If you still watch traditional television, and particularly live sports, you have probably seen one of the many IBM ads touting how it is transforming everything from media rights to supply chain management with the use of artificial intelligence and blockchain.  Those buzz words are popping up all over social media, blogs and conferences.  But, is it all just hype or is there real substance to it? 

In my new book, Blockchain in the Boardroom, I help cut through the clutter to look at real indicators of the blockchain age.   Like you, I want to know what is real and what is hype so I carefully researched what large corporations are doing and what types of patents they have filed on blockchain to understand what might actually happen out there in the business landscape.    I also researched what other paradigm shifts paralleled the changes that would be needed for blockchain to really work the way the advocates claim it can in the future.

My conclusion after researching and writing this book is that blockchain has the potential to be transformative like IBM’s SQL database was in the 1960s or the adoption of the world-wide-web by businesses and consumers was in the late 1990s.  But, it is still just potential.  IBM’s ads are just that – ads touting what they are working on and what could happen.  Sure, there are some hyper niched real use cases out there, but there are some really big technical and regulatory hurdles to overcome that could take five or more years before we see the kind of change touted in commercials and hyped at conferences.  That said, a lot of big companies are investing real money and resources into blockchain solutions for a wide range of issues.  And, there are a lot of well-funded start-ups that will push innovative thinking.  The ability to embed smart contracts to reduce transaction time, decentralize data to reduce cyber-risk, and create new forms of databases is real.  But so is the fact that the technical speed of a blockchain will have to increase to meet today’s expectations and the reality that decentralization without laws or regulation could actually foster the problem it is trying to solve (i.e. combat corruption and cyber-attacks).  It will take a lot of companies, organizations, governments and thought leaders acting in cooperation to make the kind of transformations anticipated. But all that has happened before and we can learn from mistakes made in the past.

It would be unwise for any executive or director to stick his or her head in the sand and assume all the talk about blockchain is hype.  There’s definitely a lot of hype around it – a lot of noise, if you will.  But in the center is the potential to really transform some industries.  If you wait to start understanding it or meaningfully explore it for your company,  you will be behind and it will cost you to catch up, if not render you obsolete. Don’t let the hype about bitcoin, in particular,  lead you astray.   The biggest potential of blockchain is not really about cryptocurrency at all – that’s a distraction from the real issues.    In doing this research, I created a blockchain mapping exercise to help you digest what could impact your industry and your specific organization, including how to analyze the impact to your business.  A few of the areas that could be wholly transformed include:

  • Real estate ownership,  rights and management of transactions
  • Financial transactions (i.e., borrowing money, lines of credit, letters of credit, processing payment, discounts or other forms of transaction completion)
  • Product supply tracking
  • Manufacturing tracking
  • Internet of Things security
  • Unique ID, password or verification of identity
  • Digital rights — distribution of music, photos, video, content
  • Global, nontraditional currency
  • Delivery tracking

In my research, I assess the patent filings by large corporations and start-ups.  What’s interesting to note is that while a wide swath of companies have joined the open source project of Hyperledger (IBM and Linux) or Ethereum, a few companies are filing their own patents to protect proprietary ideas and technologies that solve some of the fundamentals challenges of blockchain.  Some of the largest patent filers include Bank of America, Mastercard, IBM, Intel and Accenture.  Google is one of the largest investors in blockchain based start-ups.  Amazon has developed many partner programs.  And, Facebook has just announced its intention to build out a blockchain program, but is already a few paces behind companies like Wal-Mart.

Some of the top areas of patent pending investment include building a blockchain network or platform, creating identification mechanisms, and securing the integrity of the data. Top areas also include financial transactions, land or vehicle registration, media management, voting, biometric and crowdsourcing. A few outlier and interesting areas in the rapidly growing patent filings include blockchain related to gambling, gaming, drone activity, voting, social media and coupons. 

If this has piqued your interest, I hope you’ll consider buying my new book, Blockchain in the Boardroom. It is a concise and easy to use guidebook that you could read on an airplane.  I provide the basics of:

  • What Blockchain is, in layman's terms (and how long-term applications differ from cryptocurrency).
  • Marketplace Indicators of what is to come including an overview of programs established companies have launched and what well-funded startups are doing, as well as an overview of the patents filed in the U.S. on blockchain technology.
  • The Next Generation of Databases and how we can learn from past transformations to predict how and when blockchain has a real impact.
  • What Governance, Policy and Standardization will be needed and who is already leading the way.
  • Blockchain Mapping™, a new tool to evaluate the impact of blockchain on your industry and company and make smart decisions about how to go forward.

In the era of digital disruption, cybersecurity threats, data privacy shifts and emerging technologies,  executives and board members need to understand what's real and what's hype in blockchain - this quick and easy guide shows you how. 

If you’re interested in learning more about blockchain and other emerging technologies at the c-suite or board level, email me at jwolfe@consultwolfe.com.  I’m happy to customize a briefing or program to meet your needs.  You can also reach me directly at 513.746.2801.