Perspectives

Blockchain pulse check: People, pilots and pragmatism

Techies, meet business.
Business, meet Techies.
You have a lot to talk about!

Over the last year, cities across the globe have been awash with blockchain events and meetups. A quick search of Meetup.com for blockchain groups in cities like London, Dublin, New York, Hong Kong, or Singapore could leave you scrolling through options for a long time. And if you’re stuck with something to do this evening, I have little doubt you can find a blockchain event somewhere.

If you were to go along, you would find you’re either walking into a room full of like-minded tech-savvy blockchain evangelists or, if you’re part of the other 99.9% of the population, you’ll be struggling to understand what on earth is being discussed.

Well, at least that was true six months ago. More recently the blockchain landscape has begun to shift. We’re moving out of the realm of conceptual technology being poorly described in indecipherable language by the many panjandrums seeking to make a fast return, and into a world of testing, learning and drive towards deployment.

The exploration of what blockchain does is moving into a new phase. What’s happening now is heavily characterised by three things: people, pilots, and pragmatism.

Let’s take them each in turn.

People
To date, Blockchain has been a topic dominated by technologists. Important debates around issues such as transaction speed and scalability have been kicked backwards and forwards by those who truly understand the underlying mechanics of the technology. To some extent that is necessary. We need technologists to solve tech problems. However, it has also held back the development of real-world use cases, which can be consumed by the masses.

This, however, is starting to change and we are seeing the emergence of more commercially-minded individuals, typically those from operational and business management functions as opposed to the technology purists, into the blockchain community with the sole purpose of creating capabilities to solve business problems or to create value with the new offering.

I firmly believe that only by adding greater diversity of people into the groups that are exploring the potential of blockchain can we truly develop the market-ready products that will ultimately fund further technological development. This diversity extends to regulators. At this point in time, whilst the technology aspires towards mass market adoption, it is incumbent upon projects to converge with the existing regulatory paradigm and landscape.

For this reason, I suggest that any organisations exploring the potential for blockchain need to ensure they have a diversified expedition. They need to focus on the overall digitisation of a valuable new product or service and build the multi-disciplinary team to “make it stick”. This should include the myriad of skills to make a new service or offering viable such as compliance, operations, finance, legal etc. It is through this collaboration and not transaction speed that will lead to the scalability of actual solutions.

Pilots
It’s time to talk about beef.

The market for beef is competitive and fraught with mistrust between farmers and processors. Beef traceability is a much-discussed topic amongst food buyers who want to be sure they get what they’re paying for and perhaps, more importantly, the level of food safety and animal welfare extended today.

A pilot project bringing together Wyoming cattle ranchers is exploring how blockchain can reinvent the value chain for beef by providing buyers with trust in the provenance of their product, thereby enabling ranchers to extract the value they create.

We’ve written in depth about the potential for blockchain to transform the beef industry in Ireland, you can read our report here.

Beefchain is just one of thousands of blockchain pilots underway today, and it’s indicative of an industry that’s moving from education to testing proof of concepts and now pilots to adoption. The next step is increasing adoption in the mainstream.

Organisations exploring blockchain need to get their tests in the field quickly, otherwise their shiny new ideas will be brought to market by competitors first. From our work in our Global Blockchain Labs, it is evident that those “early adopters” are setting the future tones for their industry as well as setting the standards that the laggards will have to fellow…that is, if they survive!

Pragmatism
An interesting trend that has resulted from the subtle change of people attending blockchain events, and the emergence of many pilot projects, is that conversation and debate in the blockchain community has begun to shift away from the varying degrees of evangelism we saw reach a crescendo late last year, and towards those ‘oh so boring’, but ‘oh so important’ practical conversations about things like governance and risk mechanisms.

In short, blockchain is getting into the weeds of pragmatism, and that’s no bad thing.

We’re starting to see consortiums move from a vague amalgamation of project teams from within large institutions to properly defined legal structures; entities in their own right. We know that some of the more advaced consortia are moving to a seperate legal structure and entity with a clear strategy and structure who are effectively “on the hook” to deliver value and capability to their shareholders.

Putting the right rules and structures in place creates a powerful launchpad for blockchain projects to progress successfully. These structures provide a solid foundation for development and deployment as opposed to glib assertions from many evangelists that “we are changing the world” without any clear direction or more dangerously a scattergun approach.

Blockchain technology has the potential to disrupt and disintermediate any part of commerce that involves any kind of value exchange. So that’s pretty much all of commerce. The reality is that the pragmatism for success must be grounded in capabilities which fall within the existing economic and regulatory paradigm. It is only through a shared journey with regulators and government that we will achieve ambitions and realise potential.

For this reason, I suggest that all projects focus on three key requirements:

  1. Minimum Viable Ecosystem
    1. Define the nodes or actors required for a network to be successful and create value.
  2. Minimum Viable Process
    1. The newly imagined or re-engineered value chain from which this value will be created.
  3. Minimum Viable Data
    1. The data required for a process to flow smoothly as well as the governance and standards for capturing and managing the same.

When combined these factors provide the boundaries for effective project management as well as leading to the KPI & ROI calculations which can inform “the production” decisions, in live with the disparate needs of stakeholders within the nearly created network.

Despite such calls for pragmatism I am certainly not advocating a boring staid approach to innovation! We absolutely must be bold brave and have dreams and ambitions. Like the early internet pioneers who envisioned booking holidays online or ordering pizza from a device in our pocket we must think big and blue sky, but like them, we must start small to push Blockchain out of what Gartner term in their Hype Cycle the so-called trough of disillusionment. This takes small steady incremental wins with focus, initially on core competencies like the FAANG’s of this world who were steadfast in adherence to their early visions and missions. Then once we have core competence and capabilities with Blockchain networks in place, we can do the even cooler stuff.

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