The IBM Blockchain blog hosts news, interviews, conversations, stories, and opinions from the blockchain community, inside and outside of IBM. Experts discuss how blockchain technology is changing the world and impacting business networks, transaction workflows, distributed ledgers that are replicated and permissioned and a lot more.
Access to credit fuels economies everywhere. Collateral boosts this access by providing credit lenders with an asset-backed security or trust in repayment of a loan in the event of default. When the integrity of this collateral is ensured, risk is reduced, interest rates are lowered, and economic growth is fueled. When the system breaks down the collateral damage can be massive.
In the US, Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), attempts to limit the likelihood of collateral damage through the implementation of a unified law for governing security interests. The article effectively grants creditors with security interests in a bankrupt debtor’s estate priority over unsecured creditors when assets are distributed.
So far, so good. But what does any of this have to do with blockchain? To answer this question, we need to first take a moment to think about the current processes underlying the Uniform Commercial Code.
Under Article 9, UCC financing statements are filed by the creditor to provide public notice of their lien on the underlying collateral of the secured loan. This filing process is complex as it varies from state to state, relies on multiple intermediaries, and must be precise. Incomplete or inaccurate financing statements can render a lender’s claim unsecured, meaning every last detail in a UCC financing statement must be meticulously entered and correct. If not, the potential areas for collateral damage are vast:
UCC filing mistakes
In the case of First Midwest Bank v. Reinbold in August 2018, the Bank failed to attach the collateral description after mentioning it as, “All Collateral described in First Amended and Restated Security Agreement dated March 9, 2015 between Debtor and Secured Party.” The court ruled that the Bank’s financing statement failed to describe the collateral and granted the motion to void the Bank’s security interest.
Inadvertent mistakes committed by legal entities or organizations while filing UCC statements or amendments can have serious consequences. A noteworthy case is the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., in January 2013. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A.’s security interest in a $1.5 billion loan to General Motors was legally terminated, even though it was done in error, by a paralegal at the law firm representing the borrower.
Incorrect debtor name search
When conducting a UCC Search, the lender must ensure the exact spelling of the debtor business entity name. An incorrect placement of a comma, period, blank, or spelling error may result in the incorrect debtor’s lien records being searched, which could result in a more subordinated lien position than the lender expected.
Inadvertent expiration of UCC financing statement
UCC liens expire after five years, even if the debt is not paid off. Lenders need to renew the perfected lien within six months before expiry; if not, it lapses, and the lender becomes an unsecured party.
Debtor name change
A significant name change triggers the need for the secured party to file an amendment to the existing financing statement to reflect the debtor’s new name. It is important to file an amendment within the four-month grace period, rather than a new financing statement, to preserve its original priority date.
Loan is sold
When a lender sells a loan to another lender, the debtor must be notified, so that the payments can be routed to the right entity. Of course, the new lender needs to ensure the lien position is established or carried over from the original lender.
Blockchain to the rescue
A blockchain-based UCC platform, with lenders and registered agents as a node(s), enhances the transparency and streamlines the process of ensuring the ongoing integrity of a lender’s loan registry, at the secured asset level, with the legal claim on the secured collateral.
A UCC blockchain platform has the capability to provide timely notifications that can improve the way the filings are monitored, thereby preventing many of the creditor pitfalls highlighted above.
Another value add is helping organizations to create a better portfolio of securitized assets that can be sold or traded faster. The complexity inherent in securitization, especially the non-stationary credit quality that are time and structure-dependent, can limit investors’ ability to monitor risk. In this secondary market, organizations can significantly benefit from saving cost on re-validating data and improving the time frame to trade and settle. UCC blockchain platforms can, in effect, feed the entire upstream securitization process with increased transparency and efficiency for the entire value chain.
Lenders and registered agents can also add value to the platform to ensure perfection is maintained as well as provide additional features:
Notification to file amendments in case of changes in debtor or collateral details
Advanced analytics that learn from past filings and provide alerts about missing attachments or inconsistent details
Advanced analytics to enhance debtor name searching using variants of the debtor names, reducing the time and labor involved in the process
Advanced analytics to gain insights into the creditworthiness, collateral valuation, and other factors
Banks are leading the use of blockchain in payment transactions, clearing and settlement, digital identity, and many other use cases. As banks continue to expand the use of blockchain ecosystems, participants will be disrupted with new ways of doing business and adding value. Using blockchain, states and registered agents can build upon this by providing a UCC platform for creditors to ensure the integrity of a lender’s loan registry, at the secured asset level, with the legal claim of the state’s UCC records.
