My car was safely parked in my driveway. A large branch broke off of a tree that had recently been checked by an arborist and declared healthy. Ignoring the arborist’s expert opinion, the branch broke off and fell anyway. My formerly sound, two-year-old car was towed to a repair shop, an estimate for repairs made, and my insurance company declared it not worth fixing. Totaled.


But this shocking event had a couple good outcomes. The first was that I ended up leasing a nice new car. The second outcome was some education that is hard to come by, and has serious implications – I learned how valuable Blockchain technology would be in helping to coordinate the information and efforts of my car insurance company, the repair shop, and the car rental company that supplied me with a car until I could get a new one.

Blockchain is the immutable distributed ledger technology, a kind of distributed database that powers Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, whose promise is actively being pursued in many industries. What Blockchain is all about is enabling countless independent parties with independent computer systems to interact with each other in a fast, secure way, sharing information to reach a mutually desired outcome. That’s exactly what we have here, with loads of insurance companies, a number of car rental chains, and untold thousands of car repair shops – all of whom need to share information and coordinate their efforts to help the consumer with the damaged car. Perfect for Blockchain!

Think about the situation. Insurance companies are all about long documents with fine print, and long times on hold waiting to talk with someone who often can’t, in the end, do much but promise to send a form in the mail. You’ve probably driven by loads of auto repair shops. Which can handle the repair your car needs? How much will they charge? Will insurance pay for it? And then I’ll be without a car. Renting a car at the airport is one thing, but locally? How do I pick a company and get there. At the end I’ve got to deal with picking up my repaired car and returning the rental. Will insurance pay? It’s all yuck, yuck, yuck. Getting my car smashed is one thing, but this makes a bad situation worse.

Imagine what a Blockchain-fueled application could do – it could eliminate the paperwork and calls, get the insurance company talking with the repair shops and car rental companies. Blockchain would enable electronic “paperwork” to be exchanged safely and securely. The insurance company could arrange for a local repair shop that can handle my car to do the repair – and pay them directly! They could dig up a local car rental company, and arrange for me to be picked up and dropped off at the end – and pay for the car directly! If things took longer than planned, all parties could communicate directly and just get it done. It would be a true distributed transaction application, minus the Bitcoin but with the transactions I care about now – getting my car fixed!


I know I’ve expressed doubt about blockchain and cryptocurrencies in the past, while admiring their power. This could be the inflection point for me – a real, practical, everyday nightmare that would be transformed by Blockchain! Maybe I could even dive in and lead making it happen; wouldn’t that be ironic?

Enough of living in fantasy-land – I’ve got a car that needs fixing. With dreams of a future Blockchain-fueled revolution in the back of my mind, imagine my shock as I went through the process, and found that everybody seemed to know everything! My insurance company knew a local repair shop to use, and contacted them for me. They also contacted a local branch of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, who sent someone out to pick me up. Then I found out that Enterprise knew where my car had been towed, and was ready to pick up their car from there when I went for it. Then I found out that my insurance company was paying the car repair shop directly, and paying Enterprise directly. Then when the estimate came in and my car was declared a total loss, things were taken care of until I could get a new car – which my insurance company also helped with.

What’s going on here? Have they already implemented Blockchain?!

I started asking some questions. It turns out that the nightmare of coordination and paperwork flying around was noticed decades ago. In 1994, Enterprise created the Automated Rental Management System (ARMS®) “to help insurance companies simplify the cumbersome process of managing replacement rental cars for policyholders.” By the early 2000’s, it was already widely used.

Things progressed over the years. As of 2017, “hundreds of insurance companies and thousands of collision repair centers use Enterprise’s value-added system, which processes millions of transactions every year.”

This sounds good, but there must be a catch. This could be some centralized, expensive enterprise system that locks everyone in. Well, maybe not:

Central control? “ABS’ approach, on the other hand, enables collision repair centers, insurance companies and fleet owners to remain in control of their data for the long term – a high priority since vehicle technology and associated repair processes are changing rapidly.”

What about data format standards, the tough thing for Blockchain? “The ABS system helps protect insurance companies, collision repair centers and fleet owners by converting their information from EMS (Estimate Management Standard) to a more secure protocol, BMS (Business Message Suite).”

I’ve learned important things about Blockchain from this experience. I’ve learned that a huge problem in car repair, insurance and rental involving many disparate parties, has already been solved and is in production, used by industry giants and thousands of local businesses. This is just the kind of problem whose solution “everyone” says Blockchain “enables.” It’s in production today. It has evolved with technology,  No Blockchain needed. So why is it exactly that Blockchain is the key missing ingredient for solving distributed data, sharing and interaction problems of this kind?

Note: this post first appeared at Forbes.