients and
healthcare providers; this is to prioritize patient’s involve-
ment in their care and reduce third-party direct involvement.
It handles a unified patient-centered EMR using a decen-
tralized blockchain-based record management system that
is integrated with the patient’s healthcare providers. Using
permission management, it sustains and secures the network
via proof-of-work by various medical stakeholders with the
incentives to becoming the blockchain miners. As a reward,
MedRec provides access to aggregate and anonymized data.
The proof-of-work algorithm is based on a trustless model
that is used to secure the content from tampering, where
individual nodes must compete to solve computations before
the next block unit is added. This creates a comprehensive,
immutable accessible log to the patient’s medical informa-
tion across providers and treatment sites.
By contrast, Yue et al. [24], AlOmar et al. [25], and Xia
et al. [26] revolutionized EMR systems by enforcing tighter
security countermeasures for access control. Yue et al. [24]
proposed Healthcare Data Gateway (HGD) as a blockchain
solution that gives patients control and access rights to their
medical data. Access in HGD is more controlled than in
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MedRec as it is based on more strict purpose-based informa-
tion access scheme. The EMRs in HGD are managed using
a blockchain-based storage system that authenticates all data
access requests based on a purpose-centered information
security principle. In addition, it utilizes a secure Multi-
Party Computation (MPC) mechanism to allow third par-
ties to process patient data without risking patient privacy.
Meanwhile AlOmar et al. [25] proposed MediBchain, which
is similar to HGD in that it revolutionizes EMR systems by
using secure countermeasures for authentication but with
extra focus on the identification of participants. In addition,
Xia et al. [26] proposed MeDShare which adds an extra
layer of protection by monitoring entities that access data
for malicious use from a data custodian system. This is
achieved by employing smart contracts and an access control
mechanism to effectively track the behaviour of data.
Although the solutions may vary in their approach or
security aspect, they share commonalities in the content and
type of blockchain. All of the frameworks care to store
transactions in relation to a patient’s medical information
that needs to be accessed to make an informed decision
about the best treatment options. This blockchain is dis-
tributed among EMR systems at various healthcare settings
based on permissioned blockchain solutions which allow
access to only invited, and hence verified users, which
complies with information security and data protection laws
and regulations for medical record [27].
7. Supply Chain Management
Every day, billions of products are manufactured and
shipped to end customers all over the world. Prior to
delivery, products travel through a network of retailers,
distributors, transporters, storage facilities, and suppliers,
which constitute a supply chain. A failure in the supply
chain can disrupt operations, potentially leading to financial
and reputation losses as well as environmental damage.
The complexity of supply chain management demand trans-
parency and traceability to enable risk reduction by in-
creasing awareness of cause-effect relations [28]. In current
practice, the storage of trusted information is maintained
centrally by a third-party organization, which increases the
risks related to technical reliability in data storage and inter-
operability, security and privacy of the data. The integration
of a blockchain solution has the potential to improve process
flows and accountability between buyers and suppliers [29].
A blockchain solution for a manufacturing supply chain
has been considered [30]. A private blockchain framework
was proposed that is designed to provide a shared transpar-
ent system that is accessible by supply parties via smart con-
tracts. Each party can join the network through a registration
service that verifies identity and qualifications. After this,
registered parties have permission to access, write to, and
read the blockchain using their private keys. During the sup-
ply process, five categories of data are recorded: timestamp,
product information, chronological location, chronological
ownership, and environmental impact on products. Unlike in
the original validation process, any new supply record will
be validated when a product is shipped to a new party and
both parties sign the smart contract to verify the exchange.
Perishable products are typically sensitive to temperature
and storage conditions. A blockchain solution was proposed
to ensure the transparency of life-cycle information via
shared records, smart contracts, and sensors [31]. Via a
registration service, users can obtain public and private keys
with which to access the network and maintain their privacy.
The stored data are of two categories: user profiles, which
stores information about a user, location, certification and
association with products, and product profiles, which store
product specifications and processing updates. An applica-
tion scenario with six nodes, namely, production, processing,
warehousing, cold chain distribution, retail, and authority
organization, was examined. The advantage of using a de-
centralized system for a food supply chain is to prevent
information fraud and extortion by providing transparency,
reliability, and security.
In addition to the traceability and tamper-proof nature
of records provided by blockchain-based supply systems,
adaptability to environmental impacts is an important issue.
OriginChain is a private blockchain system that is designed
to be adaptable to changing environments and regulations
[32]. Data in OriginChain originate from four types of
nodes: supplier or retailers; test laboratories; traceability
service providers; and factory or freight-yard examiners. To
permit various parties to use the blockchain, administration
personnel verify parties’ requests and issue certificates for
access, factory examiners check factories’ qualifications, and
freight-yard examiners check products and supervise the
loading and sealing of products. All information is regis-
tered and validated via smart contracts and legal agreements
between parties in the supply chain.
8. Government
Electronic government (i.e., e-government) refers to the
use of ICT to provide citizens with access to public ser-
vices [33]. Their aim is to build services around citizens
and residents, make government services more accessible,
incorporate social aspects, share information responsibly,
and utilize resources effectively [34]. This is accomplished
by creating a virtual e-government to accelerate the process.