Forward-looking government agencies, creditors, and registered agents are already exploring the value add of blockchain-based UCC platform to improve lending liquidity and fuel growth. Given the unprecedented pace of this technology-driven change, the question now is whether their competitors will be able to keep pace or themselves become collateral damage in the era of disruption.
We’re living in a multicloud world. Today, 85 percent of businesses rely on multiple clouds to meet their IT needs, with 71 percent using more than three. What this means in practice for enterprise clients is that they have multiple architectures in place. This may be fine for “tried and true” workloads — like credit card processing and airline reservations — but what happens when you start testing or implementing more complex transaction networks such as blockchain?
There are a number of clients in this position, which is why today, IBM has announced it is enabling clients to deploy the IBM Blockchain Platform, making it easier to build, deploy, govern and grow networks in the environment of their choosing, whether in a public cloud or behind the firewall. For clients who prefer the latter, IBM Blockchain Platform for IBM Cloud Private delivers the components that an organization needs to connect their on-premises computing systems to a cloud-based blockchain network, develop a custom-managed local network, or simply run IBM Blockchain Platform on IBM Z® or IBM LinuxONE via IBM Cloud Private.
Control of your data: Data privacy & data residency
IBM Blockchain Platform is built on Hyperledger Fabric, an open-source blockchain framework hosted by the Linux Foundation. Underpinned by LinuxONE, IBM Blockchain Platform running Hyperledger Fabric helps enable clients to protect their data, ensure the integrity of the overall network, and meet the stringent security requirements of the financial, healthcare and government sectors, helping to foster compliance.
Consider Smart Dubai, a city-wide initiative using IBM Blockchain Platform to integrate digitized services and experiences run on IBM Blockchain into citizens’ day-to-day lives. The new platform conforms to the Dubai Government’s Information Security Regulation (ISR) and is powered by LinuxONE. 
And just like Smart Dubai, there are numerous clients who want to deploy blockchain, but need to host data locally for government, regulatory or corporate reasons. Now, they can implement blockchain on premises — taking advantage of a secure blockchain infrastructure underpinned by advanced workload isolation and tamper-resistant encryption key storage. Clients can also keep a copy of the ledger on their own infrastructure, enabling control around where and how data is stored.
For clients operating in European countries affected by the stepped-up regulations of GDPR and PSD2, or in general for data residency and privacy concerns, IBM Z and LinuxONE can encrypt 100 percent of application, cloud service, and database data without application changes. IBM Z and LinuxONE delivers the scalability to support and enable rapid growth, making IBM Blockchain on IBM Cloud Private running on IBM Z and LinuxONE the best choice for clients looking for the highest levels of security coupled with the ability to meet compliance needs.
Choice in infrastructure: Perform across peers
What about performance?
As part of the evaluation and testing of enterprise-grade production blockchains, performance across peers is another key consideration in the decentralized world of blockchain. That’s another place where the architecture behind LinuxONE excels–because it can run blockchain transactions up to two times faster on LinuxONE than on x86. 
For choice and control, IBM Blockchain Platform for IBM Cloud Private offers both, backed by our history and experience. The IBM Blockchain Platform builds on the experience gained in a working environment with more than 500 client engagements, and now supports clients running blockchain applications in public cloud, including AWS and IBM Cloud and an on-premises capability with IBM Cloud Private.
 *ISR mandates government entities in Dubai to implement specific requirements and controls to ensure appropriate level of confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information assets.
 Based on internal IBM analysis. Hyperledger Fabric TPS Comparison – LinuxONE vs. x86, with similar CPU utilization, blockchain runs 1.61-2.29 times faster in terms of transaction throughput on LinuxONE vs x86.
Blockchain is still in the early days of enterprise adoption. To tackle this head on, IBM recently launched the new Columbia | IBM Blockchain Accelerator, which is a non-dilutive set of programs for building and scaling successful enterprise blockchain companies globally.
