As news about the rise of Bitcoin has spread, entrepreneurs have needed to ask themselves what it means for their businesses. Usually, that's involved deciding whether to accept a cryptocurrency, and concluding "not yet." Digital coins might have made for interesting investment assets but they're still too volatile to function as a reliable currency.

But cryptocurrencies are only one use for a distributed ledger. Bitcoin might be stealing the headlines but behind the scenes businesses as large as banks and global distributors are experimenting with smart contracts coded into the blockchain to see how they could improve their processes. As those uses spread, they'll touch every other business.

A smart contract is a piece of code that tells a program to enact a set of instructions if certain conditions are met. Those conditions could include a digital wallet receiving a payment and the instructions could be as simple as issuing a digital receipt. But when that "receipt" is a title of deed or some other document required by law, transaction processes start to move a lot faster. Instead of manually checking whether a transaction has been made before issuing an export certificate, for example, the blockchain can function as a public ledger signed in front of thousands of people and impossible to change.

So if your business sends money overseas or exports abroad, your payments might be managed using the blockchain. That was always the intent of Ripple. That coin may no longer be flying through the roof but that's because banks have found they don't need to use the cryptocurrency; the blockchain structure itself is enough.

The various stages a product has to pass through on its way from producer to customer will also be managed by the blockchain and its smart contracts. Safety checks and customs clearances will become much faster as the blockchain processes each stage and automatically issues the paperwork needed to move to the next. The blockchain will enhance the supply chains that feed the raw materials to those producers in exactly the same way.

If you or your businesses trades in real estate, you could find many of the legal and notary services you currently have to buy will be replaced by a click of a button. When you can write a transaction into a distributed ledger, you don't need a notary to witness an agreement or a rental contract. Just hit send in a digital wallet and receive a legal document or even a key code for a rental apartment.

And once you've made your money, the financial institutions that manage your funds for you will be using the blockchain to track your investments. Already banks as large as Bank of America have been experimenting with the blockchain to keep track of the sale of derivatives and other financial assets.

You're unlikely to see much of this. Just as you won't be carrying Bitcoins in your pocket, you might never actually see the blockchain in your office. Most of it will be backroom stuff used by the shipping firms and banks that you use. But you'll feel the difference in lower expenses and in faster, cheaper, and more secure transactions for your business.