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Ripple Blockchain and Payments Report 2020: from rippling to spreading out

| 11-11-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

Ripple, the blockchain payments platform, recently launched its third annual “Blockchain in Payments Report 2020: From Adoption to Growth”. The survey that was conducted in the August-September period this year amongst 854 respondents from payment services providers in 22 countries gives us some interesting and positive insights in the global adoption of blockchain-based payments and digital assets. Ripple believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated positive change in the global payments industry towards accepting blockchain technology.

Present challenges in payments

The respondents in the survey highlighted blockchain’s increasing role in payments. They are nowadays confronted with a number of challenges limiting their growth possibilities, including finding international partnerships, pre-funding accounts, accessing working capital, and building payment technology. According to the respondents blockchain technology could be the solution that would enable payment providers to overcome these challenges.

State of Adoption

The report found that the blockchain industry is in its final phase of adoption. Survey results show that the majority of the survey respondents are adopting blockchain for production use. It shows that 34% of participants are in the production of some solution with blockchain technology. 24% of the participants expect to complete production and move on to a pilot test and a proof-of-concept (POC) within the next two years. The rate of adoption across business types differs slightly, with digital banking/fintech businesses leading. They are followed closely by retail banks, and money transmitter or payment providers.

In emerging markets, 37% of participants are in production to implement blockchain technology. Asia and the Pacific (APAC) is thereby the leading region with 41%, followed by Latin America (LATAM). Emerging markets are recognizing that responsible usage of blockchain and digital assets can “unleash tremendous potential for their economy”. Both will drive greater financial inclusion and economic growth. Mature markets stand to benefit as well.

Use Cases

Of the respondents 59% is in production or near production for blockchain-based payments related use cases. Slightly over one-third of the report’s respondents currently use blockchain technologies for sending or receiving payments for customers.

But a key point revealed by the Ripple report is the diversification in use cases by companies using this technology. The survey showed that blockchain is now scaling beyond just payments. 98% of respondents running a payments blockchain POC have also deployed the technology for non-payments use cases – the most common ones being supply chain management (62% in production) and trade finance (51% in production). This demonstrates that blockchain can be leveraged across the enterprise.

Cross border Payments

Blockchain technology is not just adopted for in-country uses. As blockchain payments solutions continue to solve for many of the pain points related to cross-border payments, adoption has steadily grown. In fact, real-time settlement for cross-border payments is seen as a business necessity for many, as well as in demand by consumers and businesses.

Digital Assets

Another key finding in the report is that digital assets are increasingly being considered for facilitating payments, especially when connected with blockchain technology. As there has been an increase in education and blockchain experience in the industry, both payment providers and consumer confidence in digital assets have risen. Business interest in digital assets has grown sharply as early adopters look to increase the speed in payment settlements. Across the board, the report found openness to more digital asset types whereby various whereby  cryptocurrencies, as well central bank digital currency and stablecoins were considered. Almost all respondents (99%) said that their respective institutions would consider using digital assets to instantly process cross-border payments or as a medium of exchange (up from 94% recorded in 2018).

“Companies view digital assets as a means to accelerate expansion to other countries and currencies. Interestingly, 82% of respondents not yet in pilot or proof-of-concept responded with the second highest interest in leveraging digital assets in cross border payments. Early adopters recorded the highest interest. Respondents are seeing the success of early adopters and looking to kick start their own adoption—with a large majority open to leveraging more digital forms of currency.” Ripple Report

For those making cross-border payments using digital assets, financial inclusion, reduced cash usage and availablity of liquidity are strengths that rank relatively high as well, but still below the transaction features of speed and security that make blockchain so popular for domestic payments.

What is driving adoption?

There were four key benefits mentioned driving blockchain adoption, namely, improved data quality, increased data security, cost savings, and business growth.

For digitally-led businesses, transparency, security and networking are key benefits of adopting digital assets in payments. Those who are not digitally-led especially value factors like speed. Many of these institutions surveyed adopted blockchain technology to increase speed to make cross-border payment transactions (40%), achieve high levels of reliability (27%), improve data transparency and realize long-term operational cost savings (32%). Interestingly, respondents from Latin America stood out by ranking growth as the highest benefit, followed by cost-savings, whereas more mature markets ranked cost savings and data transparency as the greatest benefit of blockchain adoption. Other key contributors to the success of blockchain are a variety of blockchain technology providers that are facilitating easier implementation through APIs, hosted services, and standardization.

Growth drivers

Ripple’s report identified that blockchain adoption is key to successful growth strategies for financial institutions. Nearly half of the respondents have said that they view blockchain technology as the fuel for business growth. Nearly four out of five (79%) of blockchain-based payment businesses reported growth in 2020, despite the impact of COVID. Blockchain solutions continue to scale as businesses introduce new services to existing customer segments or expand existing services into new regions. 44 percent of respondents have said that they have recorded strong business growth in the past year, citing innovation in payment tech as a key growth driver.

Early adopters of blockchain-based payment solutions have witnessed the highest levels of growth year over year. In the past 12 months, early blockchain adopters reported nearly twice as much business growth over other respondents. 45% of survey participants that were processing digital transactions, recorded a large amount of growth. The market opportunity for innovators in fintech/retail banks and those located in emerging markets is quite significant with expectations of strong, continued growth. First movers in blockchain payment adoption and less mature markets are likely to see the most growth going forward according to the report.

Obstacles/Barriers

Among the main obstacles to blockchain adoption, participants mentioned a lack of regulatory clarity, the amount of investment required to implement the technology, and security. This year, the report also revealed that price swings experienced by the top two digital assets (Bitcoin and Ether) influenced respondents’ perception of volatility, which posed an issue. However, the results show that digital assets are increasingly becoming an important part of the development of the blockchain industry especially in emerging markets. Less than half of the respondents in Latin-America and APAC worry about price volatility, possibly these regions use digital assets as a hedge against their own local fiat currency.

Forward Thinking

“What the Blockchain in Payments 2020 report makes abundantly clear is that blockchain is no longer an exotic, emerging technology. It is a mature technology that is being battle-tested and continues to advance, both in terms of use cases and adoption. And if 2020 is any indication, blockchain will play an increasingly vital role in payments in the years to come.” Ripple Report

What is also clear is that blockchain proof of concepts (POC) are becoming a thing of the past. Today, blockchain initiatives are “leap frogging into production, moving swiftly along the adoption curve towards the late majority phase”. Not only is growth indeed possible for blockchain and digital assets initiatives, but familiarity and positive sentiment continue to spread as well, accelerating the adoption growth path.

Ripple is also spreading out!

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

 

Smart working with blockchain-based smart contracts

| 12-10-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

Smart contracts are one of the most popular and talked about subjects being built in the blockchain industry. As processes are increasingly digitalised, it is becoming necessary to find a way to make reliable, digital business agreements. Smart contracts are a great alternative for replacing traditional contracts, that are often complex, slow and expensive.

Smart contracts are gaining widespread use and ease of creation. Today, smart contracts are available to optimize many financial and business processes, thanks to the contribution of blockchain consortia such as Hyperledger.

This blog discusses some of the current opportunities and challenges facing the adoption of smart contracts.

What are smart contracts?

A smart contract is a self-executing, self-enforcing protocol which is governed by its explicit terms and conditions, which stores and carries out contractual clauses via blockchain.

To enter into a blockchain based smart contract, the parties first negotiate and agree to the terms of the agreement before memorialising the terms (either in part or entirely) in smart contract code that are stored inside the blockchain.

Smart contracts allow the performance of dependable transactions without the engagement of third parties. It is a decentralised method, which means that intermediaries at the moment of confirming deals are not required.

Smart contracts automatically execute when predetermined terms and conditions are met, based on the rules it was programmed to do.

Smart Contract Key parts

Smart contracts consist of a number of essential parts: signatories, subject and specific terms. First of all the signatories i.e. two or more parties that use the smart contract and give their final ‘go forward’ regarding the proposed terms via their digital signature. Second the agreement’s subject itself that is limited only within the smart contract’s environment. Third the specific terms of the smart contract. They have to be described in detailed mathematical terms and implemented in a programming language that is compatible with the smart contract’s blockchain. Based on these terms, the contract will execute itself.

Smart Contracts and Blockchain

The key to these contracts is the decentralised network known as blockchain. Smart contracts use blockchain technology to verify, validate, capture and enforce agreed-upon terms between multiple parties.

Smart contracts on the blockchain allow for transactions and agreements to be carried out among anonymous parties without the need for a central entity, external enforcement, or legal system. The transactions are transparent, irreversible, and traceable.

Blockchain is the perfect environment for smart contracts, as all the data stored is immutable and secure. The data of a smart contract is encrypted and exist on a ledger, meaning that the information recorded in the blocks can never be lost, modified, or deleted.

Where could smart contracts be used?

Smart contracts can be used to perform functions in a great variety of industries. Whether regulatory compliance, contractual enforceability, cross-border financial transactions, property ownership, home buying, supply management, material provenance, document management and many other applications.

Today, smart contracts are relevant in areas such as trade in digital financial assets with legal transfer of ownership, banking and credit services, logistics processes, tracking the origin and path of goods, decentralized storage, and use of renewable energy.

Supply chain management
An area where smart contracts could be used is in supply chain management. Making supply chains more transparent via smart contracts is helping to smooth out the movement of goods and restore trust in trade. Smart contracts can record ownership rights as items move through the supply chain, confirming who is responsible for the product at any given time. The finished product can be verified at each stage of the delivery process until it reaches the customer.

Insurance
Smart contracts could also be used in the insurance sector. This sector nowadays lack automated administration. It can take months for an insurance claim to be processed and paid. Smart contracts can simplify and streamline the process by automatically triggering a claim when certain events occur. Specific details could thereby be recorded on the blockchain in order to determine the exact amount of compensation.

Mortgage loans
Smart contracts could also simplify the mortgage process. The terms of a mortgage agreement are based on an assessment of the mortgagee’s income, expenditures, credit score and other circumstances. The need to carry out these checks, often through third parties, can make the process lengthy and complicated for both the lender and the mortgagee. By cutting out the middle men, parties could deal directly with each other.

Financial industry
The most widespread use of smart contracts remains in the financial industry, as money and accompanying documents become electronic. In the financial services sector  the opportunities for smart contracts include, for example, payment processing, clearing/settlement of financial instruments, trade finance, as well as regulatory technology such as streamlined ‘know your customer’ certification.

Smart contract platforms

There are nowadays a number of smart contract platforms. They could be subdivided on the basis of technology, end-user (banking, government, supply chain, real estate, insurance etc.) and region (Europe, North America, Asia or rest of the world oriented).

Their differences are in programming languages, blockchain consensus, the cost of maintaining an application’s smart contracts, differences in blockchain security, transaction confirmation speed, trust in the main network nodes, and much more.

Ethereum was the first blockchain platform to develop codes specially made for dApp development. Their appearance has prompted the arrival of many other platforms including names like Aeternity, Cardano, Qtum, Stellar, and Waves.

Ethereum
Ethereum, the well-known global blockchain platform was the first to introduce smart contracts to a more wide-spread crypto community. Ethereum is still the most advanced platform for coding and processing of smart contracts. This open-source platform has one of the largest networks of developers available, and due to this, it can keep up with the continually changing environment in the blockchain industry.

Aeternity
Using a hybrid of Proof-of-Work and Proof-of-Stake model, Aeternity offers a method for powering so-called Turing-complete smart contracts that are capable of being executed off-chain. Thereby they deliver both privacy and security.

Cardano
Cardano is a decentralised blockchain and cryptocurrency project. Like many crypto projects, Cardano is open source. The Cardano platform is working towards implementing smart contract functionality with the Goguen update this year. This should bring their smart contracts a step further to ‘smarter contracts’.

Qtum
Qtum is an open-sourced blockchain application platform, where security and flexibility are two of the most essential components. The Qtum team has worked intensively to assure that smart contracts can be executed safely, making the platform perfect for businesses and their enterprise clients. Qtum uses Proof-of-Stake and a Decentralized Governance Protocol.

Stellar
Stellar, unlike many crypto coins, was created by developers for developers. That means that it is capable of handling extremely complex smart contracts. For simple smart contracts, Stellar offers a clean, easy-to-use alternative for developers that want to build smart contracts delivering greater efficiency.

Waves
Waves is an open blockchain project, strongly focusing on dApps and using Web 3.0 technology. To keep their smart contract project simple, Waves offers many online courses, and other methods of support for developers that may want to work with Waves. Like many smart contract projects, Waves uses Proof-of-Stake.

Benefits of Smart Contracts

Smart contracts provide many benefits over traditional contracts for a wide range of industries. In theory, they are more efficient and trustworthy than traditional contract law, and are also thought to offer better security as all actions are recorded and verified. As a result they may reduce unnecessary costs and time expenditure while enhancing transparency.

Greater efficiency and speed
Smart contracts are able to improve the efficiency and speed with which commercial arrangements are carried out.  Smart contracts are automated so there is no need to spend a lot of time on the paperwork and also correcting the errors that are manually written in the documents. They can be executed in minutes, for a fraction of the cost, from wherever the involved parties are, and without the need for lawyers.