The core component of these programs is enabling the successful collaboration between startups and corporate partners. IBM has completed more than 500 enterprise blockchain projects and launched scores of active business networks, and it’s clear that building and scaling a successful blockchain project and business network is no easy task.
As a result of this experience, there is a belief that there is a huge opportunity for enterprise blockchain networks to be launched and scaled successfully when companies like IBM and its peers partner with the best startups in the world. In particular, the IBM NETWORK program for growth stage startups curates the best high-growth innovators from around the globe to partner with IBM and its enterprise customers with the goal of co-creating category-winning blockchain business networks.
Here are four reasons that this startup plus corporate partnership model works extremely well:
1. Blockchain is a team sport
The success of enterprise blockchain projects is dependent on businesses working together in new ways. Building blockchain business networks — which can take the shape of consortia, governance councils, non-profits and others — requires many participants who may normally be peers or competitors to collaborate effectively. This is a challenging concept for many enterprises who are used to vicious competition in their market.
We’ve found that building networks works much better when multiple parties are seated at the table from inception, as opposed to being driven by one founder and attempting to onboard partners later in the process. The balance of startup plus corporate entities working together to build a network is typically an easier starting point; there is no entrenched competitive history and both parties bring a different set of skills and resources to the table.
2. Startups have a maniacal focus on the network’s success
Another major challenge we’ve seen with founder-led networks driven by one big company is that often the project is one of many “innovation” initiatives and can get lost in the prioritization puddle. Blockchain is still new and not always easy to implement, especially with the business model disruptions it can cause. While most corporate partners have lots of enthusiasm at the beginning of a blockchain project, it can lose steam on the journey to completion.
What startups bring to the table is a singularly focused, concentrated effort to make the blockchain project and business network successful. They don’t have 20 other initiatives or product lines to juggle. Often the success or failure of the blockchain business network means the success or failure of the company itself. So, you better believe the network will have 100 percent of the startup’s focus and energy! They’ll do everything in their power to keep things moving forward, usually dragging the larger, slower corporate partners along with them.
3. Building fast and slow
It is exactly this difference in skills, resources and urgency that works beautifully together to build blockchain networks. Startups move fast. They have smaller teams but tend to attract higher quality technical resources who are motivated by the potential upside of startup equity. They are nimble and agile and can adapt to new information quickly. Enterprises can move slow, or at least slower. They have entrenched processes and policies to navigate, which is not necessarily a bad thing. When activated properly they have resources and gravitas in the market that is exponentially more impactful than smaller companies.
It’s no surprise that startups and enterprises operate differently, and this healthy tension (when harnessed productively) can lead to each partner lifting each other up to new levels when collaborating to build blockchain networks.
4. You must scale fast to win
Finally, we’ve come to understand that there will likely only be one dominate business network for each blockchain use case. This market typically leads to a winner-take-all in each category and is based on who can aggregate network participants and transaction volume fastest.
With startup plus corporate partnerships, each taps into their own ecosystem to drive this adoption, typically using different strategies and tactics appropriate for each entity. This combination can lead to the rapid scaling needed to make blockchain networks a success.
In fact, this point is so important and this combination of partners is so powerful that it’s the core focus of the IBM Blockchain Accelerator NETWORK program.
We’re still in the early days of enterprise adoption of blockchain and the journey is under way. The collaboration between leading startups and enterprises building blockchain networks together will be an exciting ride. The opening credits have started, so grab the popcorn and enjoy the show! Or even better, join the cast.
By now, most of you have heard about blockchain and its impact on business networks. As we speak, we see that it is disrupting industries and enhancing the way businesses work together. For example, a blockchain food trust solution is directly connecting participants through a permissioned, permanent and shared record of food origin details, processing data, shipping information and more. One major benefit of this solution is the ability to trace food sources in a matter of seconds, not days — helping to reduce outbreaks of food borne illnesses. Impressive!
Currently, there exists 100+ live blockchain solutions in production today. A “live blockchain solution” is a blockchain network with multiple members, adding blocks and/or exchanging value on a daily basis.
