Blockchain

Blockchain: A Rose By Any Other Name

John Bertrand

The question of what exactly blockchain is came to the fore in March with the publication of the eBook Blockchain Meets Supply Chain: Rewiring Business Operations for the Digital Age, which acknowledged “blockchain is difficult to pin down … it is a class of software composed of other technologies.” The eBook aims to clear that up a bit, as I’ll try to do here.

The blockchain is a secure, transparent, layered container. The container is distributed and made available across the Internet or cloud, with any changes reported back to all parties in the specified group. This process is referred to as distributed ledger technology (DLT).

The DLT is available to either a public or private group. Financial services activities will predominately be in private groups, for example “syndicated loans.”

The key features in the transparent container include:

  • Consensus – algorithms that confirm and accept the information as it arrives and make sure that information is distributed
  • Shared ledger – the record of information that is available to all parties
  • Immutability – cryptographic technology that ensures that records cannot be tampered with

Who says blockchain is hip and modern? The Byzantine Army in 330 AD needed to manage the diversity of loyalty in its generals through coded, distributed, hand-delivered messages. Today we use mathematicians and technology to ensure the shared ledger is robust and staying true to the course, as did the Byzantine generals.

It is the right choreographing of the different technologies that is most important, says the eBook. Given the correct combination, blockchain/DLT should appear sooner than currently anticipated.

Gone are the days banks when banks build their own technology. Most banks now only care that the technology works, with the caveat that the tech supplier is approved by the bank. To meet regulatory requirements, bank technology suppliers must be low risk, which is not the profile of most fintech companies!

The eBook suggests that more caution is needed in implementing blockchain; that is probably correct, but the banks’ situation is urgent. The long and ongoing low interest rate environment has made it very difficult for banks to generate revenue growth. The Swiss Central Bank now charges fees for money on deposit – so times really are getting hard. Banks also have very high internal cost infrastructures. Banks need to start charging for their services, cut costs, or both.

Blockchain/DLT offers efficiency, better security, and one source of the truth. As the eBook points out, the digital supply chain reduces procurement costs by 20% and halves supply chain costs, enabling controlled activity instead of caution.

The eBook’s focus on the digitalization of assets and the provenance of them, rather than crypto currency, is refreshing. I recently noticed on CoinDesk that one of the crypto currencies dropped 31% in 24 hours. That’s a Zimbabwean dollar-like fall. Maybe, like the Zim dollar, crypto currency will be officially abandoned and the U.S. dollar used instead.

One final question to ponder: What should we call the stack of technology that forms the blockchain and DLT? Every stack could be different. How about Rose? After all, U.S. hurricanes are given human names, and I believe blockchain/DLT/Rose will bring the force of the hurricane to banking. Blockchain Meets Supply Chain: Rewiring Business Operations for the Digital Age represents the calm before the storm.

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