Accuracy and transparency
As the codified terms are fully visible and accessible to all relevant parties, there is no way to dispute them once the smart contract is established.  This facilities complete transactional transparency and may removes the likelihood of manipulation, bias or error. This, in turn leads to decreased monitoring costs and risks of opportunistic behaviour.

Trust
Smart contracts may provide parties with a degree of trust. They automatically perform transactions following predetermined laws, and the encrypted documents of these transactions are distributed over participants. The information on the contract and the terms of the contract is straight. Specific validation by everyone and the immutability of the work guarantee that the smart contract can never more be broken.

Security
Smart contracts are also thought to offer better security as all actions are recorded and verified. Blockchain transaction documents are encrypted. That makes them extremely difficult to hack. Security features can also be integrated into a smart contract to automatically generate backups and duplicates in the event of damages, data losses to the original one or hacks.

Challenges

Smart contracts could also bring a number of challenges that may prevent more massive adoption.

Human errors
Like paper contracts, smart contracts could still experience fraud, because of human errors. Smart contracts are codes, and these codes are written by people (coders). As such, there is a (high) chance of a smart contract code having many bugs. They can be delayed, intercepted and corrupted. Some mistakes have proven to be very costly.

Confidentiality, security and privacy
Unlike traditional contracts, all transactions executed via a smart contract, are propagated across all of the nodes in the network.

This may create privacy issues, particularly when the accounts of the parties are associated with known entities. Even when the parties rely on pseudonymous accounts, certain identification techniques can be used to discern the identities of parties who transact with a particular smart contract.

Lack of engineering experience
As smart contracts begin to proliferate, there will be a need for new types of cryptography experts, and forensics experts, to verify software code and to translate the code into human-readable form. A lot of engineering expertise is required to make perfectly operational smart contracts. Experienced coders however are hard to find, and costly.

 Legal and regulatory challenges

There are also a number of legal and regulatory challenges, which are preventing the more widespread utilisation of smart contracts.  Smart contracts lack a clear legal status. There is no official government regulation that applies to them.

Interpretation and enforceability
If there is a dispute about whether a smart contract accurately memorialised the parties’ intentions or whether one party has breached the contract, the parties may still bring legal proceedings or engage in alternative dispute resolution processes.  As contract law varies between different jurisdictions, so too will the enforceability of smart contracts.

Jurisdictional issues
Smart contracts also raise jurisdictional issues. Because blockchain operates as a decentralised ledger, smart contracts can be formed and accessed anywhere across the globe.  They do not reside in any one location, but exist across multiple locations at the one time.

Yet existing laws are jurisdiction-based. The differences in laws across jurisdictions can be highly problematic, and may result in incongruent rights and responsibilities, and confusion regarding the consequences if there is a contract violation.

What steps are needed?

Comprehensive/clear picture of business/operational practices
Vague contracts allow space for argument. This can lead to claims, disputes, high legal expenses, project and operational delays, as well as invoicing and payment delays. To prevent these situations (as much as possible) a comprehensive and clear picture of the business and operational practices for involved parties is necessary when defining and agreeing on terms in order to automate contracts. Participants need to agree on “specific data,” which may include the exact time zone to be used along with the specific time, the location and what that means for contractual terms and fulfilment. Legal departments drafting contracts need to consider details like this in advance.  

Creating Logic Parameters
Parties should also ask themselves a number of questions. What data source will the companies use for their contract? And what are the tolerances? Furthermore, what type of rounding will the smart contract act on? These types of questions must be discussed prior to translation for smart contract codification.

Legal contracts must contain terms on parameters including sources, tolerances, frequency and time frames of data capture methods among others. Specificities such as location, time, and rounding decisions inform logic parameters around data. These impact how contracts translate into code. Incongruent readings can’t be automated.

Clear, non-conflicted contract terms
Problems may arise when an older contract that is used as a starting point has irrelevant or inapplicable clauses that have been forgotten to be removed. This may result in terms and conditions that are either disparate or contradictory. The code of a smart contract cannot be made to execute contradictory terms.

Smart contracts execute exactly what they are programmed to execute and are incapable of judgment. Rules of engagement, particularly those regarding fee calculations and billing practices, must be able to be encoded from clear, non-conflicted contract terms.

Anticipating Data Glitches and Gaps
There will always be technology glitches and failures that may result in data gaps or errors. These occasions can be reasonably anticipated and protocol for them can be incorporated into both natural language and smart contracts.

With agreed-upon terms for these events, a smart contract can be programmed to navigate data tolerances and triggers that automatically recognize when a glitch or failure has occurred. It can then execute the correct predefined action, agreed upon upfront by both parties resulting in zero delays or downtime to the relationship.

Going forward

The potential market for smart contracts is great. Smart contracts can actually change the way agreements are made across various industries.

It however will take some time and require more development before it reaches its mainstream approach. We cannot implement smart contract technology en-masse, as more experimentation is needed at this point. At the moment, smart contracts are still a technology in its early stages. And existing challenges esp. the legal and regulatory ones should be solved first.

That asks for smart thinking|

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

Blockchain becomes a reality: growing adoption

| 23-09-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

Early July I wrote my blog Blockchain and Interoperability: key to mass adoption. There I concluded that “we may say that blockchain seems to be at the threshold of widespread acceptance and adoption”.

This conclusion was confirmed by Deloitte’s Third ‘Global Blockchain Survey 2020’ studying the investment and development trends in blockchain technology. This Survey showed that attitudes toward blockchain have obviously, and measurably, shifted in a positive way. It showed progress in the adoption and implementation of real-world blockchain solutions across a variety of businesses and sectors. Organizations have increased their investments, demonstrating their commitment to blockchain technology. But what about COVID-19?

Deloitte 2020 Global Blockchain Survey

Deloitte’s 2020 Global Blockchain Survey shows the results of a poll amongst almost 1500 senior executives and practitioners from 14 countries that was conducted between February 6 and March 3 this year. Those interviewed had at least a “broad understanding of blockchain, digital assets, and distributed ledger technology (DLT)”.

Main findings

The Survey observed a change in attitudes towards blockchain, with more positive feedback. One of the main conclusions was that blockchain is “solidly entrenched in the strategic thinking of organisations”.

According to the Survey “organizations appear to be more committed than ever” to blockchain. Compared to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Blockchain Survey, there was a significant increase in the interest and implementation of blockchain across businesses. This is further confirming blockchain’s maturity as a valid solution for many institutions and enterprises.

Blockchain already is an integral and vital tool upon which—and with which—new, innovative solutions are being created, and the Survey shows confidence amongst respondents that blockchain solutions will gain even greater traction within the global business community over the next 12 to 24 months.

General consensus, as a key takeaway from the report, was around acceptance of blockchain’s scalability, which continues to increase. 88% believe blockchain is highly scalable and will eventually become mainstream.

Strategic priority for organisations

But let’s look somewhat deeper into the various results. One of the main conclusions is that blockchain technology is increasingly becoming a true strategic priority for organisations. This was affirmed by 55% (2019: 53%) of respondents saying blockchain is critical and in their top-five strategic priorities, with 66% of executives forecasting investments of $1million or more in the next 12 months.

More than four in five respondents (83%) in the Deloitte Survey believe they will lose competitive advantage if they don’t adopt blockchain (2019: 77%). 63% said it was vital to move forward in the blockchain space.

Blockchain initiatives: real-world use cases

In terms of applications, increased advances of large-scale blockchain initiatives are occurring, such as blockchain-based financial infrastructure to simplify global money movement and commerce, as well as distributed ledger technology (DLT) for trade finance and blockchain track-and-trace platforms, among others.

The Survey also revealed increased blockchain initiatives in daily processes. These smaller-scale examples of blockchain adoption, such as title transfer and protection, patient data storage and retrieval, and more efficient voting or food sourcing tracking are “proving to be just as transformational in the way people live and the way work gets done”, according to the Survey.

Adoption of blockchain-based solutions

Adoption of blockchain-based solutions is increasing across organisations, with technology, media and telecommunications (TMT), financial services and non-food manufacturing industries leading the trend.

The number of companies around the globe now driving to intensify their blockchain (and digital asset) integration is speeding up according to the recent Survey. As to what drove them to innovation, 86% of respondents cited their executive teams saying that there are compelling business cases for the use of this technology.

This year, almost twice as many firms surveyed have integrated blockchain solutions compared to 2019. The Survey discovered that 39% of respondents had already implemented blockchain into their operations (2019: 23%), clearly showing this technology is gaining traction. The production figure was even higher at 46% for organizations with more than $1 billion in revenues.

When it comes to preparations for a blockchain-based future, 82% of respondents said they are already hiring new staff with blockchain expertise or plan to do so within the next 12 months (2019: 73%).

Where are corporations using blockchain?

According to the Survey, the top five use-cases for blockchain mentioned by the respondents include digital currencies (33%), data access and sharing (32%), data reconciliation (31%), identity protection (31%), and payments (30%), while track- and trace and asset protection, were adopted by between 27% and 33% of respondents.

Proliferation of digital assets

An interesting part of the Survey is the growing acceptance of digital assets. The Survey unveils the growing role and evolution of digital assets in the near future. 70% of respondents consider the pace of regulatory changes for blockchain and digital asset solutions as very or somewhat fast.

“Digital assets are now enabling enhanced commercialisation models across industries and geographies.” Deloitte Survey

Nearly 89 per cent of those surveyed believe that digital assets will be very or somewhat important to their industries in the next three years.

“Our survey confirms what we see in the marketplace — a proliferation of digital assets used as a means of exchange, a store of value, digital representations of specific assets, or equity in a company,” Rob Massey, partner, global and US tax leader for blockchain and digital assets, Deloitte Tax LLP

Digital assets can be used for a variety of purposes. Respondents who considered digital assets in their business models were most focused on enterprise controlled (64%) followed by general asset-backed (63%), while cryptocurrency comes at number three, with 59%.

A majority of respondents from each country, 83% of the respondents (and even 94% in China) said they strongly (or somewhat) believe digital assets will serve as an alternative to, or even replacement for, fiat currencies in the next five to ten years.

“While our survey revealed great faith in digital assets’ future importance, it shows no clear or specific consensus about exactly how those assets will be used or the specific role they will play—a kind of incoherence that we have seen in blockchain use cases in the past and today,” Survey

A vast majority of respondents expressed confidence that they will meet their regulatory burdens. Some 80% claimed to be very or somewhat prepared to deal with the regulatory aspects of digital assets (KYC, Tax, GAAP/FAS, etc.).

Other areas

The Survey also deep-dived into the issues of global digital identity and consortia and governances.

The Survey explored the use of global digital identity. 90 % of respondents believe global identity will be very or somewhat important in their future blockchain and digital assets strategies. Among the applications of digital identity, global financial transactions (29%) and data privacy (27%) stand to benefit the most.

The 2020 Survey studied the issues faced by enterprises when joining a consortium. It revealed leadership perspectives around joining consortia and an increased understanding of the benefits of consortia to help address regulatory and other complexities of implementing blockchain.

These same leaders thereby shared concerns about how consortia are run, how decisions are made, and how profits are shared across memberships. The most prominent challenges for 41% of the respondents of joining a consortium were the inability or incompetence  to create fair and balanced governance rules and poorly defined roles and responsibilities of members.

These concerns can be exacerbated further based on geographic, namely cross border, and industry-specific governance.  I described that in detail in one of my earlier blogs “Blockchain consortia need good governance: but how?”.

Blockchain and the regions

While global adoption has increased, blockchain adoption proved to be uneven in different countries. Countries’ averages are varying wildly whereby China turned out to be one of the biggest supporters of blockchain and digital assets.

While in China 59% of the respondents stated that their companies have already incorporated blockchain into production, this figure is almost twice as small (31%) in the US. The APAC region stood at 53%. Other countries are also outpacing America in terms of blockchain integration. Throughout the European Union including the United Kingdom, blockchain is witnessed as a matter of priority with multiple approaches.

Countries worldwide also follow multiple approaches. Asia Pacific responses revealed a widespread recognition of blockchain’s strategic value, while China expressed concerns over cross-border implications. Germany exhibited substantial activity around crypto regulation.

The UK market is seeing ongoing and increasingly mature activity across key sectors with several substantial projects now live, typically among industries reliant on complex, multiparty, and international supply chains. UAE is evolving as a digital assets hub with a consistently growing ecosystem. While Israel is emerging as a leader in blockchain innovation.

Sceptics

However, sceptics about blockchain remain. It is important to note that 54% of respondents said that blockchain is overhyped, compared to last year’s 43%. This has all to do with remaining barriers. The respondents claim there are still a number of organisation or project barriers that prevent them from adopting and implementing blockchain.

According to the Survey the top barriers of blockchain adoption include: implementation: replacing or adapting an existing legacy system (35%), concerns over sensitivity of proprietary information (34%), potential security threats (34%) an lack of regulatory clarity.