Although these blockchain solutions are each producing value for the participants, they are isolated. If individual blockchain solutions remain isolated, it begs the question, how many will there be? How many applications/solutions will an organization need to engage with for all the networks they are part of? But, what if individual blockchain solutions could interoperate? Might they produce even more value if connected together?
Let’s look beyond today’s implementations. Let us look to a future where blockchain technologies enable a network of networks, creating additional value and further reimagining the way economies, governments, corporations and more work together — the blockchain economy.
Let me define what I mean by a network of networks. An organizations blockchain network actually represents a ”web” of interconnected networks. This architecture would allow an organization to connect and transact with multiple solutions, unbounding them to a single network, and open up a market of interoperability across solutions. Essentially, an organization could have one application or entry point and one peer (ledger), instead of multiple, to engage with every network and solution that is relevant to their business.
To put the potential impact of a blockchain network of networks in perspective, let’s take a look at an example. Let’s use a fictional company called Global Produce Supply (GPS). GPS is a produce distribution and wholesale business. In order for GPS to be successful with end customers and partners, they must ensure the safety and quality of produce, streamlined shipping/distribution processes, and make and receive timely payments with partners. To help meet these expectations, GPS joined three different blockchain networks — one for food quality and safety, one for shipping, and one for trade financing. Each of these blockchain solutions are individually bringing value to GPS; however, they are disparate and do not have the capability to interoperate. Or do they? Now, think about the value of connecting and interoperating these networks, forming GPS’s network of networks. They could use one solution (made up of all three) to ensure the quality and safety of produce; bring accountability, traceability, and transparency to the associated shipment process; and use the trade finance network to conduct financial transactions with partners. This will add an additional layer of value on top of the existing value already created by blockchain. Today, individual blockchain solutions are changing industries in unprecedented ways; however, when blockchain networks and solutions begin to interoperate, additional value beyond the capabilities of today’s networks can be unleashed.
Finding the right networks
In fact, on September 14, 2018, IBM and HACERA took one of the first, but necessary, steps towards achieving this objective. IBM joined HACERA’s Unbounded Registry, which serves as a sort of “yellow pages” directory, enabling companies to discover and participate in existing blockchain networks and solutions. Available networks and solutions listed in the registry are built on a variety of blockchain frameworks, including The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric, Ethereum Quorum, R3 Corda, Stellar and more. The registry continues to add to its growing base of participants, including vendors such as IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and consortiums and developers from all around the globe. We are so happy that the Unbounded Registry is helping more participants to collaborate openly, through permissioned and non-permissioned blockchains. We keep encouraging blockchain participants to join, get listed and collaborate using the Unbounded Network.
The next step in this process is to continue unlocking the power of existing blockchain technologies and begin to interconnect or layer them in a multi-lingual manner. To maximize value from blockchain solutions, each organization should look to how individual blockchain solutions can be interconnected. Fortunately, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel and the future is closer than most people realize.
Bridging the gaps between networks
Let’s take a look at how this is possible with blockchain technology today, more specifically, let’s look at Hyperledger Fabric based networks. We think the peer and channel components of a Fabric network is where the true power of a network of networks can be realized. The peer is where distributed ledgers reside, and channels are private sub-networks between members. By unlocking the power of the peer, organizations can use their peer to connect into multiple blockchain networks via channels. This significantly reduces the complexity and optimizes an organizations interaction with different blockchain networks.
In addition to the power of the Fabric peer, we can now begin embedding multi-lingual smart contract capabilities in existing blockchain technologies. More specifically, there are blockchain frameworks with modular architectures, which enable the ability to support a wide variety of languages to write smart contracts in. For example, networks built on Hyperledger Fabric have the ability to use Ethereum (EVM/Solidity) smart contracts. Therefore, a solution containing smart contracts written in Solidity can be available to users of these networks. These capabilities should continue to evolve, especially after the partnership announcement of Hyperledger and the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance on October 1, 2018. This is a major step forward for the blockchain community.