Governments have also shown great interest in implementing
and improving their e-government services in general, and
recently, considerable attention has been directed toward
the adoption of blockchain technology to overcome various
limitations and improve the running of services.
The government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)
has also taken steps of establishing a Global Blockchain
Council to promote the use of blockchain among its services
[35]. Some of the reported blockchain projects are focused
on particular governmental services, such as e-democracy
[34], e-residency [36] or land registration [37], while other
projects are focused on the broader use of this technology
in solutions for national and international identity manage-
ment [38] and national data centers [39]. Dubai Blockchain
Strategy project is a new technology project which aims to
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position the UAE as a global distribution that includes all
aspects from e-democracy to smart tourism [40] .
The European network TrustedChain is the first and
largest authorized blockchain network currently in oper-
ation. It supports e-government in addition to other ap-
plications [41]. However, its adoption at an international
level will require significant efforts, involving additional
legislation and standardization [41]. The Republic of Estonia
is currently running several e-government programs using
blockchain technology. Examples include the Estonian e-
residency [36], data sharing [42] [43], and land registry
[37] projects. They are intended to provide data owners
with personal control over their data to build citizens’ trust
through an open and transparent secure infrastructure [43].
The project launched by Chancheng in 2014 is the first
blockchain government project in China; it is a general ap-
plication platform for maintaining citizen’s digital identities
for use by various government institutions [38].
9. Discussion
Initially, cryptocurrencies and financial services were
the primary drivers behind blockchain technology. Since
then, the technology has expanded to new territories and
digital sectors (RQ1). A network analysis of the literature
highlighted four of these new environments: in order of
keyword frequency, IoT, healthcare, supply chain manage-
ment, and government. The rest of this section discusses the
implications of adopting blockchain technology for each of
the four sectors/enviornments.
Internet of Things. Security and privacy are two
of the main challenges that IoT systems face due to their
inherent characteristics. The three main security require-
ments of confidentiality, integrity, and availability have been
analyzed for the use case of a lightweight smart home [20].
Confidentiality and integrity were found to be achievable
via symmetric encryption and hashing, respectively. The use
of blockchain also limits the characteristics of acceptable
transactions and thus offers protection from malicious re-
quests and ensures availability. These advantages are further
exemplified by two additional use cases [19], [21]. The
decentralized nature of blockchain supports IoT privacy
while also ensuring anonymity and transparency [21].
The integration of blockchains with IoT is still in its in-
fancy and issues still remain to be overcome. Computational
overhead is one of these challenges due to the low capabili-
ties of IoT devices. In one case, this issue has been addressed
by eliminating the proof-of-work strategy and the concept of
coins [20]. Similarly, the lightweight nature of IoT devices
translates to limited storage capacities, and thus, data cannot
be stored for long periods of time [21]. This issue is closely
related to the scalability concerns, as it rapidly becomes
expensive for IoT devices to store a growing number of
transactions. This also raises concerns regarding the latency
of transactions [19], [20], [21]. A layered architecture has
been proposed as a future solution to reduce latency, com-
putational overhead, and storage overhead by allowing the
partial maintenance of a blockchain [21]. Ultimately, the
contradictory nature of these two technologies, although
beneficial at times as briefly discussed, is still likely to delay
their integration, as evidenced by the low number of use
cases despite the relative frequency of the related keywords.
Healthcare. Although most of the work done on the
use of blockchain in healthcare started only in 2016, it shows
promise for fully supporting a patient-centered care delivery
model. However, there are two sides to every coin. The
majority of digital immigrants are technologically illiterate,
and this new blockchain-based model of care will not be as
effective if patients are not competent. On the other hand,
there is an increasing demand for user-centered engagement,
mainly from digital natives, and thus, it will happen sooner
or later. This is clearly evidenced by the European General
Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which empowers users
by giving them the right to consent and requires compliance
from all organizations serving them in all sectors. This
renders blockchain-based permission-controlled access to
EMR systems by patients a powerful tool.
Very limited solutions try to work with the challenges of
traditional EMR systems by taking an evolutionary approach
towards patient-centredness. While remaining frameworks,
which seems to be favored, follow a revolutionary ap-
proach that discards traditional systems and replace them
with new unified blockchain-based EMR framework that
is flexible and scalable. Consequently, solutions following
the former approach are more relaxed in terms of their
security to incorporate brittle inflexible EMR systems, while
latter proposals have more flexibility to tighten their security
countermeasures. This can be justified due to the fact that
traditionally EMR systems are well secured in their local
physical perimeters using local organization-oriented poli-
cies and access control [22]. However, according to a study
in [22], patient-centric movement has caused those systems
to compromise on the availability of patient information.
Leaving no option to solutions other than relaxing informa-
tion security countermeasures.
