Why Blockchain Matters To Enterprise (Hint: It’s Not Because Of Decentralization)
If you’ve been curious as to the success of blockchain with respect to enterprise adoption, consider the case of ConsenSys, a company focused on building products to promote adoption of Ethereum while consulting for other businesses to build out similar technologies.
In 2018, the businesses’ headcount exploded to over 1000 employees. Yet, it only managed to net a paltry $21M in revenue. Compare this to the almost $500M in profit that Binance (a cryptocurrency exchange) made in 2018 and you can see that the vast majority of money to be made in this space still relates to trading and speculation.
But that’s not to say that there isn’t money to be made in consulting on custom blockchain solutions. In fact, over the past few years, I’ve had the honor of working with a number of businesses (SMB as well as enterprise) and government organizations on blockchain solutions and implementations. And given the small percentage of individuals in this space which can say they’ve worked with real businesses like this, I find it my place to dispel a lot of confusion held amongst many individuals relating to what is actually being done with this technology.
Usage of Public Blockchains
The only solutions which I have implemented that used a public blockchain in production involved the anchoring of data into the Bitcoin blockchain. What that means is that the data was simply hashed and then included as metadata with a Bitcoin transaction. This is basically two lines of code…
There was no custom decentralized storage solutions (businesses still stored their data on their own machines and infrastructure), they just would take periodic snapshots of it and store the hash of those snapshots on the Bitcoin blockchain. If you’d like to see an example of a business whose entire business model is based on this concept, check out Factom.
I also have a small code repository here which does this on Ethereum. It is a standalone repository derived from a framework developed with Orie Steele based on Microsoft’s Event Sourcing architecture.
Usage of Private Blockchains
A lot of people regard private blockchains as antithetical to the whole idea of decentralization, censorship-resistance, etc… and they’re right — these solutions are typically run by one of more parties which could easily collude to modify or alter the blockchain. And yet, this is what almost all of the solutions I’ve worked on have involved. So, what gives?
Many of the projects which I’ve been a part of have been billed under the Research and Development department of various clients. Typically, these departments run small proof of concepts (PoCs) budged in the $100k-$2M range where they will try out a new technology and explore its viability within the business for solving some problem or providing a new and novel solution.
Naturally, they want to have full control of the solutions which they are creating and don’t wish to expose the details of the work that they are doing, so all development is conducted in a private manner. With so much at stake, it isn’t worth it for these businesses to attempt building anything on public infrastructure, like Ethereum.
Many of the PoCs which I’ve worked on never made it past the first or second phase of development. Which is all that these businesses really needed as they were often using the project(s) to prevent themselves from being regarded as a laggard. This tactic has been used by enterprise to intimidate competitors as well as boast their technical acumen.
Blockchain as an API
While many of these projects never made it to production, the ones that did were still hosted in a private manner and were often used to connect disparate systems with common interfaces for things like payments and identity. And with so many individuals without any government issued form of identity and so many means by which to exchange value, these interfaces are foundational in the creation of new systems based on common standards.
With implementations such as these, it became apparent to me that these businesses were more interested in standardization than they were in decentralization. I believe that this is due to the fact that blockchains are a shared resource and serve as a common interface for separate parties — effectively, an API.
So why didn’t they build on an existing API like Okta for identity or Wyre for payments? Well, these organizations often wanted complete control over the things in their system so that they could easily make updates and adjustments without any external dependencies. And they were able to get that by taking from the abundance of open source code out there and making a few tweaks.
Future Blockchain Solutions
With enterprises like Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and others providing blockchain infrastructure and firms like Ernst and Young beginning to ship things on the public Ethereum blockchain, we may begin seeing more of a shift to solutions built on or integrated with the public Ethereum blockchain.
For now, I still see most implementations leveraging blockchain as an API instead of as a decentralized technology providing censorship resistance and data sovereignty.