Let’s talk for a moment about the value of Hyperledger/EEA partnership and the value it can bring to technologies like Fabric and EVM. The partnership between Hyperledger and EEA is designed to help establish standards across the projects, enabling integration and interoperability between solutions. More specifically, we are most excited because there is a wealth of smart contracts that were developed to run on the Ethereum Virtual Machine, that the Hyperledger community did not have access to. This includes smart contracts that involve the management of digital tokens. These tokens can represent an asset or utility and exist on top of a blockchain. They are tradeable goods and can represent coins, loyalty points, in-game assets, and so on — an example is ERC-20 smart contracts. Fabric brings, via its modular architecture, accountability to participants through permissions (issued by Fabric Certificate Authority services), privacy (channels, ZKP), and private data (side-db), performance/scalability and fault-tolerant security gained through proven consensus algorithms. This relationship and interoperability between different blockchain technologies is essential and driving us closer to enabling a network of networks.
Networks working together
Finally, the component that will bring these blockchain networks and solutions together for an organization is a “mashup” application. This is expected to profoundly change the way organizations engage with blockchain networks and solutions, because now they only have to interact with one consistent application programming interface (API) and not an API for every network. This mashup application can include a variety of capabilities defined in data models and smart contracts, but fundamentally, it will serve as the glue that joins various networks together. As an organization continues to expand their use of blockchain, this architecture will allow them to scale accordingly and innovate at speeds necessary for their industry. Much like cloud platforms have delivered value for application development, blockchain platforms, such as the IBM Blockchain Platform, should help facilitate the advancement and delivery of blockchain mashup applications.
Organizations plus solutions are where networks form. Today, we are seeing first order benefits, but many solutions remain siloed. We are now closer to a tomorrow where an organizations ability to interconnect solutions are not restricting those organizations and solutions to a single network. We realized from the start that you cannot do blockchain on your own; you need a vibrant community and ecosystem of like-minded innovators who share the vision of helping to transform the way companies conduct business in the global economy. Blockchain technology is just scratching the surface of its potential; however, if we architect blockchain frameworks and solutions to interconnect, we can unlock the full power of a blockchain network of networks.
After 17 years on the West Coast, working for Intel and a variety of tech start-ups on disruptive technologies like virtual reality, OTT video, discrete graphics, digital store fronts and more, I migrated back to Cleveland for my position at Folio Photonics, a local start-up in next generation optical-based random access mass storage. Actually, more than half of my employees have migrated here, too.
I didn’t believe it myself until I experienced it — the level of blockchain enthusiasm and potential that’s here is helping position Cleveland as a blockchain leader. And, the recent announcement that Ohio is the first state to allow taxpayers to pay tax bills using cryptocurrency proves my point exactly. We are way ahead of the game.
As you can see, we’ve been busy here in Cleveland. We’ve transformed into the “wild, wild west” of blockchain, if you will. It’s a bold transition for the city, but one that might not be as far-fetched as you think — blockchain powered economies are more attainable than one might imagine.
The Blockland Cleveland initiative is a 300-strong volunteer collaboration comprised of developers, business leaders, government representatives, entrepreneurs, philanthropic organizations and universities. We are working together to establish Cleveland as a significant technology center by being a leader in blockchain solutions. Our goal is to massively grow employment that benefits the entire Cleveland community.
Blockland Cleveland operates under a four-point umbrella mission:
Educate: Provide for an emerging workforce and leaders in blockchain technology.
Lead: Demonstrate innovation and real-world application of technology in the Midwest.
Establish: Create a local ecosystem where partnerships leverage blockchain technology.
Promote: Blockchain has incredible potential to be inclusive in serving the greater good.
By establishing a governing body of nodes, led by key individuals in Cleveland, our initiative ensures that no one company or individual will hinder its progress. Our nodes fall within these categories:
Research and innovation
Laying the foundation
The city of Cleveland is rumbling up the perfect storm to solidify its presence and make blockland a reality. We still have some work to do, but the groundwork has been created. It’s all there for the taking. Soon, the big companies will be saying, “There is enough technology in the Cleveland area to build a business base here.”
We have established enough general education to stimulate the genesis of a technology ecosystem. Now, we need to educate the customer base, the big names that call Cleveland home, on how they can implement blockchain into their businesses therefore creating opportunities for entrepreneurs and stimulating talent pools.