As companies develop use cases and adopt digital assets, the most significant problem areas are new tax and regulatory compliance structures. A patchwork approach, different regulatory treatments, or improperly defined parameters could threaten the underlying advantages of these blockchain solutions. But companies are not impressed by this, and some 80% claimed they were prepared to deal with regulatory aspects of digital assets.

Along with regulatory uncertainty, 58% of respondents said cybersecurity was also impacting their blockchain and digital asset strategy. Meanwhile, 21% said cybersecurity was the only hindrance to advancing their strategy.

But what about the impact of COVID-19?

According to the KPMG COVID-19 Survey that was published in August, blockchain investments fell by 63% because of COVID-19. The report compiled by KMPG International and HFS Research, is drawing on a survey of 900 technology executives from different organizations on the Forbes Global 2000 list of the largest companies in the public that have more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

According to the report roughly 40% of the executives indicated that they had moved to entirely cease investment into the emerging technology initiatives. Distributed ledger technologies (DLT) slid from the largest emerging technology sector with an average investment of $18 million in March/April,  to the second smallest with $6.5 million in May/June.

7% of the executives said COVID-19 had significantly changed strategic priorities for emerging technologies. In the earlier survey, the priorities were cost reduction and improved brand value. Since May/June, emerging technologies are now assessed based on survival.

The report also found that 59% of the executives believe that the pandemic created an impetus to accelerate digitization initiatives. After the heavy funding cuts for blockchain that occurred in 2020, global companies are looking forward to the technology as a way to regain a competitive advantage in the business landscape after the Corona crisis. They predicted that blockchain will be one of the five emerging technology sectors that will see increased investments from enterprises over the next 12 months.

Blockchain won’t be cut across the board. Projects that are close to production or already live are less likely to be put on hold if they can show reasonably quick returns. Blockchain tools that can help improve a company’s visibility into its own supply chain are the sorts of candidates that could attract budget. Applications that combine blockchain with other more “survival oriented” emerging technologies could also do better.

Blockchain is a reality already!

The Corona-crisis will undoubtedly have negative impact on blockchain for some time. Companies will turn their interest towards less ambitious, more targeted projects.

But the substantial portion of respondents of the Deloitte Survey who already have blockchain in production in their organization highlights the growing maturity. There is however still substantial work to be done. The report does note that “it remains an iterative process, with bumps remaining in the road”.

“As companies adopt and implement blockchain solutions, and as leaders increasingly accept blockchain as a fact rather than a future breakthrough, there remains an underlying level of uncertainty about current and future applications of blockchain technologies.” “We don’t expect that organisations will sort this all out right away – this process will continue to take time, depending on industry, maturity, risk tolerance, and budgets.” Deloitte Survey

But the sentiment at companies towards blockchain has definitely changed. This technology is increasingly becoming a reality for many of them, not just in the future but already!

 

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

 

 

Source

Blockchain and Interoperability: key to mass adoption

| 13-07-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

Blockchain‘s  potential for improving business processes, providing transactional transparency and security in the value chain, and reducing operational costs is obvious for many. Notwithstanding this the expected mass adoption failed to happen up till now. What has been holding blockchain back?

In fact, there have been several concerns in recent years preventing this mass adoption. But by far the most widely recognized problematic issue is that of interoperability. Or, more accurately, the lack of it. In this blog, I will not go into the details of the various tools that can be used to enable interoperability. There are many reports that give in-depth description. I will look at recent developments in the interoperability area, the various offerings and real word interoperability use cases that should give an idea of what we may expect.

Siloed blockchain ecosystems

While blockchain was conceived as a decentralized technology, individual blockchain networks are not inherently open and are not able to communicate properly to each other. There are a large number of blockchain projects, all of which have different characteristics – such as the type of transactions, hashing algorithms, or consensus models – and which focused on a particular area. The problem is further deepened by different networks and financial institutions running completely different governance rules, blockchain technology versions and regulatory controls. This has resulted in a series of unconnected blockchain ecosystems operating alongside, but siloed from each other, preventing the industry from reaching its full potential.

“We would be left with a scattered collection of siloed blockchains, each supported by a weak network of nodes and susceptible to attack, manipulation, and centralisation.” ConsenSys research paper

What is interoperability?

The term blockchain interoperability is increasingly being talked for some time now. It not only means the possibility that disparate blockchain systems can communicate with each other. Above all it is the ability to share, see, and access information across different blockchain networks without the need for an intermediary – like a centralised exchange. So, blockchain projects that want to implement interoperability into their platform aim to create an ecosystem that will enable different blockchains to easily communicate with each other. The vision of interoperable enterprise blockchains thereby rests on a number of functionalities and abilities including: integration with existing systems, initiate transactions on other networks, conduct transactions with other chains, transact between deployments on the same chain by integrating apps and making it easy to switch one underlying platform for another.

Why is interoperability critical?

It is easy to see why interoperability for blockchain is not only desirable, but above all critical, in a world where enterprises depend on ever-greater levels of collaboration and interaction. In fact, interoperability is crucial in any software system – it simply won’t work to its full potential if it can’t work with other software. It is the only way to realise the full promise of enterprise blockchain and get the most out of their blockchain investments. Interoperability would enable smooth information sharing, easier execution of smart contracts, a more user-friendly experience, the opportunity to develop partnerships, and the sharing of solutions.

Where is interoperability needed?

Especially in areas where the value chain is important, such as supply chain, trade finance, healthcare, aviation, etc., one blockchain network will simply be unable to provide all the needs for any given transaction. This asks for multiple networks, each providing specific value, and proper communication so that data from private networks can be routed to other relevant networks for transactions “without having to establish a one-to-one integration”. “Everyone is dependent on physical goods’ ability to move across all participants in the global supply chain with minimal friction. We need the same ability to move a digital asset from one blockchain to another without creating redundant data or a new market for intermediaries. This is why blockchain interoperability is critical.” Rasmus Winther Mølbjerg, Director, Deloitte, Denmark.
Blockchain’s characteristics allow disconnected supply chain management systems to interoperate securely without too high investment costs. Because of the pressing need for supply chain transformation, leveraging these characteristics ensures that blockchain can be useful and effective in the real world.

Interoperability Studies: WEF Report

In the meantime a number of interesting papers covering the interoperability issue have been. The most ground-breaking one is that of the World Economic Forum (WEF). The WEF described blockchain technology as being “balkanised in silos.” In collaboration with Deloitte, the WEF this year released a report on “Inclusive Deployment of Blockchain for Supply Chains – A Framework for Blockchain Interoperability”. The report covers several models, concepts, approaches and best practices for blockchain interoperability. It should help organizations understand the importance of interoperable blockchains and outlines a decision framework to support their development and execution. “Interoperability and compatibility issues are key to address in a world after the coronavirus pandemic.” “The challenge of interoperability is not only a technology problem, but even more so a problem in terms of governance, data ownerships and commercial business models.” Nadia Hewett, Blockchain and Digital Currency Project Lead at the World Economic Forum

Blockchain interoperability approaches

Broadly one could distinct two main blockchain interoperability approaches: APIs and network-of networks model.

‘Mashup’ APIs
Blockchain networks and solutions could be brought together for an organization via a so called “mashup” application. They only have to interact with one consistent application programming interface (API) and not an API for every network. This mashup application can include a variety of capabilities defined in data models and smart contracts, but fundamentally, it will serve as “the glue that joins various networks together”. However, APIs do not presuppose a governance structure, which makes them flexible and expedient but also a poor choice for organizing interoperability in the long run.

Network of networks model
The most efficient and scalable way to build interoperability is through the joint effort of establishing industry standards as well as identifying a network of networks structure that industry networks can converge around. An organizations blockchain network actually represents a ”web” of interconnected networks. This architecture would allow an organization to connect and transact with multiple solutions, not restrained to a single network, and open up a market of interoperability across solutions. By unlocking the power of the peer, organizations can use their peer to connect into multiple blockchain networks via channels. This significantly reduces the complexity and optimizes an organizations interaction with different blockchain networks. This network of networks model for interoperability continues to gain momentum, especially as we see natural blockchain hubs emerge.

Blockchain interoperability solutions

The majority of interoperability solutions up till recently were mainly focused on chain interoperability across public blockchains, thereby using crypto-directed tools like sidechains (or relay chain), notary schemes and timed hash-locks. The focus however has increasingly shifted towards solutions for interoperability between private networks and/or between private networks and public blockchains. One way to solve interoperability is to use a separate blockchain as a bridge to facilitate cross-communication. Essentially, this is a third blockchain that sits in the middle of the two blockchains and maintains a cryptographically secured timestamped ledger of the transactional and messaging activity between the two. Interoperability tools that are used range from hub and spoke, decentralised finance (DeFi) and general purpose bridges. Another way to facilitate interoperability between systems is with off-chain or middleware systems. This so-called non-blockchain interoperability approach uses tools including atomic swaps, oracles and state channels.

Blockchain Interoperability projects

A growing number of interoperability projects have entered the scene to try to bridge the gap between the various blockchains. Their aim is to facilitate interaction between networks and ensure the concept of decentralisation is fully realised. Depended on the interoperability solutions these can be used for activities like decentralised asset exchange and decentralised message exchange. Interesting projects are Chainlink, Cosmos, Hybrix, Polkadot and Wanchain. Other examples include Aion, Ark, ICON, Transledger, and Overledger.

Chainlink
Chainlink is a decentralised oracle network, an interoperability solution to facilitate secure and trustless communication between all disparate blockchain systems. The resources mostly revolve around off-chain data to trigger smart contracts and settlement outputs like established payment systems and cloud backend. This standalone function is important for many blockchains that don’t have to interact with other blockchain protocols but do need access to externals inputs and outputs. Chainlink nodes are able to format messaging and data from public APIs into a readable format for smart contracts. These nodes can connect to any API, whether it is a blockchain, enterprise system, Web API, or IoT device. Chainlink is sometimes working in combination with other interoperability protocols. Chainlink has already announced partnerships with Polkadot and Ethereum to provide off-chain data to their networks. Wanchain is integrating with Chainlink to provide off-chain  data to their on-chain smart contracts.

Cosmos
One of the most prominent interoperability solutions is Cosmos, very much focused on its Cosmos SDK platform. Cosmos aims to act as an ecosystem of blockchains that can scale and interoperate with each other. Cosmos is a smart contract platform that has prioritized interoperability as a critical component of their blockchain design. Their architecture is based on the so-called ‘hub-and-spoke’ system whereby a series of ‘spoke’ chains connect to a ‘central’ hub by means of inter-blockchain communication. Cosmos is heavily reliant on validators to provide interoperability. It makes use of the so—called Byzantine fault tolerant (BFT) consensus algorithm and uses both member chains and Peg-Zones for existing chains to improve the overall ecosystem. Their end goal is to create an ‘internet of blockchains’ – a network of blockchains that can communicate with one another in a decentralised way. The implementation of the IBC (Inter Blockchain Communication) protocol is scheduled for this year 2020. Cosmos will use the IBC protocol to allow communication between a central hub and the chains linked to the network, also called Zones. It will first only concern the interoperability of chains built on top of Cosmos SDK platform.

Hybrix
Hybrix is an open-source cross-chain solution aimed to make it easier to make cross-chain transactions, and also increase the level of ease for developers who want to offer multi-chain platforms. For that purpose Hybrix is developing an “HY” token. Each token represents an identical block of a chain and can be used to reconcile data across the entire crypto complex. Tokens form as bridges that allow transactions to be conducted on either a single chain or multi-ledger systems. Since Hybrix utilizes existing languages to build its protocol and interface, there’s no need to acquire new coding languages to use its system. Hybrix has amplified its capacity to adapt 27 major blockchains and more than 400 tokens.

Polkadot
Another project is Polkadot, which facilitates transactions and data exchange, aiming to promote interoperability between blockchains. It uses the DPoS algorithm and employs required validators which can lead to a certain degree of centralization. The concept at Polkadot is quite similar to that of Cosmos. It allows communication between the relay chain and the parachains of Polkadot’s network. By using Parachains and Bridgechains, this approach enables to transfer both value and data. Additionally, scalability will be taken to a whole new level by running multiple parallel chains. This is a bit different from other projects which are looking to bridge the gap between blockchains as well. The launch of their mainnet is planned for this year (2020). As for interoperability, there are no precise timelines regarding their protocols for chains  implementation.

Wanchain
The Wanchain network allows interoperability between very heterogeneous blockchains like Bitcoin, Ethereum and EOS. Wanchain aims to link and facilitate communication between the different blockchains as much as possible. Wanchain is already functional and allows communication and exchange of value and data between public and private blockchains through storeman nodes and the T-Bridge framework. The storeman node system combines two cryptographic concepts that ensure security and confidentiality of network transactions: secure multi-party computation and “Shamir’s secret sharing”. The Wanchain project recently announced the integration of EOS blockchain and the implementation of the T-bridge framework. Wanchain’ s next challenge is to fully decentralise its network. This is planned to be finalised in 2022.

