We are currently amid one of the most substantial shifts in technological and economic innovation since the introduction of the World Wide Web in the early '90s. Technology, human-centric design and a shift toward a collaborative economy has helped beckon in new ways of working across local, national and international business. However, none of these advancements have had a more profound impact on how we operate day to day than blockchain is seeing.
To dive into this, we caught up with Harris Monos, Senior Consultant at IBM, to unpack how blockchain is going to change our lives over the next five years and beyond - and how, in some areas, it has already started.
"In reality, blockchain is far from being a cryptocurrency-first technology anymore"
Many people are familiar with blockchain from the great crypto bubble a few years ago - but what is blockchain in its simplest form?
Blockchain is as simple as breaking down a name. It's data, stored in a block, whereby each block is chained to the previous block – it's quite literally a linear method to storing data. As well as distributing this data across your network and some quite complex cryptographic methods which form the 'metal' of the chain, we can gain a very broad and simple way of understanding how the technology works.
In reality, blockchain is far from being a cryptocurrency-first technology anymore. The original public bitcoin platform and extensions into permissioned networks by many world-leading organisations has helped bring forward a new wave of technological adoption. What was once a world-first application of digital cash is now being used in a variety of innovative ways. From agricultural provenance to identity and international trade, the inherent nature of creating digital ‘trust’ as an underlying mechanism for the facilitation of transactions has lead to multiple shifts in blockchains original application.
When we look at how humans and organisations transact historically, the simplest forms of transactions require an exchange of mutual value between trusted parties. Blockchain provides a trusted infrastructure to facilitate the value exchange without parties needing to trust each other directly. Sometimes this is 'Public' open to anyone participating, usually anonymously, other times 'Private' where your identity defines your role, access or information recorded.
What industries is blockchain disrupting right now, and how?
As industries continue to redevelop and restructure themselves to offer new services, there is a significant shift from isolationism in services to mutual collaboration which improves the industry and market as a whole. Historically, the prominence of blockchain applications has laid within the financial services sector, an industry where the roots of blockchain originated. However, we are noticing many applications of the technology in areas which were not originally perceived to be industries where blockchain can be applied.
When we take a step back and look at some of the largest permissioned and operational networks in the world, examples such as IBM Food Trust and TradeLens spring to mind. Both platforms offer the infrastructure to promote collaboration and standardisation of cross-industry processes, which are revolutionary in nature and are being operated by some of the largest organisations in the world. Examples of these being Walmart and Maersk respectively.
"This notion of asking ‘why blockchain?’ will present itself as the most important skill in the next 5-10 years. The ability to understand why you are using blockchain is just as important as applying the technology in this circumstance."
Harris Monos - Senior Consultant at IBM
What demand is there in industry for people who are skilled in blockchain?
Until the technology becomes commonplace, there will be an obvious shortage of supply across development and consultancy in organising and building out the plethora of use cases within the market. It is nearly impossible to predict where the technology will move. If we look back at the original use case of Bitcoin to act as a digital cash service, Satoshi Nakamoto would never have imagined that the technology would be reinventing how we interact with our supermarkets and cold chains.
To start, many often look to apply blockchain to solve the world's problems, irrespective of its applicability to the problem. Instead, practitioners should focus on what issues are best suited to be solved by blockchain and to not be afraid to utilise existing technologies where appropriate. Looking through the noise of blockchain and matching its unique characteristics to the problem at hand, will be the most important tool within the repertoire of a successful practitioner. This notion of asking ‘why blockchain?’ will present itself as the most important skill in the next 5-10 years. The ability to understand why you are using blockchain is just as important as applying the technology in this circumstance.
What are some examples of real world Blockchain solutions IBM has developed for its clients?
IBM is very proud to be at the forefront of enterprise blockchain technology implementation and research with multiple live platforms in operation. When looking down the list of organisations, IBM has a pedigree of 500+ engagements across our 2000+ strong blockchain division. Examples of such include:
- IBM Food Trust (Walmart, Nestle, Carrefour, Albertsons, Golden State Foods, Dole, Driscoll's, Thomas Foods International, Drakes Supermarket and many others)
- TradeLens (Maersk, CMA CGM, MSC, Hapag-Lloyd among 175+ organisations and authorities)
- Lygon (founded by ANZ Bank, CBA, IBM, Scentre Group and Westpac)
The notion of industry and cross-industry standardisation is common throughout all of the above. Organisations have come together to drive process standardisation for the benefit of themselves and their customers with the end result leading to a more trusted and transparent operating environment.
"For those that understand the technology, how it operates and the changes it will bring, the possibilities are endless"
What about the potential for blockchain - what role do you see it playing in our lives in the future?
In the perfect world moving forward, the role of blockchain will be a background technology which offers the ability for users to transact in a trusted way within the digital world. Operating similarly to bitumen in a highway, blockchain should provide the certainty that the road below you won't ever slip, it will remain so seamless that it becomes just another road you drive on daily.
For those that understand the intricacies of the technology, how it operates and the changes it will bring, the possibilities are endless. So much of the world we operate within is based on physically identifiable trust via social constructs. Digitising these and bringing forward the pillar of community trust into the 21st century will substantially change how we live and engage with our peers.
Interested in learning more? RMIT Online offers a range of study options in Blockchain