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It’s time to shift focus from the internet and ask: ‘What’s our blockchain strategy?’

JON WALSH: "The blockchain project en masse only really started in 2016… how many internet companies from 1996 were still in existence in 2002? And how many of those are still going today? Not many, right?"

“The Blockchain experiment has failed!” “Decentralisation is a ridiculous idea.” “No one needs crypto or Blockchain” – this is pretty much the message we’ve heard from certain tech and financial commentators over the past month.

Time to pack up and go home… let’s just stay perfectly still and keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing all this time ‘cos it’s not that broken

Because crypto prices have fallen from their very heady heights of January 2018 and not only failed to regain them but continued to fall further after months of nothingness sideways movement, it must surely prove that blockchain is just a passing fad, and the Tamagotchi of our day. This is simply untrue and has no grounding in the reality of how it really is.

This is precisely why we need more grounded education and understanding, and less hype.

Same old statements

I’m certain I can remember similar commentators making the same sort of statements about the internet between May 2000 and sometime in late 2002/2003 – “It’s all a fad.” “People aren’t going to buy clothes online.” “The internet is just a place for geeks and Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts”.

Although the naysayers are far from right, when you delve into what they are saying and strip away their overarching negativity, there is some validity to what they have said, and babies and bathwater and all that. There are just too many tokens that are simply not needed, have no real value, should never have been given an environment where they could be gambled on by naive investors.

The blockchain project en masse only really started in 2016… how many internet companies from 1996 were still in existence in 2002? And how many of those are still going today? Not many, right? And given that you’re reading this on an internet enabled device, the internet ‘project’ hasn’t failed. Few of us would have envisaged back in 2006, that the internet ‘project’ would be so dominated by three companies (four if you include Netflix), but it’s obvious that the internet has seriously transformed the world, and now we use the internet without even realising (Alexa! What does irony mean?).

Under wraps

What you may not know is that right now, across Europe and the rest of the world, there are blockchain projects being worked on under wraps. I posit that there isn’t a single major industry today that doesn’t have organisations in it working on how blockchain or DLT can bring trust to an opaque supply chain, reduce reliance on outdated and unnecessary intermediaries, be able to check on the provenance and origination for any of their products. Many of these projects will fail, but the learnings from them will bring multiple iterations that will eventually allow blockchain do what it says on the tin, and with the same ease that checking your email or online banking is today. Would we really have had Google if we hadn’t had Altavista?

So why are these projects undercover? The truth is they can’t guarantee success and don’t want to be embarrassed by making a big fanfare only for it to fizzle out later on leading to ridicule and derision by certain corners of their own industry trade press. Many will fail and that’s just fine, but there will be some that are deemed successful as ‘proof of concepts’ and will be fully implemented. That’s exciting!

Intellectual resources

I’m willing to bet a few satoshis that come conference season 2019 we will start to hear about some of the successful blockchain projects that will be emerging from these industries. What these successful projects enable is for other organisations or bodies to start throwing their engineering and intellectual resources behind ideas they may have been considering. These companies will realise that blockchain has the potential to be the most transformative technology we have had since the internet, and start to knuckle down on generating their own blockchain initiatives.

If you are an Innovation Director, regardless of private, public or third sector, and you aren’t seeking external support for your blockchain strategy, you’re going to get left behind. True, not all your answers are going to be found through going to the various blockchain conferences and events, that seem to be a weekly occurrence right now. There is still too much hype and hyperbole at these events as they seem to more often than not be a forum for shilling various projects – including the various panels I’ve seen over the past year or so.

To sum up, the value of BTC (or the wider crypto market) has little bearing on how real-world  companies are considering utilising blockchain as a very real part of their business strategy. The 1996 question that companies were asking of themselves of “What is our internet strategy?” has been updated for 2018 as: “What is our blockchain strategy?”

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