Driving Digital Transformation in Industry and Cities Conference Insights Part 1

I recently was a panelist in a session on Blockchain Pilots at the 23rd ARC Industry Forum on Driving Digital Transformation in Industry and Cities.  The other panel members were Jan Erik Johansson of Tata Consultancy Services, Davide Picciotto of Siemens, Matthew Gregory of Ockam, and Ganesh Wadawadigi of SAP.  After a short overview of the technology by ARC Moderator Peter Reynolds, the group answered questions posed by the audience.

What is blockchain?  Blockchain is an essentially shared database across companies and once a record is added to the chain it is very difficult to change.  Because it is shared, a trusted third party is not needed.   Reuters provides an easy to understand explanation:  http://graphics.reuters.com/TECHNOLOGY-BLOCKCHAIN/010070P11GN/index.html.

What is really different about a blockchain project?  Just the newness of the technology and the fact it is still evolving.  Aside from that, very little – it is just another emerging technology.  No different than web services, JSONs, XML, APIs, Github, Scala, etc.  Elemica did not have to procure hardware or hire dedicated staff to complete our blockchain pilot.  Like any project, we researched the technology with existing staff and then staffed the project with a typical mix of internal and external resources to achieve the right capability and cost profile.

What advice do you have for a company to identify the best use cases for blockchain? Identify the business problems you want to solve and then select the best set of technology functions to meet the project objective. This is opposed to assuming a certain technology at the beginning of the project. If you have a dedicated blockchain budget, then perhaps focus on areas where you are having issues with digital identity.  Another panel member commented that the intense focus on blockchain having potential to solve business problems may have elevated the visibility of problems technology can address, but the final technical solution may not involve blockchain.

How can blockchain aid in streamlining transaction processing between companies?  Elemica has secured billions of machine to machine transactions between companies over the past 19 years.  Blockchain is a substitute technology for one component of that work – digital signatures.  Our pilot found that while blockchain provides a security/authenticity function it does not handle the data mapping and data cross-referencing functions needed to fully automate transaction processing.  For example, Bitcoin only dealt with 2 fields – an amount and a currency – these are trivial to post in and out of systems.  A single order to a cash transaction, however, can involve a hundred different data values that need to mapped and cross-referenced into the systems of customers, suppliers, distributors, carriers, and banks.

What is your readiness to accomplish blockchain projects?  We are ready.  If a client has a project we can support it and we are continually evaluating where blockchain can fit into our product portfolio.