Other interoperability offerings

And there are many more interoperability projects including Aion, which is working towards integrating artificial intelligence in its consensus model. Or Ark which uses Smartbridge to link existing chains, and will also allow for the transfer of both data and value. And the Loom Network, which uses its DPoS blockchain Basechain to connect and transfer value among several blockchains, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Binance. A rather unknown but interesting player is Block Collider. Its proof-of-distance (PoD) consensus algorithm ensures that ledgers can operate with one another. It is also the only project that, in its current form, requires any validators.

Real world interoperability use cases

During 2020 we have seen a number of interesting real world interoperability use cases.

AVA Network (Defi Apps)

The AVA network is an open-source platform for building and deploying decentralized finance (DeFi) apps and enterprise-grade blockchain solutions that can be run in one interoperable, highly scalable ecosystem. AVA has officially released the codebase of its AVA blockchain platform to the global community. Interoperability between different DLT networks has thereby been built into the AVA protocol, using the Avalanch consensus protocol. The AVA platform has coupled this protocol with a network model that enables the system to span permissioned and permissionless networks, making AVA a self-serve platform for new blockchains and digital assets. Instead of one network with thousands of tokens, the AVA ecosystem is one platform with thousands of subnetworks and tokens on each subnetwork . AVA’s infrastructure allows anyone to build their own private, public, permissioned or permissionless blockchain networks or subnetwork, so-called “subnets.”

Kava Labs and IRISnet (decentralised finance)

Another  real world  example is Kava Labs that has teamed up with IRISnet in order to provide a technology foundation for facilitating the development of distributed business applications. Kava is a Cosmos SDK (software development kit) blockchain. The collaboration will involve the whole interchain ecosystem that has been developed by  blockchain interoperability solution provider Cosmos. Aim is to further support and promote decentralized finance (DeFi) application development on each other’s respective blockchain or distributed ledger technology (DLT) networks. Kava’s Interblockchain Communication Protocol (ICP) will be used by both development teams to expand the nascent DeFi ecosystem. IRISnet aims to offer iService and Coinswap applications to Kava in order to improve liquidity. “Cosmos’ value proposition is that “if you make a blockchain and it has a similar consensus mechanism to another blockchain …[then by using] … the inter-blockchain communication protocol (IBC), you should be able to connect those two blockchains and transfer data [or assets] between them.” Brian Kerr, CEO at Kava Labs

Quant Overledger and Oracle Cloud (banking lifecycle)

Quant Networka technology provider, delivering blockchain enterprise-grade interoperability for the secure exchange of information and digital assets across any network, platform or protocol, at scale, has partnered with Oracle. Quant will use Oracle Cloud to run mission critical business applications on interoperable DLTs that will be powered by Overledger, which connects global networks to blockchain-based platforms. Banking institutions may deploy an extensive set of APIs that aim to cover all areas across the banking lifecycle. “Quant helps Oracle’s customer banks by providing a single API to all supported blockchains to power interoperability across platforms. Giving clients choice and flexibility to freely use any blockchain technology and go cross-platform with only three lines of code.”  “Clients gain benefits of market access, new products and revenue streams without the challenges of managing complex underlying blockchain technology stacks.” Gilbert Verdian, CEO at Quant Network

SIA and Quant Overledger (financial services)

Banking users of SIA’s private blockchain infrastructure, SIAchain, will be able to link up with other distributed ledgers following successful testing of interoperability via Quant Network’s Overledger technology. Quant’s Overledger complements and connects existing systems and DLTs, to drive innovative and efficient growth for companies, public entities, and regulatory bodies alike. This integration provides the ability to bridge permissioned blockchain instances between SIAchain’s 580 European network nodes and other external networks in order to have crossplatform applications and services covering the likes of notarisation, payments and KYC. SIA, that provides its services in  50 countries, is European leader in the design, creation and management of technology infrastructures and services for Financial Institutions, Central Banks, Corporates and the Public Sector, in the areas of Card & Merchant Solutions, Digital Payment Solutions and Capital Market & Network Solutions. “The achievement of a fully interoperable blockchain network, through our collaboration with Quant Network, is another key-element in our path of bringing innovation and state-of-the-art technologies for supporting banks, financial institutions, corporates and public administration bodies to extend their capabilities in integrating different DLT business applications.” Daniele Savarè, innovation & business solutions director SIA.

Telos and Transledger (crypto currency transfers)

Transledger, a blockchain interoperability platform that aims to facilitate cryptocurrency transfer between separate or independent DLT networks, has chosen the Telos blockchain network to perform cross-chain digital asset transactions with its utility token in a fast and secure manner. Transledger Inter-blockchain Communication (IBC), allows different blockchains to interact with each other and perform tasks together. Use cases for blockchain interoperability solutions include peer-to-peer (P2P) networks such as decentralized or non-custodial cryptocurrency exchanges (DEXes). These types of trading platforms allow digital asset users to trade their tokens without requiring centralized, third-party exchange platforms. DEXes may use Transledger IBC to run P2P networks across several different blockchain platforms. This allows trading on DEXes to take place at speeds that are comparable to centralized exchanges, however, these non-custodial platforms allow users retain control of their funds. They also allow investors to manage their cryptocurrency portfolios with “faster and more powerful” smart contract functionality and features.

Skuchain and Corda (trade finance)

Skuchain network, a blockchain platform for supply chain, recently launched the DLPC CorDapp, a Skuchain application that promotes interoperability in trade finance blockchain applications. This application is the first example of The Bankers Association for Trade and Finance’s Distributed Ledger Payment Commitment (DLPC) operating in a real network. A DLPC is a fundamental piece of trade transaction. Everyone needs to commit to a payment. Skuchain’s DLPC CorDapp allows transactions to take place between its enterprises on Hyperledger Fabric and their bank partners on the Corda Network. The ultimate goal of brokering interoperability between Skuchain EC3 and Corda is to allow Skuchain’s enterprise customers to receive trade finance from banks on a Corda implementation without any party having to onboard onto another platform. Enterprises can now easily access trade finance as native part of their own supply chain platform.

Moving forward

The arrival of interoperability solutions may fundamentally change  present attitudes towards blockchain and will be an important step in persuading networks that the seamless exchange of data is crucial to the success of the entire market. As more progress towards interoperability between blockchain protocols is expected in the coming years, and we already may see successful cross-blockchain projects this year, interoperability is likely to become an important game changer for the blockchain industry. We may say that Blockchain seems to be at the threshold of widespread acceptance and adoption.

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

 

Source

How SMEs should select a BAAS platform?

| 08-06-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

In my last blog BAAS and SMEs: New Opportunities I explained what Blockchain-as-a-Service is, where it could be used for and what the benefits are for SMEs. But another question is: how should SMEs select BAAS providers and their offerings. What are the various issues they should look at to get the most out of it. In other words: how should SMEs deal with this?

Why many SMEs move to BAAS?

But first, why this growing interest by SMEs for Blockchain-as-a-Service (BAAS)? There are various reasons for that. Such a the promised benefits in terms of efficiency, simplicity, transparency, speed, costs etc.

BAAS has some interesting use cases ranging from smart contracts, document origin tracking, resource sharing, single window, contract execution and spend rationalisation.

And BAAS could be used in various business activities like food safety tracking, international transactions, retailer industry, supply chain management, and trading.

What issues for SMEs to consider?

But before a company decides to start integrating BAAS services in their existing infrastructure it is important for them to consider a number of key issues. They should ask themselves a number of key questions.

Such as, does the company really need BAAS (or blockchain)? If so, for what purposes? And what are the specific (basic) requirements to look for at the “ideal” BAAS provider? What other factors to be considered? And finally, which BAAS provider offers the right and best type of solutions for the company?

Do you need BAAS or Not?

One of the first questions a company should ask themselves is do they really need BAAS. Whether or not BAAS matters to a company will depend on a number of issues.

Does the company already works efficiently from a cost and processing point of view? There may be hurdles in the company in the form of managing varied database, browsers, firewalls, application servers, and hardware, that could make it very difficult to integrate BAAS offerings into the legacy network of the company.

And does the company have the team skills that are comfortable and confident (or not) in using BAAS? Do they already use (one or more) cloud providers? And if so, do they have enough experience with these. This question is especially relevant because BAAS offerings are evolving quickly.

Other questions that may determine all or not choosing BAAS will be the tools available, choice of operating systems, ease of use, and pricing, thus costs.

So many things to think about, investigate and discuss.

Some broad guidelines for Selecting a BAAS Partner

Given the lack of readily available guidelines and best practices a lot of discussions and evaluations are needed into the process of selecting a BAAS provider or solution. Here are some broad guidelines a company should consider.

BAAS provider experience
First of all the company should ask themselves has the BAAS provider prior experience in setting up blockchain infrastructure? A company should ensure that the BAAS provider has proven experience in developing and deploying Blockchain technology. Companies should be ensured that the implementer department of the BAAS provider has professional staff that could easily attain the complex solutions for the enterprises. Companies should also ensure that the BAAS provider disposes of a good developer community, thereby guaranteeing “excellent output”.

BAAS provider’s commitment
There is also the question of BAAS provider’s commitment? Delivering quality is of great importance when choosing the right BAAS provider. A company should therefore probe their commitment to quality, process and standards of BAAS offerings.

Security assurance
Another critical issue that a company should investigate is can the BAAS provider deliver security assurance? In the first place they hey should ensure that –  for privacy and security reasons – BAAS offerings are built on permissioned blockchains. Given the variety of security issues ranging from application level to server level, it is important to look for potential gaps in security assurance in the proposed BAAS implementation plan.

Seamless deploying
A company should also look if the BAAS provider has enough experience in deploying. A company should evaluate the BAAS provider’s experience in deploying cloud-based solutions for operating systems similar to that of their organization. SMEs should  thereby look for BAAS providers that offer quick and economic deployment, testing, staging, and good production line. Companies also need to ensure that the new Blockchain infrastructure integrates seamlessly with their legacy systems.

User-friendly
A company should make sure that the proposed BAAS systems and processes are user-friendly and easily to adopt. After all, they look for  a system that their employees do not find difficult to use or navigate.

BAAS innovation
SMEs should also ask how innovative BAAS providers are. As BAAS solutions may vary from provider to provider, innovations might be a real trigger in case of any blockchain deployment. Innovations in the BAAS marketplace can create a more different type of BAAS architecture for a company’s organization.

Cost control
But also in terms of costing control the company should be aware of the real costs. Can a company be assured that they just pay for the value proposition delivered by the BAAS provider? Companies should therefore carefully analyse the pricing options and post-deployment support options and modalities. They should investigate if there are hidden costs linked to the BAAS contract.

Other features of BAAS offerings to look at

But next to these issues there are other basic features of BAAS offerings a company should look for. These include, amongst others, things such as offering good backend or backup solutions, quickly add up new additions to the platform, offer technical support in case of self-deployment etc.

Need for backend services
One key issue that should be investigated thoroughly by SMEs is how BAAS could deliver a company’s unique need for backend services such as integration of popular features and mainstream technologies. A BAAS provider should at least provide some key deliveries including data security, process control, costing control and integration. These backend services should support a wide range of applications without changing the legacy network, often characterised by multiple layers of the data sources, processes and workflows.

Companies should also know  the ins and outs of the blockchain platform in order to avoid risks. This asks for adopting proper monitoring and managing tools to manage the BAAS solution network effectively. For security reasons it should be made sure that the application data and user data “should stay within the boundaries of the platform” .

There are also a number of process control requirements for the application. SMEs should be guaranteed that the new BAAS environment needs to keep maintaining the original performance all the time. Some performance checking tools could let companies know how much capable their blockchain solution really is. It also needs to have protection mechanism from hackers, controlling data flow, computer resources, active monitoring tools etc.

Smart contract offering
When considering BAAS a company should make sure that the BAAS provider offers the smart contract integration with the deployment. As you have read in my former blog smart contracts are an important part of any BAAS solution. These allow the companies to electronically measure and encode all terms of the contract so there can be no dispute. Though they are not (yet) legal contracts, they allow the enforcement of an agreement between parties under pre-agreed rules, but also enforces the penalties in case of any rule breaking situation.

Access management
And there is the issue of who and who may not have access to certain information within the organisation. Companies should look for identity based consensus solutions as all the enterprise will operate with known identities. Not everyone in the company should have access to internal securitised information.

It is therefore also important to look for secure Identity and Access framework integration with the BAAS solution. It will enable companies to control the user access from critical information in the organisation, helping the administrator to regulate and control access all over the network.

Flexible deployment
And there is the issue of flexibility in deploying BAAS solutions. BAAS providers should offer versatility when it comes to BAAS frameworks. This asks for the availability of a variety of toolsets for companies. Companies need to have a choice in case of choosing the perfect framework. They should choose a BAAS operator that offers optimal support.

What else to consider?

A final, and may be the best way to select a BAAS architecture is the existing customer ecosystem. In many cases BAAS companies that can offer the most advanced and trouble-free BAAS have a large customer base. So, a BAAS provider with good and positive customer base could be a sign of good quality services.

After having answered all these many questions a company may (or may not) be able to select their favourite BAAS provider. On Google you may find various oversight lists of BAAS providers with many ins and outs.

