Now that the “blockchain everything” hype has passed, it’s down to organisations like Hyperledger to unify enterprise IT and delimit what actually belongs within blockchain’s borders. Marta Piekarska, Hyperledger’s director of ecosystem, traces the development of blockchain technology and the progress made so far
About 10 years ago, Satoshi Nakamoto proved that Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), could be used in the space of cryptocurrencies if combined with a strong consensus mechanism and public availability.
However, as time passed, more and more enterprises– from supply chain to humanitarian aid– have expressed interest in applying this concept to their fields. In these instances, it became clear having an entirely open system wasn’t entirely necessary.
If we consider solutions in healthcare, for instance, only a doctor should be allowed to enter new data on patients health, and only that person and their doctors should be permitted to view said information. However, it is still beneficial to have a system that is not relying on a trusted third party, is immutable and that provides a unified view to all participants.
This is why various new “levels” have been developed under the blockchain umbrella. The two main differentiators come from the permissioning model and the visibility of data.
We have permissionless: public solutions where anyone can join the network, submit information and view what is happening on it. Then, we have the middle ground: permissioned public systems where only certain parties can submit information, but where anyone can view it.
When blockchain hype was at its highest, many forgot that a blockchain solution is not required most of the time. Companies wanted it because it was the new and shiny thing and because they believed their competitors were. There is still a lot of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) going on.
Just because a lot of projects have failed to deliver tangible results, it doesn’t mean that blockchain is useless. Actually, it is a brilliant way of maintaining a reliable record of events, building trust into systems where traditionally we need to rely on third parties, and reducing the costs and improving the speed with which data is shared and made available.
While building a new system is costly, the fact that all the information is there and we don’t need to run between floors in a building or send countless emails is an incredible improvement to any enterprise.
But we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. We still don’t have clear numbers or the ability to just quote probable ROI. But, we can be fairly certain there are good reasons to use blockchain if you are dealing with multiple parties, need reliable sources of truth and are able to digitize your data.
I find the most interesting use cases for blockchain in places where we never thought of applying the technology. While they may not promise the biggest ROI, they exemplify what makes blockchain so brilliant: that it actually helps the ones who need technology most.
There are very few technologies developed in recent decades that are truly helping the world. Think of AI. Created and refined by the smartest people in the room over the course of half a century, and the source of remarkable innovations like smart homes, self-driving cars and search engines.
Where AI doesn’t get implemented is in impoverished nations and communities – countries where no one needs a smart fridge because they don’t have any food to refrigerate.
Blockchain doesn’t work that way. As Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here reminds us: “Together we fight/Divided we fall.” This is what open source and blockchain need – teamwork.
While different consortia are created and different companies join forces, for the most part these announcements are merely gestures. Very rarely do you hear of competitors joining forces to improve the space and develop new solutions. An organisation is set up, others join to have a feel of what the group is doing, and nothing moves forward.
Looking at the number of special interest groups (SIGs) that are created within Hyperledger at the request of our community, I am hopeful that this is changing.
SIGs in Hyperledger need to have at least 15 participants from a diverse community in order to be approved and we currently have four groups that are approved and operating. We have a Hyperledger Labs project on healthcare; a vibrant Public Sector group that is exploring what governments can do to use blockchain collaboratively; and we have just started Trade Finance and Social Impact groups.
The crucial point is, thanks to the open source nature of Hyperledger and the Linux Foundation, we can provide a safe, non-competitive environment for people to exchange ideas and develop unique concepts together.
Diversity is an attribute that is crucial to success – not only in terms of gender or race, but also companies, geographies, beliefs and experiences. The more that can be shared, the better we, as a community, can be and the more blockchain use cases we can implement and explore.
Even for an MVP, one needs several nodes, complicated dependence graphs, and so on. But if a good system is designed it doesn’t matter how fast it grows.
The second challenge that I hope is solved in the coming months is the lack of objectivity. As the technology is new, there are very few actual “blockchain experts.”
Computer Science degrees do not educate on all aspects of the suite of technologies that comprise blockchain, so we end up with niche specialists focused only on one solution. These specialists push for their particular solution and depending on who you ask, they will tell you that only A or only B makes sense.
The truth is that both A and B have some advantages, some disadvantages, and are in many aspects identical. CEOs of companies shouldn’t be expected to know all of these permutations. We need the technical allrounders that can give them the clarity they need.