In addition, Cleveland is one of a few regions that have been able to move forward with tangible results such as supporting headquarters for major brands like Progressive, Sherwin Williams, Key Corp, Cleveland Clinic and Eaton. In fact, we’ve already embraced cryptocurrency — the Cleveland Clinic is using digital currency for philanthropy, Case Western University is accepting it for tuition, and Downtown Cleveland businesses are using it, but we need to utilize it a lot more for it to truly flourish. A smarter, safer, healthier and more efficient city is on the way — and at the end of the day, isn’t that what blockchain can do?
So, what’s next?
Even though there’s more to do, the rebirth has begun.
Take, for example, the Blockland Solutions Conference that is being held in Cleveland on December 1-4. Nowhere else has this ever been done — Clevelanders representing every corner of the region, higher education, government, industry, philanthropy and the community, are voluntarily collaborating to get this initiative off the ground. The 4-day blockchain event features more than 130 speakers and over 1500 attendees. It’s a grassroots effort spearheaded by Blockland, a community-wide movement to establish a blockchain ecosystem in Cleveland, and put the region at the forefront of blockchain thought leadership. This effort is yet another example of the great technology evolution happening in Cleveland. It’s a testament to how the community is coming together to embrace, adopt and achieve success on large-scale projects.
We need to augment our technology and match blockchain creators with consumers for it to survive, but I have no doubt that I’m in the right place at the right time to see this happen firsthand right here in Cleveland. I belong to a company that gives back, and I want to be a part of Cleveland for many years to come — a community that truly wants to build something.
And, let’s not forget, there’s a reason why the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is here. Because, let’s face it — we’re cool.
From time to time, we invite industry thought leaders, academic experts and partners, to share their opinions and insights on current trends in blockchain to the Blockchain Unleashed blog. The opinions in these blog posts are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of IBM.
How do I find the top blockchain application development service provider?
“It’s worth starting with a little information on what makes an application a “blockchain application”. The skills you need in a service provider will depend on what type of application development you need.
Let’s consider a blockchain network used by companies involved in a supply chain network. Blockchain made sense for them because they can track the goods that are passed between all of them in a shared, immutable ledger: there can be no miss-matched information between different parties, and no disagreement as to the current state of, say, a mango on its way from a farm in India to supermarket in Scotland.
This network is already up and running – depending on the blockchain technology the network founders chose, they can expose APIs and SDKs to invoke the Smart Contracts (more on that term in a bit) that define the conditions to update the shared ledger.
So if you now want an app that, for example, allows the supermarket worker in Scotland to confirm the arrival of a shipment of mangoes, possibly adding metadata like a quality score for the fruit, the humidity-sensor reading in the truck etc.. You’re looking for a front-end (client) application that can invoke the APIs of the Supply Chain Network. The API happens to cause things to happen on a blockchain (as opposed to a Cloudant DB or a Kubernetes Cluster or whatever technology might sit behind an API).. But all the application is doing is making use of the API in a well-defined way.
In this situation, you could call this a “blockchain app”, but really it’s just an app! An app that uses an API, which happens to be for a blockchain.
This is a bit of a simplification, but only a little. If all blockchain networks were exposed to client applications by a well-defined smart contract API, blockchain app development would be just the same as non-blockchain app development.
There are some really cool projects to look into here if you’re inclined to learn more.
The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric is my personal favourite (full-disclosure, this is because I contribute to Hyperledger projects!). There are many great examples of networks built using Hyperledger Fabric, where applications then use REST APIs to interact.
Sometimes when people talk about “blockchain applications” they mean “Smart Contracts”. These are what a developer must write (and deploy to a blockchain runtime) so that the rules of using a ledger are clearly defined. Having well-defined smart contracts means you can later empower other app developers to build on top of the network by exposing APIs.
If for example, you’re a port authority involved in the shipping of mangoes, who can see a business opportunity for applying blockchain, that’s where you’ll need to draw on a Service Provider with some deep expertise, or skill up in-house. It’s worth stressing that the skill-up option is very much an option: smart contract dev is a totally learnable skill! Many companies or consortiums will prefer to engage some services though, and as we’ll see, if you pick the right provider you may be able to develop some in-house skills as you go.
Now for the final bit of “full disclosure”: I contribute to Hyperledger projects because I work at IBM Blockchain, and IBM Blockchain focuses on helping clients build blockchain solutions powered by The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger technologies.