Supply Chain Management. The need for trans-
parency and traceability of products within a supply chain
is a primary driver of blockchain utilization, as the au-
ditable nature of this technology facilitates the visibility of
transactions to authorized parties [30], [32]. A decentralized
solution is especially valuable for perishable goods supply
chains as it prevents fraud and extortion by providing data
transparency, reliability, and security [31]. One of the main
causes of risk to a supply chain is the rapidly chang-
ing nature of the relevant environments and businesses,
which necessitates proficient adaptability, a challenge that
is addressed and mitigated by one of the use cases [32].
The immutability and irrevocability of the data serve as a
distributed source of truth when data are exchanged inde-
pendently by various parties in the supply chain. This over-
comes the lack of end-to-end visibility that would otherwise
increase fraud risk [31]. Consequently, customers can make
better buying decisions, and manufacturers can more closely
focus on the quality of their products and on developing
better marketing policies [30].
Despite these benefits, the application of blockchain
1422
technology in supply chain systems requires a certain tech-
nological infrastructure at each party’s site in order to keep
the system updated [30]. One solution for overcoming the
challenges of maintaining up-to-date records and interoper-
ability is to utilize technologies such as sensors, thereby
effectively enhancing the continuity of information. The
most challenging problem arising with blockchain solutions
is the increasing amounts of computation power and storage
capacity required as the network expands to achieve the
global connectivity necessitated by the trend of globaliza-
tion. To overcome this challenge, one of the use cases [32]
uses on-chain records (hashes of traceability certificates and
traceability regulation information) and off-chain records
(traceability certificates and the addresses of smart contracts)
to manage the balance between performance and privacy.
Other challenges also stem from the nature of legacy supply
chain systems, including the immaturity of the technology,
the need to update current supply technologies, and the
training practices in current systems.
Government. The primary driver behind adopting
blockchain technology for the government sector is its aim
to support an open, transparent, and collaborative govern-
ment that can streamline access to public services and con-
tract management. In government sectors, information about
individuals and organizations can be at risk of isolation
within organizational silos. The immutability, transparency,
and decentralization of these records promote reliable and
efficient data sharing where access to data is controlled.
Blockchain technology supports audibility and enforces ac-
countability; in the government sectors, this serves to over-
come administrative shortcomings. All of these benefits of
blockchain adoption can greatly profit truly networked gov-
ernments, thus eliminating bureaucracy, fraud and corruption
in public services [41], [44], [45]. As evidenced in the
cases previously mentioned, the adoption of blockchain has
been led by the Eastern European government, principally
Estonia [34], [43] and UAE follows with various efforts (e.g.
[35]). Other countries such as China, Sweden, Netherlands,
Belgium, and Norway have either developed or planned e-
government projects utilizing blockchains. It has also been
argued that the utilization of blockchain in e-government
helps promote the country itself [44], [45].
Nevertheless, the widespread adoption of blockchain
technology by government sectors is still limited by numer-
ous technical and legal constraints, as its applications are
still immature. Security and privacy concerns are two often
cited challenges for the adoption of the blockchain, which
have risen due to the recent security Bitcoin breach. It has
been argued that the security concern could be overcome
by having citizens control their ledger [43]. The lack of
regulations is also a setback to blockchain use, particularly
to those concerned about information sharing and reporting.
Laws will also need to be put forth to govern smart contracts.
Technical barriers remain a concern when it comes to the
adoption of blockchain technology in the government sector,
particularly concerning the set-up cost and the complexity of
governance at a national or international level [45]. Once this
is overcome, computational overhead and storage concerns
issues arise when it comes to maintaining functional sys-
tems. These can potentially be combatted with a lightweight
scheme that can pilot its success.
10. Conclusion
This paper reports the results of a literature review
conducted to investigate the progression of blockchain utility
beyond theory in frequently addressed corporate, govern-
mental, and cross-industry environments. Blockchain tech-
nology has shown the potential to transform the IoT, health-
care, supply chain management, and government sectors by
virtue of its unique characteristics. A review of the literature
was conducted for each of these digital sectors to identify
use cases of blockchain technology and to assesses its
practicality. Furthermore, the benefits and challenges arising
for each of these digital sectors were identified from the
literature. This paper contributes to the body of research on
blockchain technology by highlighting current investigations
and thus identifying potential research gaps that could bene-
fit industry if properly addressed. However, questions remain
regarding the value of blockchain technology in terms of the
experiences of users, namely, the end users at the other end
of the continuum.
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A blockchain consists of an ordered list with nodes and links where the nodes store information and are connected through links called chains. This technology supports the availability of a publicly maintained ledger of transactions, first gaining mainstream attraction with cryptocurrencies. A myriad of other applications have emerged ever since. There has been a steady growth in the number of research studies conducted in this field; as such, there is a need to review the research in this field. This paper conducts an extensive review on 76 journal publications in the field of blockchain from 2016 to 2018 available in Science Citation Index (SCI) and Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) database. The aim of this paper is to present scholars and practitioners with a detailed overview of the available research in the field of blockchain. The selected papers have been grouped into 14 categories. The contents of papers in each category are summarized and future research direction for each category is outlined. This overview indicates that the research in blockchain is becoming more prominent and requires more effort in developing new methodologies and framework to integrate blockchain. It is the need of today’s growing business that ventures into new technologies like cloud computing and Internet of Things (IoT).
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