Why a private blockchain may offer the biggest opportunities for enterprises to create value

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Despite the unanswered legal and regulatory questions, enterprises that create or participate in a private blockchain may have a chance to overcome the inefficient, expensive and vulnerable ways they exchange information and facilitate transactions today, speakers told the Conference Board of Canada’s first-ever summit on distributed ledger technology.

While a growing number of business professionals may have heard about blockchain, their knowledge is most likely based on the public or “trustless” approach that forms the underlying foundation for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, said Melanie Swan, a technology theorist at Purdue University and keynote speaker at the Conference Board of Canada’s 2018  Blockchain Summit.

Where they should be focusing their attention, she said, is on offerings like Hyperledger, R3 and Symbiont. These are examples of a private blockchain, in which a single entity or an enterprise which can override/delete commands on a blockchain if needed. Compared with Bitcoin’s blockchain, which operates in a more peer-to-peer fashion and requires resource-intensive “mining” of other computers to grow, a private blockchain relies on enterprise software and is not mined, Swan said. That opens up a lot of possibilities for organizations and even entire industries.

“We may one day have a QR code for resumes that uses a blockchain-based approach to validate everything on it,” said Swan, who is also author of the best-selling Blockchain: Blueprint for a New Economy. “You could validate their work history, their education, even their criminal record.”

That kind of innovation would obviously involve multiple parties, or what Curtis Miles described as a “business network.” The lead of IBM’s Blockchain Garage, Miles said those interested in a blockchain need to recognize up front that there will be “multiple writers” or organizations who provide data and verify transactions. A private blockchain also works best when the organization behind it faces an “absence of trust” or lacks a single source of truth in some area. Firms should also ensure they are applying distributed ledgers and applications where they can bring real business value, he added.

“It shouldn’t just be a science fair project,” Miles said. “Don’t just try to incrementally improve your business processes. Do something you haven’t been able to do before.”

IBM is working with firms to set up a private blockchain in areas that include food traceability such as Soy IP, which can not only strengthen the industry’s overall supply chain but validate the sustainability metrics at an individual farmer level. Miles also talked about how government entities in Jamaica are using a private blockchain to validate entry for organizations applying to enter its Special Economic Zones.

Speakers throughout the opening of the two-day event stressed, however, that governments are still largely struggling to catch up to the way companies would operate a private blockchain. Some of the issues protecting people from pyramid schemes disguised as initial coin offerings (ICOs) for cryptocurrencies and the way identities are managed and secured in blockchain use cases.

While those issues are being ironed out, organizations can at least begin building their business cases and look at the many open source tools available to get started, said Mawadda Basir, executive director at Collider-X, which is launching a series of research studies on areas like scalability and interoperability for a private blockchain.

“You can learn a lot just by looking at what your peers are doing,” she suggested. “This is a time to play with the technology.”

The 2018 Blockchain Summit wraps up Thursday.

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Shane Schick

Shane Schick

Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.