Hopefully that gives some insight into the nuances of “blockchain application development”, and provides the obligatory plug for the company the commenter works at
What I will say is: When you’re looking for a service provider, look for examples of solutions they’ve helped deliver before. We’re reaching a point in blockchain’s maturity where the best service providers will be able to hold up exemplars of what they’ve delivered in partnership with other clients. There’s no better way of knowing whether they’ll be able to deliver what you need on your project!
As a parting shot.. If you liked the example about mangoes, there’s a really cool example made by Clause (who are working on very exciting software to translate legal contracts into smart contracts) that is similar.. But with avocados! Check it out.”
I’m sure by now you have heard time and again the common misnomer that blockchain equates to Bitcoin and vice versa. With that said, I’m going to start with the simple fact that Bitcoin leverages blockchain as an underlying technology and this underlying technology has tremendous capabilities. These capabilities have spawned an enormous and ever-growing number of use cases that can leverage blockchain which, in the beginning, produced a significant number of questions regarding uses, implementations, regulations and more. As a result, many different protocols and variations of blockchain have been created trying to address these questions.
Much like the protocols, the questions have also been evolving, including questions around openness and making or saving money. Making money does not mean cryptocurrency necessarily. While there is a space for cryptocurrency, there is also a space outside of crypto which businesses are running. This is where I want to address questions and elaborate on the typical journey into blockchain as a foundational technology for business applications, some of the use cases, and also about the burning questions around openness. With that said there are times where blockchain isn’t required at all. In fact, that is probably the right place to start.
There are absolutely times that blockchain isn’t needed at all. If you are working in a space that requires little to no collaboration and has basically a single authoritative entity, it’s simple. Get a database, secure that bad boy up as much as possible to avoid tampering, and then simply push the information out to the parties that need it. It’ll be faster processing without the checks and balances needed for verification of trust in a blockchain solution, and you probably don’t have to depend on other information to be provided by a bunch of others to get stuff done.
However, if you are working with many others and want a system with insights and validations that require collaboration across multiple participants, you are starting to get more into a blockchain use case. Remember blockchain is a team sport, and without the team there is no need to use it. This is of course a very simple starting view point from a business perspective, but I think you get the idea.
Let’s look at using blockchain for improved efficiencies and visibility from provenance to the completion of your business deliveries and talk more about the journey into why and how businesses are leveraging the capabilities.
Early adopters and misconceptions
When starting my own adventure in blockchain, I spent a significant amount of time listening to customers and groups, both large and small, trying to figure out why it makes sense to use this in business. It started to become extremely evident, as is usually the case, that smaller companies and startups were more ready and willing to jump on a new technology bandwagon. Partly because of the technology itself, but also because of the potential to disrupt and leverage themselves into the larger enterprise space, becoming first movers in the changing way things are done. One major status quo being disrupted is the concept of the middleman and the extraneous fees quite frequently associated with them.
On the flip side, enterprise business was treading a little more cautiously with a focus on how something like this could work with all the processes and regulations already in place. Both sides of the coin absolutely make sense.
Then of course there has always been the fear factor and some misunderstanding with the technology itself. This has only been fed and amplified by security breaches amplified by the news media in areas like financial institutions, identity theft, social media and credit bureaus. It’s only human nature that when under attack, the inclination is to hunker down and get better control, not to spread things out leaving data exposed to attack.
Finally, adding further complication to the conversation — especially if you are talking with someone that is running a highly secure business — is a preconceived notion equating blockchain to the shady side of cryptocurrency in funding terror, drug and human trafficking, as well as cyber extortion. Be careful, because even bringing the subject up might get you socked in the eye before being thrown out of the room.
Thankfully, most conversations are now spent discussing the principles of the technology, answering questions such as, “I have a database, why do I need a new one?” and “Why would I make my data open, and give it to my competition?” Another hot topic is how security works in the open. Openness and sharing do not mean that security is thrown out the window allowing for pure chaos and anarchy — in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Let’s really digest the different aspects of openness further, such as open source with technology and protocols, open data with ledgers and transactions, and probably the most difficult piece, working with others in an open environment to achieve real value.