Enjoy your BAAS journey!

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

 

Source

Blockchain-as-a-service and SMEs: great opportunities

| 19-05-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

One of the recent promising blockchain trends is the growth of Blockchain-as-a Service (BAAS) platforms and software. This is highlighted by the recent release of the Second Annual Blockchain 50 list by Forbes. Several of the entrants on this year’s list offer blockchain-as-a-Service, including global players such as Microsoft, Amazon and IBM.

These third-party services are a relatively new development in the growing field of blockchain technology, mirroring the growing demand for hosting decentralised software services to boost market growth.

Fortune Business Insights recently revealed that the BAAS sector is set to reach a valuation of almost USD 25 billion (EUR 23,2 billion) by 2027, from USD 1.9 billion recorded in 2019, demonstrating an impressive so-called compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 39.5% during the forecast period (2020-2027). According to the same report especially the retail and e-commerce segment is expected to adopt BAAS solutions and are expected to register the highest growth rate during the forecast period.

What is BAAS?

In my first blog on BAAS I wrote last year I already explained what it is. Here follows a short resume.

BAAS is a cloud-based service that enables users to develop their own digital products by working with blockchain. It is in fact the distributed ledger equivalent of Software-as-a-Service or SAAS, the means by which businesses subscribe to and access cloud-based software.

These digital products may be smart contracts, decentralized applications (Dapps), or even other services that can work without any setup requirements of the complete blockchain-based infrastructure.

How does BAAS work?

BAAS describes the process by which a third party installs, hosts and maintains blockchain networks on behalf of other organizations. The external service provider thereby offers to set up all the necessary blockchain technology and infrastructure for a fee. They thereby take care of the infrastructure and maintenance issues.

In fact, a BAAS’ provider’s role is similar to that of a web hosting provider. It allows customers to leverage cloud-based solutions. BAAS helps businesses develop and host blockchain apps and smart contracts in a blockchain ecosystem that is managed and administered by cloud-based service providers.

The BAAS operator typically offers support activities like bandwidth management, suitable allocation of resources, hosting requirements, and data security features. As a result enterprises can focus on their core business without worrying about the day-to-day complexities of operating a blockchain.

Why is BAAS needed?

Consumers and businesses are increasingly willing to adapt to blockchain technology. However, the technical complexities and operational overhead involved in creating, configuring, and operating a blockchain and maintaining its infrastructure often act as a barrier.

Blockchain requires huge investment when it comes to setting up infrastructure and maintaining it. It is much more resource intensive, as compared to traditional databases. It also consumes a huge amount of energy and requires huge bandwidth.

What may BAAS bring?

BAAS is gaining significant traction recently, and that for various reasons. For many companies, pairing cloud services with BAAS could be very valuable. The personalized flexibility of BAAS technology allows businesses to combat pain points by tailoring integrations. BAAS can resolve complex issues around transparency, efficiency and cost in a simplistic and straightforward manner, thereby firmly reducing the barriers to entry for enterprise blockchain applications.

By favouring this BAAS model, companies can take advantage of the many often-mentioned benefits of blockchain technology – improved transparency and accountability, data security and trust minimization – without having to develop their own blockchain ecosystem or invest in expensive in-house computing resources.

They may give diverse businesses the opportunity to experiment with blockchain apps and smart contracts while letting service providers manage the network itself.

Is BAAS valuable for SMEs?

By organization-size, BAAS market is still dominated by large enterprises especially in the financial sector. The SMEs segment however is expected to grow at a higher rate, given the above mentioned opportunities of BAAS for these enterprises.

BAAS is ideal for such organizations that outsource their technological aspects, and are not involved in understanding the working mechanism of the blockchain. It allows these firms and other organizations to quickly get to grips with the technology without having to develop their own proprietary blockchain. It lets these enterprises focus on their core jobs and not waste time in setting up of infrastructure facilities.

BAAS is firmly growing across a variety of industries for issues such as supply chain management, identity management, payments. Blockchain technology is emerging as an optimal solution to many of the challenges faced by SMEs such as access to various financing sources. SMEs looking to expand their businesses in foreign countries can gain wider access to trade financing sources using BAAS as this technology is decentralized and cuts out the middlemen from the process.

BAAS service providers 

BAAS has become so popular, that some of the largest tech companies in the world all have divisions dedicated to the integration and promotion of BAAS. But also some of the most successful cloud service providers have started offering Blockchain-as-a-Service.

Main companies or platforms that are operating in the BAAS market include the names like Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle, Corda, IBM, SAP, Accenture, NTT Data, Stratis, Huawei, Baidu, Alibaba, Infosys, consequently shaping the future of blockchain applications.

But there are also the many smaller innovative BAAS companies – mostly based in the US – that integrate these game-changing ledgers into everyday technology such as Altoros, Blockstream, Bloq, Dragonchain, Factom, Innominds, PayStand, Skuchain, Symbiont,  tZERO, VironIt etc.  

Some major players in the BAAS market

Let’s take a look at some of the key BAAS service providers helping enterprises realize their blockchain ambitions.

Alibaba Cloud Blockchain as a Service

Alibaba’s BAAS offering, is under the umbrella of its cloud computing arm. Utilizing Quorum, Hyperledger Fabric and the Ant Blockchain, the platform integrates Alibaba Cloud’s Internet of Things (IoT) and anti-counterfeiting technologies to create blockchain solutions for product traceability, among other things. At present, Alibaba’s BAAS offering encompasses enterprise-level BAAS services, an agile BAAS platform that supports private deployment, and specific blockchain solutions for container services.

Amazon Web Services
Amazon provides various blockchain tools to both large and small companies via its cloud computing arm, Amazon Web Services (AWS).  AWS is a BAAS leader in many industries. The company integrates blockchain-based networks and business processes for some of the largest companies in the world (including T-Mobile and PwC) to improve IT infrastructure, business processes, human resources, financial transactions and supply chains.

Amazon, which has introduced Amazon Managed Blockchain, a BAAS service that “makes it easy to create and manage scalable blockchain networks” using open source frameworks including Ethereum and Hyperledger Fabric. Amazon has attracted a steady stream of high-profile clients including  Nestlé, BMW, Accenture, Sony Music Japan, and the Singapore Exchange.

Huawei Blockchain Service
Huawei unveiled its novel BAAS solution, called Blockchain Service, based on Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric 1.0. The solution is devised to help companies design smart contracts focusing on supply chain, securitized assets, and public services, on top of a distributed ledger network.

IBM Blockchain Platform
Another key BAAS provider is IBM. Its Blockchain Platform allows organizations to “easily build and join a blockchain network on-premises, or on any private, public, or hybrid multicloud. Partnerships have been vital to IBM’s continuous BAAS expansion. IBM’s Blockchain-as-a-Service business deploys Hyperledger Fabric and has been used extensively in industries such as food supply, media, advertising and trade finance.

Microsoft Azure
And there is Microsoft’s Azure platform based on Ethereum. That BAAS offering enables clients to deploy blockchain networks, build apps with confidence and store data off-chain. Clients can choose to build on several networks, while three products are available: Azure Blockchain Service, Azure Blockchain Workbench, and Azure Blockchain Development Kit.

As Azure can be integrated with other Microsoft products such as Logic Apps and Flow, this makes it ‘a dependable choice’ for enterprises seeking to harness blockchain, such as General Electric and T-Mobile .

R3 – Corda
Corda, the open-source blockchain platform developed by global enterprise solutions provider R3, enables companies to transact directly and privately using smart contracts. The BAAS provider was recently used by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to simplify financial processes and enhance settlements. Interoperability, security and privacy are the foundations of the finance-focused Corda. The firm R3 developed solutions for over 300 clients.

Regional development

According to a recent BAAS Market Report North America – especially the US, Mexico and Canada – owns the largest share in the worldwide market for BAAS. One of the major reasons for the widespread development and adoption of BAAS tools in North America is the strong presence of small, medium, and large tech companies operating in the US. This, along with rising integration of BAAS solutions with public utilities services, will enable the region to dominate the BAAS market share in the foreseeable future.

Europe has been deemed as the second-leading market for BAAS. Apart from this, the region can note significant surge in adoption of blockchain technology in the forthcoming years, because of the strong support from the government across various countries. Increasing focus of well-established players on blockchain technology will propel the market in the near future.

The Asia Pacific (APAC) region is believed to be the third-most lucrative market for BAAS. The BAAS Market Report states that Asia-Pacific will register the highest growth rate during the forecast period. The BAAS sector will be boosted by enormous blockchain investment by China, Japan, and South Korea governments.

Final remarks

BAAS may become the catalyst that leads to a widespread adoption of blockchain technology and to a deeper penetration across various sectors and businesses, especially by SMEs.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) blockchain technology could be instrumental in bridging the gap in trade financing around the world. Similar benefits can be reaped by SMEs in the context of supply chain processes as transparency, immutability, and traceability become inevitable. These potential advantages of blockchain for SMEs may provide a significant boost to the BAAS market growth in the coming years.

So, BAAS may be seen as a great opportunity for SMEs to take advantage of blockchain.

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

 

Source

Stable Coins and Monetary Policy: towards more instability?

| 08-05-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

In response to a call last year October by the G20 to examine regulatory issues raised by so-called global stable coin arrangements and to advise on multilateral responses ‘as appropriate’, the Financial Stability Board (FSB) recently published ten high-level recommendations for consultation for effective regulatory and supervisory treatment of stable coins. The FSB however did not extend their response to financial stability and monetary policy risk issues. And these are of utmost importance.

What are stable coins?

But first, what are stable coins? These are digital currencies or contracts that are linked to certain underlying assets. That could be a currency, a real estate, or stocks. Stable coins can be used in many forms, namely as a store of value, a means of payment or fully backed or collateralised by fiat currency. Stable coins can be issued as tokens or accounts, settled in a centralized or decentralized fashion. So there is not one uniform sort of stable coin but many variations, making it very difficult to control and regulate.

Why are stable coins taking off?

Why is adoption of stable coins growing? Stable coins could bring a number of benefits especially to cross-border payments, which currently tend to be slow, non-transparent, and expensive. Stable coins might bring improved efficiency, broader financial inclusion, and more innovation (better integrated in our daily digital lives). But also low transaction costs (near-costless and immediate), convenience, global reach (via strong network effects), and speed are all key advantages.

While stable coins could greatly facilitate transactions in foreign currency, it could drastically lower costs of remittances, which would increase foreign currency inflows. Though they are increasingly being used for payments, an area where speed and efficiency have become the deciding factor, stable coins could also make storage of foreign currency easier, safer, and cheaper.

Most banks however do not yet address consumer and companies demands for these kind of digital currencies, so other organisations are filling the gap.

Why are stable coins risky?

Facebook’s plans to launch a stable coin named Libra has created a large amount of scepticism from central bankers and financial regulators around the globe (See my earlier blog). And that for justified reasons.

While stable coins have the potential to enhance the efficiency of the provision of financial services, at the same time they may also generate a number of important risks. Though stable coin arrangements might be expected to have contingency arrangements in case of problems, there are a number of risks brought in by them that could be detrimental for both financial stability and monetary policy effectiveness.

These risks are related to issues such as the value of stable coins, the security of the trust account, the interoperability of stable coins and thus to competition.

  • Reduced consumer protection

There is the risk of reduced consumer/investor protection. Providing appropriate protection levels may become more challenging, as the cross-border nature of a stable coin means it is subject to a variety of regulatory frameworks in different jurisdictions. It is therefore not clear whether strong safeguards on consumer bank accounts and the associated payments will be in place with stable coins, or what recourse consumers will have. There is a big chance that redemption of stable coin into fiat currency is not (always) possible as government-backing is absent. Without requisite safeguards, stable coin networks at global scale may put consumers at risk.

  • Limiting market competition

But also from a competition point-of-view it might be very challenging to create a future level playing field. Stable coins may pose challenges for competition and anti-trust policies. Competition in financial markets may be endangered especially when stable coins are not interoperable. Tech giants could thereby use their networks to create monopolies to “shut out” competitors and monetize information, using proprietary access to data on customer transactions. And there is the risk of a potential and partial disintermediation of commercial banks if some depositors prefer holding stable coins.

  • Increased cyber risk

And there is the risk – caused by lack of transparency (anonymity) and clear regulation – of stable coins promoting illicit activities such as money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financing crimes. But it could also heighten data privacy and protection concerns, as the organisation behind a stable coin could rapidly become the ‘custodian’ of millions of users’ personal information.

Stable coins may negatively impact financial stability and monetary policy

Stable coins already pose a number of additional risks including credit and liquidity risk to the existing financial system. These may threaten  financial stability and hamper monetary policy and ultimately may harm real economic activity if not designed and regulated properly. This by increasing existing fragilities in the financial sector and facilitating the cross-border transmission of shocks. These impacts could be seriously magnified if stable coins are widely accepted and used as a means of payment on a global scale for general use.

Threat to financial stability

There are still many questions related to the implications of a widely used stablecoin for financial stability. This impact will greatly depend on the sort (design) of the stable coin and complexity of these arrangements as well as the scale of adoption. If stable coins achieve wide-scale usage, more serious financial stability issues may result.

