A while ago, I was driving an enterprise wide strategic marketing campaign. Given the nature of the campaign, business importance, impact and reach, I was fairly guarded on the planning and operating model for execution. In simple words - it was a centralized
model with well-controlled checks and balances. In one of the checkpoint calls, feedback was that we should run this campaign in a de-centralized model and give more control to others.
Being part of the blockchain team – I thought “Why not apply the basic principles of blockchain - a decentralized, open collaborative model of execution using a new trust protocol?”. As a test pilot, I re-defined the operating model for execution and transitioned
from a centralized model to de-centralized one. Again, I had to “trust” that everyone would do what he or she should to achieve a shared objective. The hardest part of changing the model was that I had to change the way I think.
What happened? Well unfortunately, the pilot failed. Things did not go the way they should. Individuals did not play their part. And I had to quickly take control and go back to the centralized model of execution. Why? Because the “trust protocol” did not
really work – So either everyone was not ready to work in this new operating paradigm or everyone had a different definition of trust and ownership at stake.
See here’s the thing – Sometimes the intent is not there to embrace a new way of doing things – which is what blockchain enables. Sometimes the intent is there but actions do not follow suit.
As I took a step back , I was wondering So what really is blockchain? Is blockchain is a technology disruption? Or a business process innovation? Or an accounting innovation? Or is really all of the above and more.
In my view - Blockchain is really a new way of thinking since it defines a new "trust protocol" for "value exchange" of "digital assets". The key point to note is that "trust" and "value" are contextual to the people / entities involved in a business process
transaction - which is based on the industry use case and market structure. Fundamentally blockchain questions "status-quo" of current process and provides an alternate mechanism to do what you always did in a more cost-effective and efficient manner. Basically
do the same things differently and in some cases also provides the opportunity to do different things - Be it peer-to-peer exchange of energy, supply chain traceability, cross border payments or even digital content rights management - blockchain can catalyze
a new way of transaction execution.
At this point, Let me share a few real world examples of how and where blockchain is being used and the impact :
- Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, has completed the first test of a system that would manage the company’s cargos using blockchain.
In the test scenario, the shipper, Dutch customs, and U.S. Homeland Security were all able to access and manage shipping data remotely. In a full-scale implementation, blockchain security would allow for close management of such a distributed system, with
digital ‘signatures’ that would, according to Maersk, make it harder for anyone in the system to inaccurately label goods.The system would also reduce the cost of paperwork, though Maersk hasn’t yet quantified potential savings. The system could be used to
optimize freight flows by publicly identifying empty containers and finding takers for the extra capacity.
- Walmart has trialled a blockchain application for tracking how pigs moved from China through the supply chain to the American
table. Earlier tracking the origins of an item used to take several days and now it takes just a few minutes. This enables Walmart to tack quick steps in case of emergencies like outbreak of E.coli.
- The diamond business is a tight-knit industry whose members and customers share common concerns over stones’ origins and authenticity.
Everledger, a startup has used blockchain to record over 40 identifying features of a diamond including colour and clarity. It has digitized more than a million diamonds and has plans to branch out to other industries
in need of better anticounterfeiting records
- Blockchain technology could provide a way to track the unique history of individual devices, by recording a ledger of data exchanges between it and other devices, web services,
and human users. Examples include electronic couriers to securely transfer sensitive information, escrow services to transfer ownership rights, or even auto-installation services to verify and push updates to the software governing other Digital-to-analog
converters (DACs). Various startups are working in this domain. They include
Chimera-inc and Filament.
Is blockchain alchemy and the new elixir of life? Well yes and no. No because it is still the new kid on the technology block and has to prove itself. Yes because any lasting change in the world comes when you change the way you think and blockchain compels
you to do just that. Only thing is that success in blockchain is a function of not just changing the way one person / entity thinks. The true impact will be felt only when everyone in the ecosystem changes the way they think – That is the network effect.
It is exactly for this reason that blockchain can be truly powerful force to reckon with as it questions the current state operating model and provides a different way to achieve the same end state. Just that the players have to play by different rules.
Blockchain is here to stay. So are you going to define the new rules or play by them? Is it time for you to un-block your thinking? Let us know.
1) Real world examples shared in this post has been curated from public sources. The corresponding links have been referenced in the article
2) Views expressed in this post are my personal insights and perspectives only