Kathy Gibson is at Gartner Symposium in Cape Town – Blockchain has moved from being over-hyped to a certain level of disillusion – almost a blockchain winter.
But perhaps the problem is because organisations have been applying the wrong type of blockchain to the wrong project, says Christophe Uzureau, vice-president analyst at Gartner.
Presenting a session on the real business of blockchain, Uzureau cites the example of UEFA, which was facing a challenge regarding its ticket sales.
The organisation found that only about a third of tickets was going to fans, with the others going to bots, sponsors and other parties.
This raised issues, including pricing unfairness and security concerns.
“We decided to create a digital wallet that would contain a digital representation of a ticket – a token – registered on the blockchain.”
The technology has been used before and will be deployed Europe-wide as soon as next year.
Because there is an identity linked to the ticket, security is much better. This doesn’t eliminate the second-hand ticket market, as the person who bought the ticket can sell it on using the blockchain and smart contract that manages how much it can be marked up by.
The technology also allows the organisation to engage with fans, offering discounts or information where relevant.
“We have to stop thinking about centralised and decentralised as a dichotomy,” Uzureau says.
While many parts of the model are decentralised, the platform is centralised. “So it is a continuum.”
Uzureau defines blockchain as a system that provides distribution, encryption, immutability, tokenisation and decentralisation.
Distributed databases have been here for a while, so this is not new and doesn’t require blockchain. Encryption likewise: algorithms are available that work well and don’t require blockchain.
Immutability is often cited as the main element of blockchain – but again, there are technologies available to do that without blockchain.
Uzureau says tokenisation and decentralisation added to the other elements is what makes blockchain viable.
“Without these two elements you do not have blockchain,” he says. “Today, most blockchain implementations are not blockchain.”
Uzureau points out that, while Gartner doesn’t expect blockchain to mature for some years, organisations should start laying the groundwork now – a sense of urgency needs to be developed.
There are four business currencies powering digital trojan horses: data, contracts, technology and access.
Some organisations offering blockchain solutions are, in fact, trojan horses, Uzureau says, and could trap customers in an ecosystem.
When it comes to blockchain, it is built on a digital platform and exhibits incomplete decentralisation before migrating back to a centralised structure.
“There is a view that blockchain can help you take back control of your identity, data and business value.”
Currently, African CIOs are largely not interested in implementing blockchain plans (at 41%). However, 435 plan to implement in 12 to 24 months; 3% in the next few months; and 11% have already deployed.
The state of the market today has examples of blockchain-inspired systems that include distributed database, encryption and immutability. There is some value in them, Uzureau adds.
In Africa, there are a number of blockchain-inspired projects that have launched and are doing well. One example is Kiva, a system for credit rating that is owned by the user, who can share it or not as he chooses.
Blockchain complete should start maturing in about 2023, adding tokenisation and decentralisation to the mix. By 2030, enhanced blockchain will start emerging.
Tokens are not new, There is some value in them, he explains.
Fiat (existing) tokens are divided into process tokens that the user pays for, and complementary tokens that represent value in specific areas.
Cryptocurrencies that target the replacement of money could, therefore, not have a business case in the long-term, Uzureau adds.
Again, crypto tokens include process tokens and complementary tokens.
Importantly, the tokens are underpinned by smart contracts that go beyond tracking and traceability to add other elements of transformation.
In Sweden, a blockchain ledger is being developed in which real estate transactions will run, with modes eventually distributed and ideally decentralised across organisations in the ecosystem.
In this example, a combination of tokens makes the system effective.
Woolf is aiming to use blockchain and smart contracts to build a platform on which students will be able to connect with world-class academics, to receive higher-quality person-to-person teaching wherever they are in the world.
Blockchain can use tokens for students to participate in classes, and to prove their attendance. This will also help to make CVs more accurate than they are today.
Decentralisation is going to have a big impact on e-sports, Uzureau explains.
Change is painful, Uzureau says, and decentralisation is going to be even more painful.
In the world of enhanced blockchain, centralisation is going to be necessary, and many companies will face upheaval. It requires people to work differently and this can be very unsettling.