  • Stable coin arrangements

The effect of a stable coin on financial stability, for example, would thereby be driven in part by how the stable coin is tied to an asset (if at all) and by the features of the asset itself. A stable coin tied one-to-one to an individual currency would have different (but less negative) implications than one tied to a basket of currencies.

A stable coin that is built on a permissioned network would have different (less) risk implications than a permissionless network, which may be more vulnerable to money laundering and terrorist financing risks. A stable coin used solely by commercial banks would have a different risk profile than one for consumer use.

  • Likelihood of bank runs

Giving the general public access to stable coins could pose a greater threat to financial stability (of the international payments system), by increasing the likelihood of a bank run in times of shocks. The impact on financial stability will be heavily determined by how stable coins are managed.

If risks are not addressed and managed adequately, the resulting liquidity, credit, market, or operational risks, could undermine confidence and trigger a run on bank deposits where users would all attempt to redeem their GSCs at the reference value. Such a scenario would be more likely if the stable coin issuer is not transparent about its reserve holdings or if the stable coin’s reporting lacks credibility. But also poor governance may result in the stable coin being vulnerable to runs or loss of confidence.

Hampering monetary policy

Global stable coins have also the potential to challenge monetary sovereignty and change the way monetary policy works. Stable coins could hamper monetary policy in a number of circumstances. Especially if they reach global scale they could have a very negative impact on the effectiveness of the  monetary policy. This will be most pronounced during periods of strains when there is a massive substitution of fiat currencies into stable coins.

  • Privatisation of money

Large scale use of stable coins could lead to further privatisation of money, out of the control of monetary authorities, and to frustrating trust in the existing monetary system. This could further negatively impact monetary policy effectiveness and ultimately have massive disruptive effects on the entire global financial ecosystem.

  • Real impact on monetary policy

The real impact on monetary policy will very much depend on how stable coins will be used: as a store of value, a means of payment or a unit of account. But also on how the stable coin is linked to the various underlying asset(s).

  • Store of value

If a stable coin is used as a store of value on a large scale, the effect of monetary policy on domestic interest rates and credit conditions could be weakened. This is especially the case in countries whose currencies are not part of the reserve assets.

If users were to hold stable coins permanently in deposit-like accounts, bank retail deposits might decline. This will increase bank dependence on wholesale funding and might exaggerate monetary policy transmission. This because wholesale deposits are generally more interest rate-sensitive than “sticky” retail deposits.

  • Currency substitution

By facilitating cross-border payments, a stable coin might increase cross-border capital mobility and the substitutability of domestic and foreign assets, affecting monetary policy transmission thereby amplifying the responsiveness of domestic interest rates to foreign rates and as a result underme domestic monetary control.

  • Dollarisation

The existence of stable coins as a safe haven during times of financial crisis could also encourage dollarisation. Via network effects, this could have a significant impact on monetary sovereignty through currency substitution leading to a loss of monetary autonomy. Central banks may lose monetary policy control, as financial systems become more exposed to exchange rate shocks, while the central bank is constrained in providing liquidity. This may have adverse effects on monetary policy effectiveness. As the monetary supply of stable coins cannot be controlled by any one party, it will negatively affect the menu of options available to central bankers in certain economic situations.

Some worry that, if stable coins are adopted on a wide enough scale, it could have a negative externality, or spill-over effect, on the economy as a whole. This may be amplified by potential uncertainty surrounding the ability of official authorities to provide oversight, backstop liquidity, and collaborate across borders

How to react: tackling the risks?

Stable coin networks at global scale are leading us to revisit questions over what form money can take, who or what can issue it, and how payments can be recorded and settled. While central bank money and commercial bank money are the foundations of the modern financial system, nonbank private “money” or assets also facilitate transactions among a network of users.

Regulators, central banks and monetary policy authorities would be confronted with a number of challenges. If stable coins may reach global scale, they are likely to become systemically important and concentrate risks. That however may hurt the safety, efficiency and integrity of the global financial system. For that reason strict regulations and monetary surveillance is of utmost importance.

“The more you move towards the core of the global payment system, the more likely you are to see central bank money because that is what provides stability.” “We care about financial stability and we have built a system which works very well … it has never failed.” Benoît Coeuré, director of BIS’ new innovation hub

Because stable coins and other cryptocurrencies are unlikely to be bound by physical borders, regulatory actions in one jurisdiction are unlikely to be fully effective without coordinated action elsewhere. The emergence of stable coins has raised important questions for regulators, central banks and other authorities worldwide how to react. They are now looking for ways how the various risks linked to stable coins could be tackled in a most effective way.

The challenges however will not only be creating an appropriate regulatory framework including consumer protection, but also measures to counter financial stability and monetary policy risks. Given the large differences how stable coins are organised and the role they might play, there is no one-solve-all-problems solution. Things to decide are: whether or not to restrict foreign-currency stablecoins; whether or not forbid stable coins unless there is a sufficient framework in place to ensure governance and risk management; ask for more interoperability between stable coins; risk management procedures in place by enforcing international standards etc.

  • Regulate stable coins like money market funds

Customer funds must be safe and protected from bank runs. This calls for legal clarity on what kind of financial instruments stablecoins represent. One approach would be to regulate stable coins like money market funds that guarantee fixed nominal returns, requiring providers to maintain sufficient liquidity and capital.

  • Access to Central Bank reserve accounts

Another way is getting central banks involved. They could offer stable coin providers access to their reserve accounts ( the safest and most liquid assets available), under strict conditions. This offers a blueprint for how central banks could partner with the private sector to offer the ‘digital cash of tomorrow’—called synthetic central bank digital currency (sCBDC). In the sCBDC model, which is a public-private partnership, central banks would focus on their core function: providing trust and efficiency. The private sector, as providers of stablecoins, would be left to satisfy the remaining steps under appropriate supervision and oversight, and to do what they do best: innovate and interact with customers.

  • Create own Central Bank Digital currency

The most extreme reaction of Central Banks would be to create their own central bank digital currency (CBDC), whose monetary issue is centralized in the hands of the bank. Proponents argue that central bank digital currencies would be a safer alternative to privately issued stable coins because they would be a direct liability of the central bank.

A more relevant question may be whether some intermediate solutions may be able to offer the safety and benefits of real-time digital payments based on sovereign currencies without necessitating radical transformation of the financial system.

 

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

 

 

Source

Blockchain and European payments: banks in the defensive mode

| 14-04-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

The European Banking Federation (EBF), the European Association of Co-operative Banks (EACB) and the European Savings and Retail Banking Group (ESBG) point out that the crisis has brought to the fore the importance of well-functioning payments services.

The three groups have put together their vision for payments in the EU over the next five years, as they “seek to meet changes sparked by a mix of evolving customer needs, regulatory action, technology and innovation, and increased competition”.

Top of the list of priorities is the importance of developing instant payments across the EU that allows for both the differentiation of EU companies and the reduction of dependency on the dominant non-EU payment card schemes.

But reading the document not one single word was mentioned about using  blockchain or distributed ledger technology. It seems banks are increasingly getting in the defensive mode worrying the disruptive impact of this technology on their business.

Some critical remarks

Looking into the report the focus is rather limited. It shows a rather isolated EU-oriented view. It does not take into account the new realities such as globalisation of the payments world, the upcoming of new technologies and the global role of organisations  such as Visa and MasterCard, but also the likes of Facebook and Google.
It is too much EU but above all too much euro-area focused, while not taking into account the cross border element especially towards non-euro EU countries.
The report also does not go into more detail towards the various technologies including Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and above all blockchain.

Present state of EU payments market

But let us first look at the present state of the EU payments market. And what blockchain could mean to improve. As EU banks you cannot deny the outside world. I agree, most European domestic payment systems are pretty efficient. But not where one has to transfer money cross-border, especially where it relates to non-euro countries.

Most established centralised payment systems were designed decades ago, in a completely different world. While they are considered to be reliant, secure and stable domestically i.e. inside individual EU countries, these centralized systems have not been able to catch up with the needs of our digital, open and hyper-connected world.

Banks have continued to use the old-style correspondent banking systems for international payments – despite their inherent weaknesses. Notably, these systems are expensive, slow, and complex. In the correspondent banking system, both the originating bank and the foreign bank retain their own ledgers, from which they make reconciliations and settlements. This may lead to a lack of transparency, but also make them vulnerable for hacks.

According to a SWIFT and EuroFinance joint survey, lack of payments traceability, invisibility on banking fees, and amount discrepancies are the key concerns in cross border payments. It can take days to clear traditional cross-border wire payments, which carry fees as high as 10%. According to a McKinsey Research, cross border-payments take 3–5 days, which is quite long for corporates seeking to receive money. In the event of a dispute or investigation, the duration can be longer.

Disruption

New technologies are revolutionizing the way we pay and transfer money all over the globe. With the advent of mobile banking, e-commerce, and digital wallets, banks have to rethink their correspondent banking system of making cross-border payments. Blockchain is another area that – if adopted in a more massive way – could majorly transform the global payment systems and disrupt banks, causing them to realign  or rethink their products.

SWIFT defensive stance

So it is not that strange banks are increasingly in the defensive. SWIFT is still the dominant payment-processing ecosystem with more than 11,000 banks. Blockchain, through its distributed ledger, however may disrupt SWIFT’s operations in the future. To neutralize the rapid adoption of blockchain in the cross-border payments industry, SWIFT developed a cloud solution called Global Payments Innovation (gpi) to connect all clients in the payment chain. Currently, gpi accounts for more than 55 percent of SWIFT cross-border payments. Half of these transactions are reaching the recipients within minutes, but all of them within 24 hours.

Although SWIFT plans to rely on common standards, core architecture, and APIs to be a leader in the industry, it is also slowly embracing blockchain technology. SWIFT has launched a proof-of-concept (PoC) trial with R3′s Corda platform, which is blockchain-powered, to initiate payments that then go to gpi.

How can blockchain improve payments?

Though blockchain is still in its early stages, this technology has a number of inherent characteristics  presenting a fundamentally new way to transfer information and value over digital networks.

This technology could play a huge and central role in payments, underpinning core market infrastructure as well as end-user products, as a source of efficiency, innovation and competitive advantage.

As it is slowly maturing, blockchain technology could gain the trust of banking institutions and adopted widely in the coming years. From large banks and enterprises optimizing global liquidity, to retail stores accepting payment in digital currencies, to new forms of customer identification for retail transactions, blockchain could permeat the payments landscape at an accelerated space.

New forms of payment rails could “blur the lines” between currencies and countries, while cryptography solutions like zero knowledge proof could shift paradigms in areas such as identity, compliance and data privacy.

What are the real benefits?

Blockchain is a promising technology for payment processing. The broad implications for payments, especially improving settlements’ times, removing the middleman and security of cross-border transactions are hard to ignore.

The ability to speed up the payments process, improve capabilities when it comes to cross-border payments, reducing fraud by using smart contracts and making the whole payment processes more efficient and transparent are all elements that may impact its future potential and use.

Efficiency

Blockchain’s primary feature is its efficiency. Because the core idea of a decentralised ledger technology (DLT) is to forego centralised institutions, paying on a blockchain is “as easy as clicking send.”  The distributed ledger facilitates the bilateral, immutable distribution of value with the assistance of a settlement agency. Blockchain, allows the sender and the receiver, as nodes in the network, to have a complete copy of the ledger. In such a scenario, there are no correspondent banks/intermediaries involved, eliminating any chances of manipulation. The results are no money transfer waiting periods or unnecessary third-party processing fees. Blockchain-based cryptocurrencies can be transferred (and recorded for auditing purposes) instantaneously across the world, increasing liquidity and efficiency in the markets.

Security/Safety

Another important feature of blockchain technology is safety. Blockchain allows for the safe transfer of money between different individuals, currencies and countries by securing all transactions on the network with cryptography. The crux of many of its purported benefits for the enterprise is its decentralized nature, which promotes visibility and makes it more difficult for data to be manipulated. The transactions are linked with previous transactions and are distributed to all the participants in the network. For a hacker to tamper with any transaction, he/she must alter all the previous ones, which is (almost) impossible. Additionally, the use of blockchain smart contracts can halt payments when agreed terms are violated.

Cost reduction

And blockchain may support real-time domestic and cross-border payments at lower costs compared to traditional payment services. Blockchain technology completely eliminates the need for intermediaries and facilitate a direct transfer over the platform, thereby eliminating foreign exchange fees while increasing speed of transfer. Instead of incurring these fees, blockchain allows customers to pay only a nominal fee or sometimes no fee at all.

The present state of blockchain adoption in payments

Of course, blockchain technology is still in their early ages and largely still immature. Blockchain payments are not (yet) mainstream and many banks and payment service providers are just testing it, trying to combine the so-called old monetary system with the new one (blockchain solution based values or solutions). Most institutions are still reluctant to embrace blockchain fully until there is broader support for it.

But what about Ripple?

