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Amid the media frenzy surrounding bitcoin in recent years, forward-thinking technologists and business leaders recognised bitcoin’s endoskeleton, blockchain, as the real story. They visualised blockchain technology being used by organisations to share information securely and, eventually, by individuals to manage their financial, medical and legal records.
Today, blockchain is making headlines once again, this time with the long list of use cases across every region and industry, as analysed in Deloitte’s 2018 Tech trends report. Recent examples include Europe’s largest shipping port, Rotterdam, launching a research lab to explore the technology’s applications in logistics and blockchain now disrupting social media, giving users an opportunity to own and control their images and content.
As the list of applications continues to grow, the path to broad blockchain adoption looks strikingly well paved. However, there are several issues that still need to be addressed. Technical and process standards are currently limited, while operational silos prevent some companies from either developing clear business plans or collaborating with partners for mass adoption.
Generating the greatest value from blockchain will require organisations to collaborate with competitors, regulatory bodies, form or join consortia and partner with startups. For many organisations, this level of collaboration requires organisations to adopt new ways of working, both internally and externally.
Standardisation will enable enterprises to share blockchain solutions more easily and collaborate on their development. CIOs can start to set the standards for this. For example, by working with external developer ecosystems, teams can begin to exchange ideas and key learnings with like-minded organisations.
Meanwhile, internally, teams can be empowered to make decisions that drive standards within company ecosystems. But there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Data management and process standards already exist in many organisations and these same standards can be applied to blockchain.
Where do you start?
Think big, start small and iterate. Begin by identifying the most relevant and valuable use cases for your organisation, then look at how much to invest and secure business buy-in.
Blockchain use cases that feature a clear path to commercialisation often stand a better chance of reaching production because they offer clear incentives for stakeholders and partners. These use cases also formalise and legitimise blockchain development strategies, in turn refining project goals, setting timelines and recruiting the best-placed talent.
Although most blockchain initiatives to date have not progressed past proof of concept, this does not mean failure and to give up. It is important to convince stakeholders of the longer-term benefits in trialling blockchain and the importance of developing awareness of the technology, while building internal capability and skills.
Bear in mind that to reap its benefits, blockchain should be part of the broader innovation agenda alongside other technologies, such as analytics and artificial intelligence (AI).
The tech crunch will be the largest single issue to solve. Organisations will need qualified, experienced IT talent who can manage blockchain functionality, implement updates and support participants. As interest grows, it is likely to be increasingly challenging to recruit qualified IT professionals.
To prepare for this, consider training and developing internal talent, while calling on external talent as needed. Individuals who gather valuable system knowledge over time and remain with an organisation after external talent has moved on to the next project can be critical for maintaining continuity and sustainability.
As the technology landscape continues to change and technology evolves, it is important to start and re-solve the challenges as you go – otherwise you run the risk of being left out and left behind.