In British Columbia, which is trying to attract foreign investment, government has decentralised identity documents and business licences.
In the healthcare environment, patients can be in control of their own health passport and grant access to it as they wish. Users can also add their own data to the record – for example, from their wearable devices and more.
In the product world, a health passport for cars is possible. If each piece of the car is tokenised and managed, the data could have value, with the driver or fleet manager in control of the data. “You also start to create new assets and generate value,” Uzureau says.
He concludes that blockchain has the potential to increase revenue through the digitalisation of liquid assets, the creation of new asset classes, data monetisation and new customers.
This should be balanced against the costs associated with rigidity, the centralisation of finance, a decentralisation lag, a digitalisation lag, and transaction/delivery costs.
Risks include consorting with the enemy, security, organisational disruption and vested interests.
Uzureau was speaking against a backdrop of Gartner research which indicates that a lack of interoperability standards will prevent pervasive blockchain deployment across financial services ecosystems for at least three years.
“Blockchain standards for financial services companies are currently fragmented and immature,” says Fabio Chesini, senior research director at Gartner. “We are three to five years away until standards mature and settle.”
Standards are critical for financial services entities because they are constantly moving assets between clients, partners and other institutions. Today, bank CIOs can choose from numerous blockchains, available from either enterprise-grade approaches such as Corda, Hyperledger, and Digital Asset, or the many public blockchain standards like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Cardano, EOS, and Tezos. They are all trying to become the de facto state machine for value exchange and digital asset representation, smart contracts and decentralised applications. This indicates the fragmentation of the various standards.
“Bank CIOs must be mindful of this nascent and fragmented state of blockchain standards,” says Chesini. “It is unlikely there will be a single de facto standard like in the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model, at all levels. Given how new and fragmented the state of blockchain standards is, we expect no more than four standards to lead the market in the next three to five years.”
In addition to standards, Chesini warned financial services CIOs of three additional impediments when deploying blockchain projects: governance, integration and interoperability.
Blockchain governance is important because it regulates activities occurring across the ecosystem and provides legal assurances that their arbitrary decisions will not be made as an abuse of power against other participants.
“Governance specifies how value is exchanged, but also how those data exchanges are recognised and recorded, as well as who has access to them and who can exchange value with whom,” says Chesini.
“Governance and management of private and permissioned blockchains in any form, including consortia, will remain centralised and hierarchical during the next three to five years, making blockchain governance in financial services a key impediment for the same period,” says Chesini.
To achieve the true potential of blockchain, implementations must be seamlessly integrated with already installed software solutions. However, major software and SaaS providers aren’t offering blockchain solutions as add-on features to their enterprise solutions. As a result, financial services organisations are paying a high cost for continuously maintaining and “reintegrating” blockchain implementations into their new and existing enterprise software solutions.
In the next two to three years, Gartner analysts expect all major ERP and CRM players to offer blockchain capabilities as an add-on feature for their software and SaaS products. Software suppliers, meanwhile, will integrate and upgrade their chosen blockchain versions and ensure compatibility with their own new software releases.
“These efforts will dramatically reduce the cost of deploying blockchain projects across the financial services organisations and their supply chains,” says Chesini. “In the meantime, the full-lifetime costs of integrating a blockchain solution in an organisation will be millions of dollars in consulting fees, reengineering, development and upgrades. These high costs drastically slow the widespread integration of blockchain initiatives.”
Bitcoin, R3, Ethereum, Hyperledger and others often use differing implementations, data formats, data interchange and directories making interoperability among different blockchains difficult across organisations.
“As financial services companies constantly move financial instruments and assets to other financial services companies and partners, cross-industry interoperability standards are, and will be, critical,” says Chesini. “Today, they are looking to replace current banking vehicles for payments like Western Union, or international money transfers like SWIFT, with blockchain-based platforms.”
Fixing these types of data exchange standards will enable numerous blockchains to coexist and to share their ledgers, as necessary. However, as blockchains are a moving target and keep evolving, interoperability solutions are still three to five years away.