A leading player in the blockchain payment world is Ripple. Its RippleNet blockchain platform facilitates transaction of global payments at a rapid speed, allows users (mostly small business) make payments across the globe and send and receive money in local currency, requiring lower capital amounts for cross-border payments. The company’s ledger technology secures, tracks and reconciles payments, so small businesses have a transparent history of all incoming and outgoing payments.

RippleNet has a product called xRapidthat is already providing low-cost liquidity to financial institutions responsible for facilitating cross-border payments. xRapid can facilitate the process without relying on mandatory pre-funded nostro accounts, as is the case in a correspondent banking system for the execution of cross-border payments, thereby lowering the cost of cross-border transactions. As a result, the transactions occur in a matter of minutes, saving time on recipients.

Currently, the network of banks and commercial platforms has grown to 365, and they are now able to resolve problems that delayed cross-border payments, such as missing data and compliance checks. As more banks join the network, payment delays will reduce importantly.

The Ripple payment system is still in strong competition with SWIFT but is super-fast and can settle a cross border transaction in a matter of few seconds where SWIFT takes more than 3 days at times. Ripple is much more cost effective as well.

Along with this also blockchain platform Corda R3 is helping financial institutions to settle payments.

From hype to more realism

The excitement about blockchain has subsided over the last couple of years. The blockchain hype is over and we are now in the trough of disillusionment, according to Garner’s Hypecycle. Lots of experiments and R&Ds have been taken place from start-ups to central banks, however no full scale working use case has been presented at the moment.

We now moved into a stage of “rational practicality”. However, that is not all bad for the further development of blockchain, as “in the trough is where the real work gets done”. The industry knows what is possible, but also is learning what is practical given the complexity of cross-border payments. Blockchain — assuming it is attached to relevant, pragmatic use cases — can add incremental value to a business or other organization.

Regulatory barriers

One of the primary barriers is the complex global regulatory framework surrounding money and its underlying infrastructure. Central banks, governments and regulatory bodies around the world have varying perspectives and attitudes towards blockchain and its implications to critical matters such as money supply, privacy and financial crime.

As a result, most payment-related innovations either get trapped in ‘proof-of-concept’ mode with limited options for global scale, or end up buried in complicated cross-jurisdiction approval processes. The question now is not will blockchain work, but rather how do we put it to work to create more efficiency in global payment systems and can we get regulatory bodies on-board.

What should banks do?

Inevitably, banks will have to re-evaluate and revamp their existing payment systems to meet the needs of their customers with or without blockchain. However, it is increasingly clear that the scale seems to be tipping towards blockchain given the various benefits including its transparency, speed, and cost of transactions. In the realm of cross-border payments, some financial institutions are already working with blockchain providers to give their customers fast, secure, and cheap services.

When applied correctly, it has the ability to significantly change the way organizations do business with one another. As the global payments ecosystem continues to transform in response to a rapidly shifting commerce landscape, we may see the number of blockchain applications in payments exponentially growing.

A growing number of financial institutions world-wide have reached the point where they recognize blockchain as something that’s not going away and realize that they have to be involved in it if they don’t want to be disrupted by other payments players that use blockchain to bypass slower-moving banking infrastructure.

So, European banks, if you can’t beat them, join them.

By the way, a joint effort of ECB and European banks in creating a European digital currency would be a great step forward.

 

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

 

 

Source

Blockchain and Corona virus: could it prevent future pandemics?

| 31-03-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

The sudden emergence and rapid but uncontrolled worldwide spread of the Corona virus shows us the failure of existing healthcare surveillance systems to timely handle public health emergencies.

Though improvements in healthcare surveillance have been realised, these still fall short in preventing pandemonium. Lack of necessary steps taken to ensure containment and tracking of the virus have aggravated the situation.

Blockchain technology is increasingly been mentioned as a tool to assist with various aspects of containing the outbreak. Could the use of blockchain in the health care industry help to prevent future pandemics?

Outdated health surveillance systems

Preventing, and controlling diseases that have epidemic potential is a major public health activity. Many surveillance systems are used to track potential new diseases and control existing diseases. Though governments are doing everything in their power to contain the spread of the Corona virus, their fight is hampered by difficulties in the timely sharing of information with local and international health enforcement agencies on the ground.

Unfortunately, many of these systems are outdated, hard to access, or inaccurate. China’s current disease surveillance system for instance is an updated version of a system that is five decades old. And there is the privacy and security issue when using centralised healthcare surveillance systems. Time however is of the essence when dealing with outbreaks of this sort of deadly diseases.

Main issues

Epidemiologists who study how diseases spread, are being faced with the task of gathering, verifying and cleaning data in an efficient manner.

Privacy and security issues, language barriers, the sheer distance between the geographical location of an outbreak, cultural differences, and many other factors are issues that slow the transmission and exchange of necessary information.

Non-optimal data management
There is the data management issue. Containing the Corona virus could come down to a question of data management. Gathering data, verifying that data, and then cleaning up that data however is far from optimal. Epidemiologists need high-quality data to model viruses; with models, they can provide governments with recommendations about how to contain the disease. But that data is hard to get or its integrity cannot be verified, thus of no use to epidemiologists.

Underreporting
As a result of that the current infection and death statistics are speculated to be much higher than reported. The coronavirus outbreak has raised concerns over the Chinese government underreporting the number of infected and deceased. This underreporting can be caused by many disruptions in the system, such as the lack of data transparency.

But also a shortage of testing kits reduces the number of confirmed cases, and deaths can be attributed to other causes. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know just how serious this outbreak really is without access to a secure, decentralized surveillance system.

Political Complications
And there is the issue of national centralised surveillance systems not talking cross-border. Diseases can spread quickly across political borders. Traditional systems run by governments can miss outbreaks because they happen across physical borders. A decentralized system is the fastest way to report outbreaks.

Lack of innovation in healthcare systems
In many countries healthcare surveillance systems lack innovations, caused by low investments in new technologies leading to less effective healthcare systems. This notwithstanding the upcoming of new technologies including artificial intelligence, big data management and blockchain.

Blockchain could be of help

The time to build borderless solutions based on decentralized technologies has come. Highlighting the need for numerous improvements in the health care sector, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology issued a Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap requesting ubiquitous, secure network infrastructure; verifiable identity and authentication of all participants; and consistent representation of authorization to access electronic health information.

Hereblockchain could offer ways to improve many public health activities associated with preventing and controlling diseases. Blockchain powered solutions could address and tackle various aspects of the issue. Blockchain technology has the ability to improve health, access to information, supply chains and many more.

These expectations are based on the key aspects of blockchain technology, such as decentralized management, immutable audit trails, data provenance, and robustness. Additionally, multiple nodes in a permissioned blockchain have the ability to share and report vital data instantly, while complying with data privacy and security regulation

Blockchain use cases

Blockchain could be used to improve a variety of health care-related processes, including record management, healthcare surveillance, tracking disease outbreaks, management crisis situations and many more.

Record management: single source of information
Containing virus should be looked at as a data management issue. The biggest opportunity for blockchain in the healthcare industry is as a single source of truth for the data provenance, as the whole world is fighting against this outbreak. It could be used for record management purposes, to manage real-time data and importantly, to ensure its integrity, while identifying and eliminate misinformation about the Corona virus.

In emergencies like these, there are high numbers of incoming data, “with not many hands on deck to manage the same”. With the use of blockchain, data collection will become automated and immutability of the ledger makes it impossible to alter any of the records.

By using blockchain technology one could be able to securely manage health records, ensuring interoperability without compromising patient privacy and security. Those records could include patients’ data, treatments given, and any progress detected. Blockchain will also make sure that data are archived and protected by any unauthorised access, but still keeping it available for the whole healthcare system.

It will enable users to see all the data and trends on the virus in real-time including all information about confirmed cases of infected, death toll, recoveries, etc. The exponential growth of connectivity and the access to the wealth of data it offers  would allow health officials to quickly track the spread of disease, giving vulnerable populations vital information. All this information can be used by research labs working on a vaccine.

Blockchain healthcare surveillance system
Blockchain can also be used for surveillance purposes. A blockchain healthcare surveillance system can provide the means to prevent and control future outbreaks. A permissioned blockchain surveillance system would allow local and national health agencies to access the surveillance data.

A global blockchain surveillance system could easily reach areas where connectivity is poor, and costs must be kept low. Local practitioners can receive real-time information on surrounding areas, regardless of governmental or political barriers. In addition, global organizations like the World Health Organization could access the data. Because the system is decentralized and secured through blockchain, data remains secure and multiple organizations can report the data.

Tracking infectious disease outbreaks
Blockchain could be used for tracking public health data surveillance, particularly for infectious disease outbreaks. Increasing transparency will result in more accurate reporting and more efficient responses. They would allow for rapid processing of data, enabling early detection of infections before they spread to the level of epidemics.

Blockchain can help develop treatments swiftly, and help with management when pandemics do occur. This could enable government agencies keep track the virus activity, of patients, suspected new cases, and more.

They could also use the blockchain to track down where the virus originated, probably It could enable doctors to review patients’ symptoms and monitor diagnostic data in real time, integrating patient history information. Information can be collected in a distributed way and have that information available to different parties, including authorities such as the WHO.

Management crisis situations
Blockchain technology can not only help in keeping track of the virus and outbreak activity. Blockchain could also be used to better manage pandemic situations and the dissemination of treatment. It could instantly alert the public about the Corona virus by global institutes like the World Health Organization.

It could instantly recommend a course of activity should an outbreak be detected. Using blockchain could enable to provide governments with recommendations about how to contain the virus. It would offer a platform where governments, medical professionals, health organizations, media, and all the concerned parties can update each other of the situation and prevent worsening of the same.

Securing medical supply chains
The blockchain could also be used for “track and tracing” of medical supply chains. Blockchain has already proven its success as a supply chain management tool in other industries. Blockchain-based platforms could be used to enable the review, recording and tracking of demand, supplies and logistics of epidemic prevention materials. As supply chains involve multiple parties (from donors and recipients, to warehousing and delivery logistics), the entire process of record and verification by each party is tamper-proof, while also allowing anyone to track the process.

It could help streamline medical supply-chains, ensuring that doctors and patients have access to the tools when they need them and preventing contaminated items from reaching stores. A blockchain-based system could ensure vaccines, testing equipment, and other relief efforts are sent to the right places at the right times and in the quantities needed, and have that recorded. Securing the supply chains of these valuable resources could have life-saving effects. Combined with a surveillance system, a blockchain supply management system could change the way the world responds to epidemics.

Prevent zoonotic diseases
Zoonotic diseases like Corona could be caught in animals before they make the jump to humans if veterinary field records were kept on a blockchain surveillance system. Because many animals are migratory – so not staying in the same area – a decentralized blockchain system would allow for greater collaboration and transparency across the world. Diseases could be “flagged” and eliminated in animal populations before they make the jump to humans.

China and blockchain

Chinese organizations are trying to implement blockchain-based solutions to combat the Corona virus and reduce its economic impact on the country. They have rolled out a number of applications for immediate and emergency use, to fight the spread of the corona virus in public institutions, hospitals, universities and the financial sector. These are touted as performing a variety of different functions.

These blockchain solutions are already being used by local authorities to manage identity information and donation platforms. Additionally, multiple countries world-wide are employing blockchain-based tools to track patients diagnosed with coronavirus and identify the people who might have been infected. The apps are designed to ensure people’s privacy, identity, and medical records using the blockchain against Corona virus and other medical conditions.

HashLog
One of the interesting applications is HashLog, a solution launched by Acoer, a developer of blockchain-enabled applications for public health and global health organizations, to fight against the deadly coronavirus.

The HashLog visualisation engine interacts in real-time with Hedera Hashgraph’s distributed ledger technology to ensure real-time logging and data visualization of the spread of the disease. With the help of public data from the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), Acoer’s Hashlog Dashboard is capable of providing real-time information for tracking this epidemic. For example, this application is tracing people traveling to and from the country, to pinpoint patients and prevent further infections.

HashLog allows for the real-time visualization of coronavirus data and trends. This includes the overall number of cases globally, rates of deaths and recovery per infections (where we have reliable data), cases filtered by country, as well as Google trends by interest and region on Corona virus.” Acoer’s CEO, Jim Nasr

This should help epidemiologists verify the integrity of records that have been uploaded to their analytics systems. Each transaction is recorded through a verified hash reference on Hedera’s ledger, meaning epidemiologists can trust data to be legitimate. This allows researchers, scientists and journalists to understand the spread of the coronavirus and its trends over time through visuals presented on Acoer’s HashLog dashboard.

IBM Food Trust
This is not the first time blockchain is being applied to track diseases. There have already been a number of initiatives using blockchain and distributed ledger technology to track the origins of food, for example. The IBM Food Trust has been using blockchain to help improve food safety by managing and conducting food tracings in order to identify sources of contamination for occurrences of Salmonella. By being able to identify the cause quickly and effectively, it is much easier to contain the problem and treat it at the source.

Blockchain preventing pandemics: not yet?

Presently, the authorities all over the world are trying their best to contain the Corona virus as it has shown the potential of turning into a pandemic. And that is where blockchain can help. We have seen that disease outbreaks can happen at any time, anywhere on the planet, with little or no warning. These are natural events that have occurred in the past and will re-occur in the future.

