The days of regarding blockchain as a digital McGuffin presumed to solve ambiguous needs may be waning, but questions remain on what makes sense for enterprises to get out of it. Speaking with blockchain experts from 0Chain and Cleo offered some perspective on realistic expectations organizations may have for the blockchain that go beyond lofty ambitions and hype.
The roots of blockchain may be strongly associated with cryptocurrency, says CTO John Thielens with Cleo, but today it takes on a variety of forms and use cases. Cleo is the developer of a cloud-based ecosystem integration platform. Part of what makes blockchain interesting is the idea of building a community around a domain of common interest, he says, where there is no centralized authority of trust, yet the community has a bond of trust. “How to get that implemented is still a challenge,” Thielens says.
Saswata Basu, CEO of 0Chain, says the crypto industry has gone through several innovations, starting with currency such as bitcoin and has progressed to smart contracts. Then came DeFi (decentralized finance), he says, which has gone through some growing pains, as well as NFTs (nonfungible tokens). “NFTs are very useful,” Basu says. “It’s a growing market and is established to some extent. NFTs, we feel, are going to be key in terms of the adoption of decentralized storage.”
Current decentralized storage has yet to go mainstream, he says, but 0Chain believes that it can change that by promising comparable or improved performance over incumbent services. “Demand is there but it hasn’t transformed into adoption yet,” says Basu. His company provides a decentralized storage network solution.
Crypto Market Evolution
A further evolution to the crypto market may be necessary, he says, to go beyond NFTs. “Right now, the crypto economy is really NFTs. There’s nothing to hold onto,” Basu says. “You need another economy to boost it.”
B-to-B processes and the supply chain, Thielens says, have been eyed for pairing with the blockchain, especially to address points of friction in creating communities in these spaces such as the speed of creating integrations and technical relationships. “Those relationships need to move in an automated fashion at the speed of business,” he says.
An interoperable mechanism such as a blockchain-powered service can be attractive, Thielens says, where the contract to participate is standardized and provides access to a pre-vetted, trusted community of trading partners. That could be an easier approach, he says, than looking for new trading and logistics partners to deal with some disruption in a delivery system and get them onboard.
Thielens cites the IBM Food Trust project with Walmart, to track where fresh vegetables come from, as an example of blockchain gaining traction. “A grocer can very rapidly bring onboard a new farmer yet still know they can track down any kind of health threat without having to go through a much more complicated onboarding process to make sure they comply with food safety regulations,” he says.
There can be more to blockchain that stems from the establishment of trusted relationships and communities rather than just the use of technology, Thielens says. “In a private service, the technology is not directly exposed to the participants. We’ve had tamper-evident databases and immutable audit trails -- we’ve had technology like this for decades,” he says. “You could use legacy technology; you could use Hyperledger or some blockchain-powered infrastructure. In some sense, it doesn’t really matter.”
What matters more, Thielens says, is bringing people and organizations together around a standards-based trusted community that enables rapid connections with others. Whether this is happening across the market is still hard to tell, he says. “Outside of a few pockets, I think it’s still early days.”
Differing business needs can put some parties at odds when it comes to the possibilities blockchain offers for the future. For example, Thielens says the business might want to able to switch out suppliers or logistics partners rapidly, but the service providers likely want to keep those customers doing business with them. Blockchain, if it is a standard, interoperable hub, promotes fungibility, he says. “It’s kind of like open banking versus custom services that banks want to provide,” Thielens says. “The banks want their clients to be sticky and the open banking initiative wants banks to be fungible.”