The noise around blockchain technology is deafening, and business leaders everywhere are trying to glean the technology’s relevance to them.
Verticals such as finance, supply chain and healthcare are obvious targets for distributed ledger technology (DLT), and publishers, utilities and governments are also ramping up their interest in adoption. Companies in many other sectors are dabbling too.
One organization that is helping businesses learn and evaluate blockchains is Hyperledger, an open-source collaborative effort hosted by the Linux Foundation. The group counts organizations such as Change Healthcare, Daimler, IBM, Cisco and Intel as “premier” members and it has launched nine projects to date, including the Hyperledger Fabric, Sawtooth and Iroha blockchain frameworks.
Brian Behlendorf, Hyperledger’s executive director, believes that blockchain technology is poised to become foundational in some industries.
“I can’t say you will be out of business in two years if you are not using it, but there will be some sectors that have meaningful use soon,” he said.
One of these sectors is the diamond supply chain, in which Everledger has built a global distributed ledger to establish and document the provenance of individual stones.
“If you are in the diamond business and your diamond is not registered in the ledger, you might have trouble reselling it soon,” Behlendorf said. “It would be like trying to sell a car without a title.”
Executives often ask whether a centralized database will suffice just as well as a distributed ledger powered by a blockchain.
“We don’t want that, because when you are the center of the universe, you can play God and change history in destructive ways and control who gets to write and not write in ways that are hard to detect,” explained Behlendorf. “Instead, we want records to be tracked, verifiable and distributed among a crowd, not just for cryptocurrency but also for supply chains, provenance tracking and finance ... We want to know what to audit and where information has flowed. This goes for education records, prison records, births, property titles and other ecosystems that act as central registries. There are other situations too where registries are not yet centralized, and rather than create an eBay or an Uber, you want something more distributed. This is what blockchain [technology] is uniquely positioned to support.”
One of Hyperledger’s main interests is in helping enterprise businesses realize the benefits of blockchain technology and become familiar with how it can help them become more efficient and transparent. Business owners can use Hyperledger’s course, “Blockchain for Business — An Introduction to Hyperledger Technologies,” to learn the blockchain technology basics and evaluate the technology’s relevance to them.
“We designed the course to be suitable for two different audiences: developers and then business owners and managers who might want to learn some use cases and view their own business through this prism,” Behlendorf said. “A great place to start is with Hyperledger Composer, which is an [Integrated Development Environment] where you can build applications, and it has a front end that you can use to show what you are doing.”
Interested companies can also explore blockchain-based opportunities with customers, suppliers and even competitors.
“These systems are designed to connect multiple organizations in a business process, and even when you are just testing something out or building a proof of concept, you want to bring in suppliers, customers and maybe even competitors,” Behlendorf said. “If you have small suppliers, they are more accepting of an 800-pound gorilla calling the shots, but you’ll want to get competitors together on a network, because greater mass means greater coverage.”
Behlendorf shared the example of Walmart, which might have a hard time getting every one of its suppliers and farmers to plug into a Walmart-controlled portal, but may have more success building a shared, blockchain-based network where transactions are recorded and demonstrated transparently, where every party involved has equal rights to the information.
This embrace of both blockchain technology’s great power as well as its underlying encouragement of shared resources may be Hyperledger’s best chance to see the technology adopted as widely as it hopes.
“From a politics and a business perspective, that is a much more compelling play,” Behlendorf said.
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