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Blockchain: the technology of the future

Blockchain can transform the way we do business but there remains a lack of understanding of its capabilities

Blockchain has struggled to get from ‘lab to live’. Photograph: iStock

Blockchain has struggled to get from ‘lab to live’. Photograph: iStock

 

Blockchain or distributed ledger technology (DLT) provides a number of digital capabilities that are already transforming the way private and public sector organisations manage the way they organise and share data, manage transactions and identities, and automate processes that were previously slow, manual, inefficient or risky, Anthony Day, chief operations officer at Deloitte EMEA Blockchain Lab, says.

Considering enterprise adoption of blockchain is really only two-three years into its journey, there has been significant progress in a relatively short time.

“There are examples in every industry today of live, production systems that are blockchain-based. In addition, we can observe a large number of consortia investing and working together to build industry-wide platforms that provide mutual benefit for all parties that no one company alone could have built and scaled. This is a relatively new paradigm in industry, and has been accelerated by the emergence of blockchain, as blockchain platforms typically require multiple, or all, participants in an industry to truly transform established ways of working and provide financial benefit,” Day says.

However, there remains a lack of understanding around blockchain and even now, many people are unclear on what blockchain really is and how it is changing aspects of business.

“Some organisations still also question blockchain’s reliability, speed, security and scalability. There are concerns regarding a lack of standardisation, regulation and the potential lack of interoperability with other blockchains. As a consequence, blockchain has struggled to get from lab to live,” Ronan Fitzpatrick, digital director, PwC, says.

Critical element

Putting crypto-currencies aside, there are examples of blockchain at work, none of which customers or businesses would have any discernible way of observing that blockchain was the critical element for linking and securing the data.

“Carrefour customers can already track the origins of products like mashed potatoes and fish. Fans of video streaming can use Steem to fairly reward content creators for their creativity with no commissions being taken by the platform itself. Small businesses can access financing for buying, shipping and selling goods through global trade finance platforms like We.Trade, and 150,000 of DNV GL’s business certificates are available on a public blockchain to ensure anyone trading with their customers can be certain that their credentials are up-to-date and tamper-proof,” Day says.

In recent PwC surveys, a significant percentage of organisations reported that they were working with blockchain, on the basis that when combined with AI, the internet of things (IoT), and intelligent automation, blockchain could play a central role in, for example, moving finance organisations toward the future, one in which routine tasks are completed without a second thought, giving professionals time to focus on strategy and operations.

“Blockchain specifically has been on the PwC essential eight technologies – the technology building blocks that we believe every organisation should consider for a number of years now. We still, however, see most blockchain activity in innovation and emerging technology labs,” Fitzpatrick says.

Growing ConsenSys – US firm thriving in Ireland

ConsenSys, a Brooklyn-based firm which set up in Dublin last year, is now Ireland’s largest blockchain company, employing 45 people.

Among other things, it is a strategic adviser on blockchain technology to the European Commission.

Lory Kehoe, who heads up ConsenSys in Ireland, says the company has grown very quickly, and that is down in no small part to talent.

“We can’t pay what LinkedIn and Facebook pay but we’re building the next internet, and when talented developers have an opportunity to be part of something that is potentially game-changing, they want in on that. We’re on a journey which is fundamentally going to change the way humans interact, businesses work and how value is exchanged. They want to be part of that early-stage story and want to contribute code to that story.

“I think there is an amazing set of talent coming from the universities in Ireland but also all over Europe and that’s where Ireland is seeing a surge in output; developers want talent magnets, as other people will follow where they go. We made some good strategic hires early on and developers get a massive kick out of being near other great developers and they learn so much from them. As a start-up, we made mistakes but we got that one right.

“I think it’s critical we maintain our relationship with the US and it goes both ways. We are received well in the US on a professional and non-professional basis – they are impressed with our work ethic and the quality of our people.”