Enterprise

How IBM is looking long-term to enable a business as usual blockchain future

At the recent Blockchain Expo Europe event in Amsterdam, several of the use cases presented focused on particular industries, from FMCG, to finance, to automotive. Yet to truly understand blockchain technologies – as these examples all proved – you have to go beyond an industry-centric mindset and paint a fuller picture.

IBM, who had an extensive presence at the event, had its own automotive example it was showcasing, through its work with Vinturas. Using IBM’s blockchain, the company is able to improve visibility on operations, as well as accelerate deliveries and eliminate paperwork. Indeed, a survey conducted by IBM in December found more than three in five automotive executives saw blockchain as a disruptive force in the auto industry by 2021.

The automotive supply chain, like many others, encompasses manufacturing, design, and retail to name a few – and this is worth noting when exploring the cumulative impact of blockchain technologies, as Denise Schweitz, marketing manager at IBM, explains.

“We’re not focused on certain industries per se,” Schweitz tells The Block. “It’s more that we look at the process behind it.

“What technology now really breaks open are the processes that are going across industry. If you’re in transportation of cars, you have to cross borders, and then you encounter customs and processes which include government organisations, automotive industries, and even as far as insurance companies.

“Sometimes you have cross-industry views and processes where you need to collaborate together to actually develop a solution and scale up in the market.”

Schweitz, a 15-year veteran of IBM, has naturally focused on other technologies during her career. One of her key interests is in the ‘API economy’, a development to explain the increasing need to orchestrate ever-increasing amounts of data and applications. Forbes coined 2017 as the year of the API economy – though the term had been in common use long before – and Schweitz cites it as an earlier example of integrating processes across industries.

With blockchain, this trend is only set to become bigger – and not just in a business context. “This is one of the technologies which brings parties together,” says Schweitz. “With the supply chain and the customer experience, yes that’s one thing, but it’s also a civilian experience as well. When you get ill, you’re in hospital, and electronic patient dossiers need to be integrated, or when we start voting in certain countries and all the electronic developments that happen there.

“It’s not just the commercial supply chain, or the administrative processes that we want to improve, digitise and transform,” Schweitz adds. “I think it’s also for really nice, inspiring moments to take all these technologies and think about how we can use them to solve bigger problems, global problems, that affect all of us on a micro level.

“What I like about blockchain is nobody on their own can tackle global issues, but they do all affect us individually. That’s something I think is really interesting and challenging – and that’s when you need all industries to step up, digitise, transform, and get the right infrastructure.”

This is not to say that criticism of blockchain technologies – of which there is plenty – is unwelcome, however. Speaking to this publication in February Ken Marke, chief marketing officer of the Blockchain Insurance Industry Initiative (B3i), said he liked cynics and sceptics. “They keep us honest, and they help us focus on the questions that really matter,” he explained.

Schweitz feels similarly. “For now there are a lot of people who are quite sceptical about the technology. I think that’s a good thing because it keeps us sharp,” she says. “You need to improve, not everything is perfect from the get-go. Rome wasn’t built in a day – and now look how beautiful the city is!”

Ultimately, for blockchain to become truly accepted, it needs to disappear in the view of the end-user – and part of working across industry will help to achieve that. “As you scale up and as it becomes as big as the internet for communication, that’s when we start to really feel the value of this technology,” says Schweitz. “By then, nobody will look under the hood to see which technology is underneath. We’ll probably have all forgotten about blockchain being there, in the background running, because then it will be as business as usual.”

Picture credit: IBM

Interested in hearing more in person? Find out more at the Blockchain Expo World Series, Global, Europe and North America.

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