When do you need blockchain? Decision models.

Sebastien Meunier
Aug 4, 2016 · 4 min read

(Original post from Aug. 2016. 4 models added later in 2017 & 2018)

Let’s explore the decision models right away.

D. Birch Model

Ok this was a joke, but I like it. It is true that you don’t need blockchain per se, you need a solution to some problems that eventually could be a blockchain.

Birch-Brown-Parulava model

This is a good model that does not focus on the technology but on the distributed ledger concept, helpful to sort permissionless Vs permissioned ledgers out. Minor comment: it is not fully MECE because we could have a public network (“anyone can use”) maintained by a privileged group of validators (~Ripple), and private validators could be incentivized as well.

B. Suichies Model

This model introduces the differences between public and private. Corda is typically an inter-firm effort building an hybrid DL platform. Personally I think an intra-firm blockchain doesn’t make sense — if in the past you couldn’t solve the reconciliation of the data shared across your group, it means you have larger issues (IT architecture budget systematically cut, regulatory constraints, etc.)… probably a blockchain won’t help.

IBM model

This model acknowledges that you need a “market” approach. But the step 2 should lead to “alternative approaches” as smart contracts can only manage simple business logic (lesson from The DAO). A strong need for privacy should also be dissuasive: do you want to share data or keep it private? Pick one.

A. Lewis model

Antony has an excellent on Bitcoin, Blockchain and Distributed Ledgers. I like the second question very much: “Could this have been fixed before blockchain?”. Blockchain is composed of existing pieces of technology (a bit of cryptography, a P2P consensus protocol and basic storage capabilities), so it is key to ask yourself why you couldn’t use these pieces of technology before.

My model (as of Aug. 2016)

Well I thought about creating a smart tree to decide whether one needs a blockchain or not, but I ended up with a questionnaire :-)

If you have 10/10, congratulations you might be building the next Bitcoin or Ethereum system!

Now the less ‘ticks’ you have, the more trade-offs and customization you need and the less blockchain technology is relevant for your business issue. Probably below 7/10 blockchain technology doesn’t make sense — you might still try to build a shared ledger but don’t call it a blockchain.

Karl Wüstl and Arthur Gervais (may 2017)

Good model except that “blockchain” is not defined and it comes a bit late because that we are already far beyond the public/private permissioned/permissionles debate :-)

Morgen E. Peck model (Sept. 2017)

Published . The first question is redundant with the whole decision tree.

DHS model (~end 2017)

Very good one from the DHS that I found on twitter. I don’t know the individual author. It is cited in this NIST document: ‪ https://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/ir/2018/NIST.IR.8202.pdf‬

The only issue is that it does not ask the key question: “can you prove that a decentralized system (by nature more complex and more costly) is preferable to a central one?”

Cathy Mulligan (April 2018)

Very good questions asked in this model (especially the first 2 questions), however my view is that “blockchain can’t do this efficiently yet” and “blockchain may work, further research is needed” should both point back to “don’t use blockchain” because shared write access and the distrust between contributors are two key features. Source:

J. Gardner 2018

Interesting model even though it does not explain clearly the difference between a bonafide blockchain and a distributed ledger.

T. Koens & E. Poll 2018

Excellent model, one of the best so far. I like the “Can you use a third party” which is the key question.


Sebastien Meunier

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