No Cloud — The future of Enterprise Software is Web3
A Manifesto for Web3 Enterprise Software, Version 1
Web3 is the logical evolution of cloud computing (web2), the currently dominating enterprise software architecture. It combines the advantages of the open internet (web1) and the power of cloud applications and platforms (web2). And it eliminates the shortfalls of single company cloud applications and platforms for a fairer and value-enabled internet. Therefore like Marc Benioff and Salesforce have proclaimed „No Software“ with the advent of cloud software, we proclaim the end of cloud software as we know it — respectively “No Cloud” — with the emergence of the decentralized web of value — web3!
The Evolution of Enterprise Software
Enterprise Software is responsible for large parts of the efficiency gains in the last decades. It is currently dominated by large software corporations and single company platform providers that provide proprietary standard software and cloud services to many customers. Large parts of the value creation in supporting processes as well as in core processes is depending on enterprise software. Without enterprise software nearly no business could thrive.
The first enterprise software applications have been homegrown and were operating on mainframes. The users interacted with these applications via dumb terminals by text in- and outputs. The world of mainframe computing was dominated by a small number of hardware providers like IBM.
Client-Server and Internet (Web1) 1980s-2000s
In the 1980s Client-Server-Computing arrived. As large parts of the applications were running on intelligent clients, more complex applications became possible. Including advanced forms of interacting via graphical user interfaces. Client-Server applications remained applications that were run by single companies on their premises. There was no interaction with the outside world. The client-server-world created standard software and led to the domination by these software companies like Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. Hardware in this world became a commodity that was not able to acquire large parts of the value created.
In the 1990s the internet (Web1) emerged to enable cross-organisational interactions and transactions. In the beginning mainly email, static websites and early forms of eCommerce. Web1 was built on top of the promise of open source protocols and openness. The internet is based on the idea to build a decentral network that keeps on working even if single systems within the network fail or get destroyed. Nobody owns the internet and no single organization or institutions can control it. Therefore the internet in essence is democratic and a public good.
The Social Web and Cloud Computing (Web2) 2000s-2020s
On the open internet a new form of services was created starting around the dot.com-bubble. The main characteristics of this form of services are
(1) the ownership of a single company as a centralized service provider,
(2) new forms of data-based monetization, e.g. via highly targeted advertising and personalization,
(3) and a new level of user experience incl. augmentation and automation.
While the social web is mainly dominated by consumer-like services such as Google and Facebook, cloud services are also targeting enterprises. In the public cloud scenario the software is run by the cloud service provider as a service and the enterprises are only using it via the open internet. All the data related to a public cloud service is stored on the premises of the cloud service provider (or their sub processors e.g. Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure) so this cloud service provider has access to all of its customers’ data. In most of the cases cloud services are also highly standardized including the advantage of being exposed to best practices just by adopting the business processes the cloud service providers offer as a standard. On the other hand, by using cloud services (enterprise) users lose knowledge in the area of their cloud usage. In essence cloud services are a form of (brain) outsourcing. While in the beginning, cloud services were mainly used for supportive processes, today more and more enterprises also run their core business processes in the cloud.
True SaaS means:
- The software is only provided in the cloud service provider model
- The software is provided as multi-tenant installations
- All customers are running on the same single code base
- The software is priced as a recurring subscription
This results in a huge (>50%) reduction of complexity and cost on the software provider side and a reduction of the total-cost-of-ownership on the customer side of 30% — 50%. In addition, the cloud provider has a closer relationship with its customers as they have to address any feature requests or operational issues to the cloud provider. This combined with the immediate feedback from all of the customers, results in a higher quality of service incl. best practices for the design of the processes. Therefore, in the cloud world “process follows product” and not the other way around as it used to in the old on premise software world.
Marc Benioff’s Salesforce was the first true SaaS (Software-as-a-Service, another term for applications services via the cloud service provider model) provider.
In order to evangelize the world about the capabilities of cloud computing, Salesforce has run a very provocative marketing campaign called “No Software”
They did so, because cloud computing was a fundamentally new way of creating and providing software that does not have much in common with the old on-premise way of doing software. Examples of innovations of this new delivery model are the emergence of DevOps, customer success teams and recurring subscription pricing. So “No Software!” really marked the end of software as we knew it.
Although applications representing all mentioned software architectures are still in productive use at some customers, we have to acknowledge that Marc Benioff was right: Almost every newly deployed enterprise software is a cloud service today and most of the companies are following a cloud-first strategy to software deployments.
Software is eating the world
Looking at the most successful and valuable companies today, we see that nearly all of them are cloud service providers or even more precise “platform providers” in the meantime. Why is this?
In a famous blog-post “Why software is eating the world”, Netscape Founder and one of the most successful VCs of Silicon Valley, Marc Andreessen explained the mechanics of software and digital services in general.
The mechanics are mainly based on the concept of “Increasing Returns” first phrased by Brian W. Arthur of Santa Fe Institute. Diminishing returns of the physical world are characterized by high marginal costs (e.g. production and distributions costs) and a decrease in marginal value with rising numbers of users (e.g. the more cars are on the road the more traffic jams occur). Therefore these markets tend to an equilibrium and a pretty high segmentation (e.g. regional segmentation).
In contrast, markets that follow the new increasing returns mechanisms are characterized by (nearly) no marginal costs and increasing value with a rising number of users (see also Metcalfe’s Law and network effects in general). This is true for nearly all digital products including software. You just have to write a software once and it can be copied and used by an unlimited number of users. In the case of communication services such as social web services, the value increases with the number of users as more communications can take place. But it is also true for typical enterprise cloud providers that can improve their products and services with rising usage and corresponding huge amounts of usage data from all of their enterprise users.
So besides the “software effect” on markets the effect on owning or having access to data is another strong source of increasing returns, or data network effects. This is especially true in the data-hungry world of AI and data science.
Increasing returns allow for the formation of platforms that jointly increase the value of the participants in an emergent way. But it also favors early movers by the “winner-takes-it-all-effect” and a higher tendency to lock-in individual enterprise users.
The danger of a “cloud out”
As most of the cloud services and platforms are owned by single companies, they are able to capture the largest part of the value creation of the platforms and are able to govern them based on their own discrete preferences. The users and in some cases the creators do not participate in the value creation and governance of these platforms adequately.
It is especially disappointing to see how platform providers position themselves as the middle men and add little value on their own, like described above. This is the case with many data-enabled or data-powered business models.
Using cloud services and platforms therefore leads to a loss of governance power, bargaining power, insights and the ability to innovate of their (enterprise) users. At the end it means outsourcing digital innovation. Many enterprise software users see their cloud and platform providers just as software suppliers, but this is not true anymore. Creators and users of platforms are strongly dependent on their platform provider and the platform provider can even decide to compete with its users and creators (e.g. see Apple, Amazon and Netflix become content creators, also in general see the five forces of Michael Porter).
Therefore, your move (and that of your competitors) to a cloud provider or a single company platform, could cause you to “cloud out” from your business. Many enterprises have suffered and will suffer from this form of “death” in the future. The cloud out is not a one-time-event, but rather occurs slowly over time. Early signs include losing access to and control of your most precious assets today — customers, data, insights, (current and future) key capabilities and talents.
This risk is becoming obvious to more and more executives in the enterprise world. But what are the alternatives?
Before we get into details, we proclaim:
In 10 years…
…nobody will be buying proprietary software anymore.
…nobody will give away its data to platforms or cloud providers.
…nobody will contribute to a single company platform.
Game-changing Web3 Innovations
Web3 is a logical advancement of enterprise software in the tradition of earlier software architectures, especially the ideas, values and principles of the open internet (web1).
Web3 innovations are both technical and economical in nature. That is because web3 is also called the internet of value. Most of the people solely look at the technical aspects of this new technology. We believe the technological innovations of web3 provide a fundamental base for economical innovation to prosper and cause a radical disruption in our economy and society.
According to Andreas Antonopoulos true and open blockchain features are: openness, borderlessness, neutrality, decentralization, immutability, publicity, and censorship-resistance. That means, not every blockchain is a true and open blockchain. Especially the feature of decentralization is not achieved in the same way on all levels. In addition, there are attempts of private blockchains and consortial blockchains, which cannot be seen as true and open blockchains, because they lack openness and publicity. These blockchains are essentially single company platforms and are not facilitating some innovations that true and open blockchains offer.
We believe that merely the true and open blockchains will prevail, as they are the only ones that fully represent the values of web3 and can leverage the true innovative power of blockchain.
On the technical side privacy-preserving technologies like zero knowledge proofs, private transactions and private smart contracts, compute-to-data and federated learning are especially important for enterprise web3 usage. They are an enabler for use cases that are not possible in the cloud or any other single company platform.
Decentralized Governance and Decision Making
One of the less developed but high-potential use cases for true and open blockchains are governance and collaborative decision making. Decentralized governance aims to involve more people, agents and stakeholders in a better way. This is in complete contrast to centralized or hierarchical governance in enterprises and organisations.
Stakeholders and Governance
In the corporate world there is the general challenge to “serve” the needs of many stakeholder groups. These are:
- Shareholders and Owners
- Customers and Users
- Employees and Creators
- Partners and Suppliers
- The Public (e.g. Policy Makers, Environment, Society, Research)
Traditional governance models, like public corporations, have a very strong focus on the needs of owners and shareholders. Represented by the so-called shareholder value which follows the primary goal to grow the wealth of shareholders. That leads to misalignment, short-termism, disengaged employees and customers and an underrepresented focus of the needs of the public. Needs like sustainability are much lower priority and the acceptance of negative externalities is usual — while at the same time being “compliant” is possible.
In the illustration above we have pictured the discrepancy between current relevance and influence of each stakeholder group. One goal around stakeholder participation is, to align stakeholder influence with their relevance or impact. That means the influence of owners and shareholders needs to decrease compared to the other stakeholder groups. In the new platform world especially the influence of customers and users and employees and creators is underrepresented.
Stakeholders and Complexity
The general solution approach to this is to implement an additional artificial stakeholder group of the management complex (hierarchies of management). The main purpose of the management complex is the organisation of work, the value creation with financial and other assets and the adherence to legal, regulatory and other requirements. This adds an additional dimension of complexity including self-sufficient interests of managers. In order to align shareholder interests and manager interests, stock-based incentives have been used in corporations extensively in the last time. The downside of (public) corporations is their resulting strong focus on stock performance. As stock performance is mainly driven by meeting quarterly earnings, revenue and other financial targets, an unprecedented short-termism and even indirect incentivization of fraud arised — just to meet short-term shareholder expectations.
Other stakeholder groups are only served as long as they contribute to these short-term financial objectives installed by owners and shareholders and as long as formal compliance is required.
So in addition to the above mentioned natural stakeholder groups we have added two artificial stakeholder groups:
- The Management Complex and
- The Audit Complex
To align with the public stakeholder group regulations are defined. Typically, these regulations have minimal standards and are subject to independent audits (hierarchies of auditors, audit complex). Another dimension of complexity and interests is created. In essence auditors are audited by other auditors.
This audit complex is highly inefficient as all players, good and bad, are audited in the same way. As this audit complex is a weak link system, the whole audit complex is just as good as its weakest link. For example, there is the chance of bad players moving to less audited jurisdictions or less audited environments (e.g. banks are overregulated causing shadow banks to conduct bank services in a less audited environment).
Interestingly, if the management complex or the audit complex fails, a typical reaction is to form another management or audit unit in order to overcome this failure. Adding more and more complexity to the system.
Past and present scandals indicate that adding additional layers of complexity lead to inefficiency and an even bigger attack surface (respectively risk) for the system.
It is counterproductive as these additional measures are definitely punishing good players — as inefficiency increases, but only some of the bad players — as the attack surface increases and as differences in audit requirements in different regimes allow for audit escape.
The cost function of „Compliance and Fraud“ looks roughly like the graphs above. It offers a theoretical equilibrium. But looking at the highly fragmented regulatory islands of our world we have to recognize that many environments are operating on the very right of the equilibrium trying to compensate regulatory laissez-faire approaches of other regimes.
In conclusion, we are combating the failures of our old governance structure with additional outdated features. It is noteworthy that the structures and mechanisms of these measures are originating from a pre-digital (and pre-blockchain) time. We need better functioning markets, not ever more and fragmented regulation.
Therefore we invite all enterprises and organizations to a journey into the new capabilities of blockchain-based governance and decision making.
Decentralised Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) are hierarchy-free organizations of members working towards a common goal based on shared values. Decision making is implemented via token-powered votes. Token distribution can include anybody from any stakeholder group. Especially important in the context of enterprises, it means all stakeholders can get tokens, not only the shareholders. A more aligned and fair distribution of power is possible.
Therefore DAOs are especially well positioned to govern platforms and form ecosystems, as not a single company would govern the ecosystem but all ecosystem participants.
However this means token distribution is of utmost importance to create a just and fair governance system. This challenge is addressed by the newly created discipline of token engineering. We will cover it in more detail in the next section.
Assuming an ecosystem has achieved a fair distribution (mechanism) of governance tokens, the next question is how to make sure voting is effective. Common challenges here are a lack of participation, a tendency to extremes, collusion and the challenge of uneducated or misinformed voters.
One novel approach that addresses some of the challenges is quadratic voting. Quadratic voting allows the bundling of voting rights on some topics and options compared to one-person-one-vote. That means a voter can bundle its votes (with quadratic regression) on the topics most relevant to him and the ones he is most confident with. The assumption of quadratic voting is that voters tend to bundle their voting power especially on topics that are relevant to them and that they are especially knowledgeable (confident) about. While they would not vote at all on topics not relevant to them or where they are unsure.
Research has shown that quadratic voting produces less extreme outcomes and helps minorities to better be represented.
New Mechanisms of Value Creation and Sharing
Corporate governance is not the only unsolved challenge in the enterprise world. We are also facing unjust incentivization of the different stakeholder groups. Today owners and shareholders are taking the vast majority of the value created by an enterprise. This implies that the capital they provide(d) to build and run the company would still be the most precious and most important production factor. But this is not true anymore. Capital has become ubiquitous due to low interest rates and expansive monetary policy of the central banks. In addition digital business models are not very capital intense except for ecosystem building and distribution. The main success factors for digital businesses are talent (work), data (insights) and time.
Token engineering is the new discipline aiming to align the interests of all stakeholders on a common goal via governance (as mentioned above) and community-ownership.
Community-ownership means that a platform or an ecosystem should be owned by all members of the community, not only the shareholders of a single company. Why is this right?
The value of an ecosystem is largely determined by the size and activity of the communities around it. This is true in accordance with the earlier mentioned increasing returns effect and described by Metcalfe’s Law. Based on the stakeholder groups mentioned above, an ecosystem has multiple communities (creators, users, …). E.g. the value of a social network is largely created by its users, which at the same time are creators (one-sided ecosystem). Social networks are only middlemen facilitating this value creation. However in today’s social networks governance as well as ownership is fully in the hand of the social networks, not the users. In many cases this includes the rights on the data they publish in the social network. The social network monetizes the data provided by its users without letting them participate at all. This is possible due to an asymmetry in bargaining power of a user compared to the social network. There is the need to organize the community of users in order to allow for collective bargaining. This can be achieved with token engineering.
In a token engineering world community members would be directly incentivized for their contributions to the ecosystem in a fair way by acquiring tokens. These tokens could also be used for governance purposes. That means tokens can fulfill different functions in the new world of community-ownership. Governance and participating in the value creation of an ecosystem are only two of them.
The challenge of creators, users, suppliers and other stakeholders not being incentivized according to their contribution in the value creation is not only a problem of social networks. It also applies to any other platform or ecosystem, especially in the enterprise world. Most cloud services can also be seen as platforms or ecosystems.
Next Level Collaboration
In the digital enterprise world employees are the source of most of the value created by enterprises. This is especially true for knowledge workers. Enterprises are highly dependent on “their” knowledge workers and therefore have created purpose-led missions and engagement, empowerment, diversity and work-life-balance programs in order to keep their employees happy, engaged and productive. So far the success has been limited, because these initiatives are only scratching the surface.
Flaws of Hierarchies
In the past, hierarchical decision making was efficient and resulted in large organizations functioning based on the principle of economies of scale or the “scalable for efficiency” approach, as John Hagel frames it. That means decisions have been made top-down and have been prepared by strategy departments that have done thorough research. Decisions were implemented over multiple years following the waterfall method and executed by the operational departments. This time is over.
Today, with the knowledge worker age, enterprises are only successful if they champion the “scalable for learning” paradigm (John Hagel). This requires a complete switch in mindset, competencies and organizational design. Decisions must be taken by everybody now, everybody needs to understand the bigger picture, and everybody needs to be creative, strategizing, executing and personally growing at the same time. Hierarchies are replaced (or at least complemented) by networks. Our enterprises, education providers, governments and workers are not at all prepared for this.
We have been mentioning corporate decision making and governance already earlier but how can web3 help foster better collaboration in addition?
Open Source and Composability
As mentioned, software eats the world, but what kind of software “should” eat the world? We believe it should not be proprietary software, but open source software. Mainly for the reason that the open source software concept allows for better collaboration in the software development process. That simply means not everybody has to invent the wheel on its own, but can leverage the work of others and contribute to the work of others.
In the blockchain world, nearly all projects are open source. In addition, there is a high degree of composability, which means that blockchain projects running on the same blockchain can leverage other projects/protocols running on the same blockchain. As these protocols are uniquely instantiated on the blockchain they adhere to the single code base paradigm mentioned earlier in the context of true SaaS. This increases trust in these protocols and makes sure they run as expected. Hence, this means every new project can build on the work of other projects and results in a new level of collaboration between projects. In the extreme form, existing projects even can get forked, which would mean a new team is instantiating the same open source code in addition to the existing one, with some changes. Overall that means in the blockchain world an unseen potential of collaboration in the software development and operations is possible, allowing multiple teams to participate and act as efficiently as a single company and be much more creative at the same time.
The most advanced blockchain ecosystem is the ethereum ecosystem, accounting for more than 80% of all blockchain projects and by far the most users and transactions. We believe the wider ethereum ecosystem will be the central platform of the upcoming enterprise web3 world.
Another area of inefficient collaboration is the area of “data collaboration”. Until today it is the norm that enterprises are
- under-leveraging their own data,
- giving it away to cloud and platform providers literally for free and losing control about it for ever and
- not tapping at all into cross-organisational data-based collaboration within their ecosystem
The reality is that only bigtech has fully understood the power of data, has built strong data science and AI capabilities and has developed very effective ways of acquiring and pooling data — creating data-driven business models — leading them to be the most valuable companies of the world. All based on other peoples and organisations data.
That means, data has proven the potential to drive powerful and lucrative business models but only in a world of single company platforms. It remains to be proven that the power of data can power community-owned and -governed platforms and ecosystems in the same way.
The blockchain provides some of the prerequisites of such “data collaboration” and community-owned ecosystems. The main characteristics are:
- Privacy-preserving compute, to prevent alienation of data and keep control with the data provider
- Fair incentivization of all contributors to the data value chain (incl. data providers, data curators, data workers and algorithm providers)
- Joint governance about jointly created assets, like data assets, algorithms (e.g. ML nets) and insights
Based on these innovations, our hypothesis is that data trusts, that control data from many data providers, are only needed for control-purposes when data pooling is a technical pre-requisite for the targeted use cases and privacy preserving compute approaches are not feasible. In conclusion, we would always prefer privacy-preserving computation and thus keeping the control with the data provider itself over data pooling and transfer of data and the control about the data to a data trust.
Ocean Protocol is the most advanced project in the area of web3 data economies, having implemented all of the above including a data onramp to web3, privacy-preserving compute-to-data, data marketplaces and datatokens (for access, governance and potentially other data rights).
We believe data collaboration beyond our current state is only possible with web3 capabilities. It will be the key ingredient to create an alternative to data-based unfair business models of single company platforms like bigtech. Ultimately we believe it will be much more successful in unlocking data for the right causes, especially incl. research and the public good (e.g. sustainable development goals of the UN).
Comparison of Software Architectures
Web3 combines the advantages of web1 and web2, therefore it will become the predominant form of enterprise software delivery. Please find a comparison below:
Why Europe will lead in Web3 Enterprise Adoption
However this requires an update of data regulation. RadicalxChange has come up with the most complete approach to data regulation called “Data Dignity”. Similarly, the EU is currently working on new data regulation to increase data sovereignty of European actors. It also has initiated the public-private initiative GAIA-X to build open source, decentralized and fair data spaces in Europe.
It is obvious that Europe did miss the last waves of software-based innovations mentioned in the beginning and with the advent of web2 this has even worsened. That is seen as a threat to digital sovereignty in Europe especially as there are limited means to effectively regulate and enforce foreign bigtech platform providers according to the values of the EU.
This heritage can become an advantage in regards to how fast Europe will adopt web3. According to Clay Christensen’s “Innovator’s Dilemma” an incumbent will not be able to cannibalize itself to embrace a new technology as this would hurt its current business in the short term and increase the risk from the perspective of the incumbent. The fate of Kodak led to the phenomenon also being named as “Kodak-Moment”. Kodak was the incumbent of film-based photography and did invent digital photography, but within Kodak there have been very strong persistence powers that prevented Kodak from bringing it to market and to dominate the market of digital photography.
This effect also exists with complete economies and there is also a tendency of governments to regulate in favor of their incumbents. So in regards to web3 innovations Europe is lucky because it does not have many incumbents and should be open to be innovative and supportive of the newly forming web3 and blockchain ecosystem.
Another advantage of Europe for web3 is a strong value fit that becomes obvious with the GAIA-X values of open source, decentralization and fairness. But Europe also embraces diversity, multilateralism and openness. All of these values very much align with web3 innovations. This might be the foremost reason why there are so many web3 projects located in Europe.
Yet another reason for sure is the strict privacy regulation in Europe. On the one hand, it prevented Europe to be successful in web2 as these business models are data-hungry, on the other hand it attracted privacy-evangelists, cypherpunks, cryptography experts and thought leaders in this space for many years. The disadvantage — in the web2 world — of strict privacy regulations now becomes an advantage in attracting the right talent and advancing the technology further to make data “available” at the same time as it stays completely private.
Rocketstar Foundation’s Approach
At Rocketstar Foundation we believe the next generation of enterprise software will be web3 enterprise software and we believe this century will become the century of its broad adoption.
We want to help enterprises navigate this space, educate their key personnel and successfully launch, compose and accomplish critical missions to shape this new world for the good of all stakeholders incl. the public.
The main goals of Rocketstar Foundation are:
(1) Solve real Business Challenges
- Build holistic and complete web3 solutions that solve real business challenges
(2) Digital and Data Sovereignty
- Enable digital and data sovereignty based on a decentralized, open source and community-owned web3 stack
(3) New Forms of Governance and Collaboration
- Lead experimentation with new decentralized and more just forms of governance and cooperation
(4) Drive Web3 Enterprise Adoption
- Drive and catalyze enterprise and public services adoption of web3 technologies and make web3 enterprise ready
(5) Facilitate Collaboration and Growth
- Facilitate collaboration of a diverse group of launchers, rocketstars, enterprises, web3 projects and regulatory stakeholders to grow and advance their own capabilities and thinking
(6) Focus on Web3 ethereum
- Focus on the wider web3 ethereum ecosystem
We will launch missions with web3 projects, enterprises and all stakeholders. Web3 ecosystems are eating the software world.
Mission “No Cloud” starts today! Reach out to us, if you want to join us on this journey.
Thanks to the following people for their valuable feedback, perspectives and insights that led to writing of this article: Daniel Levi, Patrick Walther, Paul Goller, Jonas Zech, Elias Schultze-Lohoelter, Felix Huber, Trent McConaghy, Sheridan Johns, Glen Weyl, Matt Prewitt.
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Rocketstar Foundation, About: https://rocketstar.foundation/about