Opening up to the openness of open source
I feel open source is the easiest of the openness factors. Blockchain has a tremendous amount of hype, and for the first time I’d say it’s justified. This is a technology fundamentally changing the way business is being done in the modern era, so doesn’t it make sense to enable the world to help guide, drive and work on that technology? I would say “yes” and I also want the ability to know what’s happening at the foundational level while not having a single entity dictating what and how things are going to be done. That’s the beauty of open source, the sharing with a multitude of people and businesses around the world how things are created, verified, processed and kept at a protocol level. Especially when talking about blockchain, where its fundamental pretense is sharing data with the proper checks and balances before calling it truth. Wow! Tell me how that is not a perfect hand-in-glove match.
Open data and how you control openness
Speaking of data being openly shared, it’s already happening in some regards. We live in a world of real-time or near real-time data on virtually anything. And we’re all very accustomed to this as a way of life — we see it all time. Here’s a true story:
I recently went camping with a group of friends and our kids, and a buddy of mine has this flashlight that seems so bright it would burn the skin right off you. Well of course I had to have one just like it after he blinded me silly three times during the night. So, when I got home, I went online and browsed for a new flashlight. I found it but got distracted. When I got back to my computer later to check email, what ads do I see on the right side of my screen? The very flashlight I was looking for, available from several fine retailers, and at such-and-such a price. This is data that I’m already freely and openly giving away, then others profit off it by selling this information to advertisers. What do I get? Spammed. To be fair, I did find a really low price and coupon as a result.
Everything you do is being tracked by all the digital devices attached to you. They watch and record everything. It’s all data, and it’s got real value. As a consumer, wouldn’t you like to get some of that value back and also control where that data is used? Identity management with blockchain may seem like the opposite of open data, but it provides you with controls to the specific data you are producing and where it is shared. It also allows the possibility of putting a little coin back in your pocket. You can count me in!
Openness sometimes means sharing with competitors
Now, the biggest (and I venture to say the most difficult) aspect of all this openness is wrapping our minds around sharing with potentially “traditional” competitors. What does this mean in reality?
This doesn’t mean you invite your nemesis to your office, type in your password and point them to all of your confidential information. What this really boils down to is a major decision point for any business in this space, the determination of what needs to be controlled and how to do it with the greatest efficiency possible. Defining and understanding these dependencies will drive to evaluation of the features and capabilities, comparing the different protocols and implementations.
Take a basic supply chain scenario where you want to track shipments at any point from provenance to its final disposition. Can you do this today? Yes, no, maybe — it all depends on what systems are in place. There are a lot of suppliers that still use paper and pencil or outdated systems of record. Another more specific example to detail efficiency, money and even lifesaving uses for blockchain is in the outbreak of contaminated food.
Earlier this year, a massive retailer testified in front of congress, mentioning the benefits of blockchain in food trust. In 2016 there was a salmonella outbreak in peanut butter that took eight days to discover how and where the contamination occurred within the supply chain. This was partly due to the fact that everyone had their own system and tracked their records within that self-contained environment. They then had to reach out to the next person with their results, who in turn went through their records doing the same — so on and so forth. It was finally reconciled by someone that had to collate all the information.
To demonstrate how blockchain changes this landscape, the retailer testifying before congress described how they put all their suppliers on blockchain and worked together to reproduce a model of the same outbreak. They found the issue in 2.2 seconds. That’s eight days down to 2.2 seconds. Think of the lives and money potentially saved by this kind of efficiency — all driven by openness.
Infomercial moment: But wait, there’s more!
The most amazing part is that all of this is available today, the ability to have insight into everything — from the base fundamental approach of how the technology is built to the data transacting on the system. Along with necessity to work together, is the definition of openness and what blockchain is designed to be. This just gives a whole new world of virtually endless opportunities. All this from learning and leveraging the mass amounts of information that is perpetually being collected and worked on together.
There are groups and foundations out there tackling very difficult business, social and economic issues that we face today, and a lot of them in the open source community. Only you know the needs you have, so I urge you to go out there, get active and make sure you are heard. You don’t even need to be a technologist.
Solutions, products and technologies are built to solve issues and make life easier. Feeding in the needs and problems to this open system is just as needed as building the technology to drive us all forward.