Leaders Series: Kathryn Harrison @ IBM
Issue 17 — March 20th, 2017
This series highlights the unique stories of leaders from various communities across the growing digital currency and blockchain technology industry. The goal is to showcase the fantastic work these leaders are all doing at different levels of their respective organizations, and to encourage more people at all stages of their careers join the revolution we’re creating, together!
Kathryn Harrison is the IBM Blockchain Platform Offering Leader
She has spent the last year and a half working on blockchain technology and the last 13 years in the financial services industry.
How did you get into bitcoin and blockchain technology?
I’ve always been drawn to how technology can make our lives better.
My first practical experience with Bitcoin was while living in Istanbul. In 2014, a friend suggested it as a way to avoid paying fees as I transferred money back to my US bank account to cover my monthly student loan payments. I read Satoshi’s white paper, listened to a few Bitcoin podcasts, and even bought myself some Bitcoin. But it wasn’t until a client at a large Turkish bank asked, “What do you think about Bitcoin?” that I began to think this might offer me a new career path.
At IBM, brilliant people are constantly exploring and developing new technology- blockchain was no exception. I immediately connected with Richard Gendal Brown and a team of researchers running blockchain experiments for IBM. Rather than just answering a client question, I suddenly found myself exploring a whole new approach to financial services.
Later that year at SIBOS in Singapore, I spent nearly every session in the Innotribe corral, electrified and inspired by the blockchain projects and startups that were taking shape. I found the IBM Blockchain community was also sitting in those sessions; I suggested leveraging my experience in financial services on their experiments and I was soon part of the team.
My first role in the blockchain space required me to educate clients and IBM teams across Middle East and Africa on the basic concepts of distributed ledger technology.
During one of these training sessions, over 300 IBMers from UAE, Kenya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey and Egypt dedicated their weekend to learning about Blockchain. It was to see amazing to see their curiosity and their enthusiasm. I also traveled around the region ideating with over 40 banks, insurance companies, startups, regulators and governments on how blockchain could impact their businesses and operations. In the fall of 2016, I moved back to New York to build products to make blockchain easier for developers to use and their companies to consume.
What’s been the most interesting experience you’ve had in your role so far?
The most exciting experience of my blockchain career has been shepherding an initiative known as Fabric Composer from the idea stage through to our beta product release over the last six months.
Making the decision to open source has allowed developers from all different companies, industries, and blockchain backgrounds to accelerate their own blockchain journeys. Just last week, we were working with an industry group that was exploring how to collaborate and Fabric Composer was a tool that helped competitor companies envision how they could solve industry problems together. At IBM we have extraordinary partners in our ecosystem, and it is thrilling to co-create and work with them on solving the world’s problems.
What problem is IBM Blockchain solving? Why do you feel passionate about this?
In a world so tightly intertwined economically, socially and politically, individuals, companies, and governments still transact in ways designed for the analog world. The ability to trace, agree and settle how transactions occur within economic systems will bring tremendous clarity and transparency for all parties.
Fundamentally, IBM is driving a cultural shift around how companies in vast economic systems transact with one another. Blockchain technology has brought competitors, governments, and partners, from the smallest startups to the largest corporations, to the table to reimagine how their industries operate. By creating a platform that provides the security and performance needed for enterprise capable blockchain applications, IBM is helping industries gain greater efficiency to deliver better experience for customers, cut costs for themselves, and reduce risk for the global economy.
I love the conversations that blockchain inspires, the new business models that emerge and the previously unimaginable collaboration that flourishes when the conversation starts with blockchain.
As you think about the evolution of blockchain technology, what catalyst do you think is needed to accelerate growth?
Integration is one of the key missing links for the enterprise blockchain ecosystem- both across blockchains and with legacy systems. Companies have made significant investments in systems like CRM, ERP, and others. These are key to enterprise business systems and will continue to be for some time. Enterprise blockchains will need to seamlessly integrate and bring data and transactions to the blockchain as well as deliver blockchain based transactions to those core systems.
As you think about blockchain technology, what do you think will happen in the short term that will blow people’s minds? What do you think will be disappointing? And how do you ultimately see it changing the world?
Blockchains will need to be uniquely tailored to the industry, use case and geography. Modularity will be key to the success of blockchain in business contexts, and I am excited to see true modularity arrive with Hyperledger Fabric v1. As enterprise blockchains reach production readiness and scale, there will be substantial business process re-engineering needed to deliver the full benefits of blockchain.
Initially, it may be painful for companies to reimagine their business processes and learn how to collaborate with competitors. The human elements of business may probably be the greatest limiting factor around blockchain and may delay full scale adoption.
That said; once confidence and the rules of engagement around business blockchains emerge, I expect that we will see much faster adoption and growth of blockchain as a platform for enterprise applications. I expect new business models will emerge and accelerate the growth of industries and business networks much as the internet has done over the last few decades.
Connect with Kathryn on LinkedIn!