Blockchain will not prevent the emergence of new viruses itself. But what blockchain can do is create the first line of rapid defense through a network of connected devices whose only purpose is to remain alert about disease outbreaks. The use of blockchain can help prevent pandemics by enabling early detection of epidemics, fast-tracking drug trials, and impact management of outbreaks and treatment.

With easy access to such data, the containment of an outbreak becomes manageable and is of great help to the health authorities as well. This instant response capability can represent the difference between quick containment and global contagion.

While blockchain holds promise for the health industry, analyst warn a number of issues, including data standardisation, costs of operation and regulatory considerations, still need to be addressed before this technology is suitable for wide adoption. But with this serious Corona virus pandemic a number of these considerations could be solved rather quickly.

 

 

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

Blockchain consortia need good governance: but how?

| 24-03-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

Blockchain consortia are creating a massive hype in the market. Many enterprises are highly interested in this type of network willing to join these consortia in order to gain optimal benefits of this technology. However, there is still a large uncertainty among them how these consortia work and how they are governed.  Up till recently the focus was mainly on governance solutions for public blockchain platforms like Hyperledger and Ethereum. Consortium blockchain governance however will become as or even more important to enterprises than public blockchain governance because they will work with this level of governance on a daily basis.

People in the field are increasingly aware that consortium project blockchain governance need to address quite different issues from public blockchains. But what are the main governance issues enterprises should think about ? So let’s take a deeper dive.

What are blockchain consortia?

Before going into more detail in the governance issue, it is good to say that there is no universal sort of blockchain governance. First of it all it depends on the type of blockchain solution that companies can use. Here we can distinct in fact between three main types of blockchain systems: open or public, private or permissioned and consortium or federated blockchains. While the public and private variant are ‘pretty self-explanatory’, the consortium blockchain needs more nuancing.

Blockchain consortia are defined as a type of network where multiple organisations maintain the system  A group of companies thereby collaborate on advancing the state of blockchain technology adoption in the industry, establishing industry standards, drafting use cases, developing key infrastructure and also operating commercial blockchain platforms.

Consortium blockchains are in fact hybrid solutions, in-between public and private, i.e. between fully open, decentralized systems and fully centrally-controlled, thus taking the best of both worlds.  Instead of only one organization, multiple organizations take part in the consortium. As a result, every organization gets similar treatment. So, there’s no single entity ruling over the network.

Types of blockchain consortia

There is however not one uniform type of blockchain consortium. Basically we can distinct between three types at present: technology-focused, business-focused and dual-focused.

The first type of blockchain consortia is the technology-focused. These offer reusable blockchain platforms, solutions based on technical standards. Mainly these have multipurpose use cases. This type of blockchain consortium exists solely for the purpose of helping blockchain reach global recognition. Quorum (based on Ethereum), R3 Corda and Hyperledger have emerged as some of the most popular blockchain development platforms. Each is suited to different industries and types of solutions, and developers are working with them around the world.

The second type is pure business-focused. These tend to develop blockchain solutions for a specific business issue. Instead of offering open-source platforms, many of them go for commercial purposes only. While the majority of these consortia so far are from the financial sector, many other industries like supply finance, trade finance, life science, healthcare etc. are joining in to work on blockchain-based systems and reap such benefits as shared resources, decreased development time and increased communication. Examples include consortia like  Bankchain, We.Trade, Marco Polo, B3i etc.

The third one is dual-focused. Here, they focus on both technology and business when offering a platform or solution, combining the best of both worlds. So, in a way, they would offer an open-source platform suitable for any kind of solution but also commercial products as well.  An example of dual-focused consortium is R3.

In this blog I will focus mainly on the second and third type with from a blockchain governance point-of-view the dual-focused blockchain consortium being the most interesting.

Benefits of blockchain consortia

Joining such a blockchain consortium could bring enterprises a number of interesting benefits, including cost savings, shared (and lower) risks, build critical mass of adoption and offer influencing standards.

First of all such a blockchain industry consortium would help enterprises cut all the expenses quite impressively. Instead of each company building their own solution from scratch, by being part of a consortium, they can share the development costs and time with other organisations.

As these consortia are mainly suited for industrial purposes, enterprises can easily link these up with their existing network more efficiently than public or private blockchain. This can lead to shorter development times and economies of scale. This allows smaller organisations to take advantage of the same system as larger ones. Another significant aspect of this blockchain industry consortium is that they can give a lower transactional fee. As it is a more controlled environment, and only permissioned people can get in, it would be much more stable.

What is blockchain governance?

But what is governance in general and why is it important?  The term ‘governance’ is used in many ways. In the business environment it is often defined in the context of process and IT control. Governance is thereby a structure that every user or participant agrees to follow. It refers to all actions such as decision-making processes that are involved in creating, updating, and abandoning formal and informal rules of a system.

In the context of blockchain consortia we define governance as a set of rules that govern this partnership both organisational and operational. These rules focus on what is the subject of the regulation, who is involved, i.e. what are the roles and what are they responsible for, and, how will decisions be made? These rules can be code (e.g. smart contracts), laws (e.g. fees for malign actors), processes (what must be done when X happens), or responsibilities (who must do what).

Why is proper governance important for blockchain consortia?

One of the aims of governance is to establish a foundation of mutual trust, which allows companies to carry out their business processes using the blockchain solution. Its core purpose is to meet the user or participant’s needs with available resources as efficiently as possible and achieve the long-term sustainability of the structure. There are various reasons why good governance for blockchain consortia is urgently needed.

First of all: from an acceptance point of view.
As the size and complexity of blockchain have grown, better management calls for proper governance. Since the strategic value of the blockchain networks lies in its scaling, it is important to consider that an increasing network size correlates positively with an increase in coordination complexity. Hence, for the few high-potential applications in trade finance, insurance, supply chain and mobility services a proper establishment of sustainable governance principles for the deployment of a blockchain consortium is key.

Second: no one party can exert dominant control
Consortium blockchains have many of the same benefits of private blockchains. But there is something more. That is they could employ a group governance model over their network so no one party can exert dominant control over the others. This increases the trust of a consortium network significantly over a single entity private blockchain, while still maintaining the benefits of a private blockchain. Additionally, consortium blockchains are not restricted to only being visible to network members. Their transactions can be openly seen by the public, engendering increased trust.

Third: to solve the Coopetition Paradox
The strategic value of blockchain technology can only be realised through the respective adoption at scale. These blockchain consortia are thereby effectively obliged to address the so-called Coopetition Paradox through collaboration between natural competitors in a particular industry. The Coopetition Paradox forces blockchain consortia to break up fierce competition between industry rivals in order to access the strategic value of such a business network. Obviously, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this topic.

Fourth: as a mean to achieve efficient change
The biggest motivation behind Blockchain governance for blockchain consortia is the goal of efficient change. That means the ability to fix issues as fast as possible and change where change is needed. These issues can be of all kinds, including changes to blockchain parameters, the recovery of lost coins due to hacks.

Governance is especially needed in blockchains with enterprise or end-user use cases. Quick updates could enable enterprise and mass market end-user use cases.
An update/change that takes too much time could cause corporates to abandon the service or not participate in the consortium. Changes could also divide the community and lead to even more uncertainty and hesitation to participate. Conceptually, this is where centralized applications are advantageous.

Fifth: governance mitigates indirect dependence on incumbents
Another motivation to use blockchain governance in blockchain consortia is that it could mitigate indirect dependence on incumbents, such as the likes of Facebook, Amazon, Google that determine their own rules, such as the publicly criticized use of personal date. Publicly accessible and governable blockchains could mitigate that indirect dependence. Everybody who is interested in how those systems are set up, could purchase the respective tokens and suggest changes including changes in regards to how personal data is handled.

Sixth: Governance as a competitive advantage
A sixth but not final motivation is that it could improve competition. Given the fact that most blockchain projects are open-source, copying them is a waste of effort. Thus, the biggest competitive advantages for blockchain projects stem from the community’s size and speed of adaption. The more supporters a project has and the quicker the developers can react to issues and competitors, the greater the chances of survival.

What governance model for blockchain consortia?

Governance in blockchain consortia is quite different from that in pure public or private blockchains. A private blockchain is mostly controlled by normal IT governance, while the issue of specific blockchain governance only applies to open and permissioned platforms

Before enterprises can develop governance of the blockchain consortium, they first need to determine the business goals and business model of the blockchain project. So will the blockchain project operate as a service provider (so no direct customer contact) with a relatively limited number of participants, or will it act as a market participant, directly reaching the ultimate customer. The business model may also be affected by regulatory issues in the business.

Key factors to consider
When starting a blockchain consortium it is important to agree on a number of rules right at the outset, such as access to the platform and rules to perform activities. In the context of a permissioned blockchain solution used by a consortium business partner network, there remains the question of what exactly it is important to control.

In order to ensure the reliability, integrity and transparency of the solution, one needs to consider more than just goal-oriented governance issues (such as changes to data structure, codes and technology). One should also define the various stakeholders and their specific roles, as well as assess how to control the ecosystem. But also what entity should represent the blockchain consortium and what legal issues to consider

One should at least agree on a number of questions
There is no best practice here, so there are many open questions and a lot of unknown territory, such as who can decide what, and when?, how should decisions be made? (using people and committees, or using smart contracts?), which data should be visible to whom and what is allowed, what is not allowed, and what do people want?

Governance structure: issues
When thinking about the governance structure, one should address some main  issues. First of all one should ensure that all stakeholder groups in the blockchain eco-system are represented. One should also focus on implementation of the business model for the blockchain consortium (B2B or B2C). While determining intellectual property ownership and licensing as well as how to raise and spend funds to support the blockchain project

Shared values
The governance system should be based on a number of shared values. First of all there should be no dominance by a single player: i.e. as decentralised as possible.
The partnership and the distribution / exercise of power should be governed by rules. It should be an open value-added chain: i.e. – intellectual property is available to the consortium and can be exploited by its members. Relating to collaboration between companies, the process and data standards for the consortium should be defined together and used. And it should be a neutral platform, meaning that  the solution should be ‘open’ whereby all members should have access to the process, data and interface definitions.

Blockchain consortium governance architecture

Governance of blockchain consortia should be looked at on various layers. business network; protocol level and data level.

Business network layer
One of the key challenges of forming a blockchain consortia is balancing the interests of the initiators and the later-joiners. One should take account of the early investments made by the initiators as well as the incentivisation needs for later-joiners of blockchain consortia. This becomes even more crucial if the initiators are industry leaders or key competitors. In such cases, the coopetition paradox urges the operators of the business network to open up towards competitors to materialise the strategic value of the network for all contributors.

A centralized legal entity for the business network, a so-called network operating company governed by open governance principles is the preferred standard. The network operating company would be in charge for the development, administration and commercialisation of the blockchain application. This central entity approach enhances transparency within the business network and compliance with respective laws especially in the field of anti-trust and data protection. However, not every network member has similar interests. Some like to assume a more active role in the management and technical deployment of the network while others just simply want to use the blockchain application as a service through an API-access.

The organisational governance must account for the interests of both the equity holders and the community. The equity holders of the network operating company would elect the members of the board of directors representing their respective interests. The board itself appoints an executive management team in charge of the day-to-day operations of the business network and thereby the platform.

Non-equity holding customers should be given a voice by establishing a so-called community council. This body can be approached for consultation in case of key product development issues, changes to membership admission policies or protocol and data privacy related matters.

In order to ensure maximum reach and acceptance within the ecosystem, the platform should be open-sourced to the community. This means that basic access to the platform is granted for free, provided that the node operation is handled by the respective member. Next to that a tailor-made subscription-based API-access model could be offered.


Protocol layer
The initial protocol layer is normally defined by the initiators of the business network during the assessment undertaken in the proof-of-concept. In general, the framework used should be based on an open-source standard (such as Hyperledger Fabric, R3 Corda or Ethereum). This would facilitate the integration into legacy systems for the users. Furthermore, the above-mentioned blockchain frameworks also enjoy prominent support by companies operating in the ecosystem. Moreover, in case changes to the protocol become necessary, the network operating company can consult the community council for consent prior to its implementation.

Data layer
And there is the data layer. The blockchain application should be built upon the principle of privacy by design. That means that any data should only belong to its original owner and can only be transacted in agreement with the data owner. Moreover, the network operating company should act as the data controller and data processor in line with the applicable data protection laws, while the data storage would ideally be decentralised (e.g. point-to-point communication or IPFS), although the relevant solutions need to mature further.

Some concluding remarks

What has been written in this blog is just a starter. Blockchain governance is an ongoing discussion and will certainly involve a wide range of different opinions. There is no best-practice. Solutions described here for blockchain consortia governance are still far from complete.

The challenges of governance in blockchain consortia are very similar to those solved (and continuing to be solved) by open source software (OSS) projects, such as Linux and OpenStack. Blockchain project consortia should therefore look to the experience of OSS projects to take advantage of their experience (and avoid their errors).

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher