Staying Alive: Why the World of Enterprise Blockchain Has Turned to Collaborations
Enterprise blockchain isn’t dead, but survival has meant more collaboration and some smart pivots.
That was the prevailing sentiment in the enterprise-focused corners of this week’s Consensus: Distributed conference.
Back in 2015, a large amount of hype was generated as whole industries, starting with finance, began espousing the technology behind bitcoin, which would transform business processes and herald a global technological upgrade.
A recalibration of expectation followed as the technology entered Gartner’s infamous trough of disillusionment. There was also a narrowing down of the space into three quite separate enterprise-focused blockchain networks: R3 Corda, Hyperledger and enterprise Ethereum.
But these days, we are starting to see players putting their tribal instincts aside – often by necessity.
For instance, Kaleido, the blockchain cloud service backed by ConsenSys, revealed a partnership Tuesday with R3 to run on the latter’s Corda network. Enterprise Ethereum and R3 Corda have always been rivals and such a collaboration would have been unthinkable a year ago. (Tuesday’s reporting also revealed Kaleido had been spun out of the ConsenSys mothership in early April.)
It’s no secret ConsenSys has been undergoing cuts, including being forced to shutter operations in the Philippines late last year. That’s where Kaleido was involved in the i2i payments and remittance project with UnionBank.
R3 does not miss an opportunity and could now be in the frame to poach the i2i project from Ethereum. Asked if this was the plan during a workshop at Consensus: Distributed, R3 co-founder Todd MacDonald admitted he liked the i2i project but would not be drawn further.
Kaleido CEO Steve Cerveny went on to say the i2i project was “alive and well.”
The successful pivot
Interoperability is a concept often spoken of as though it’s a mountain top on some distant horizon.
However, Hyperledger, the Linux Foundation’s blockchain factory, announced this week a new “DLT integration protocol” called Cactus, a pluggable way of connecting multiple blockchain ledgers, including Hyperledger Besu, Hyperledger Fabric, Corda and Quorum.
Hyperledger Executive Director Brian Behlendorf commented that smaller firms might do better by switching away from building their own ledgers and focus instead on creating software that will run across other blockchains.
Take a lesson from seminal blockchain firm Digital Asset, Behlendorf said, which has successfully pivoted with the DAML smart contract language that runs across multiple systems.
“I suspect a lot of these companies, especially the smaller ones that are less flush with cash – and frankly who isn’t these days – will probably follow moves like Digital Asset has made,” Behlendorf said in an interview.
A similar approach has been taken by Skuchain, as an early player in the trade finance blockchain space. Skuchain has teamed up with the Bankers Association for Finance and Trade (BAFT) to create a new digital standard, the Distributed Ledger Payment Commitment (DLPC). The new DLPC standard is now finding its feet on Corda following a deal with R3 last month.
Skuchain was on a panel at Consensus to showcase some $50 million worth of COVID-19 relief PPE consignments to the U.S. that have been shunted across its platform with HSBC. Asked if this meant Skuchain was now interoperating with R3’s other trade finance networks such as the multi-bank consortium Marco Polo, Skuchain founder Srinivasan Sriram said, “Not quite yet.”
Mastercard and Libra
Mastercard was also at Consensus, showing off its own enterprise blockchain chops and exploring ways to leverage its vast reach into the retail sector. The card company’s blockchain bid: a food track-and-trace platform built by Envisible and Wholechain.
Mastercard spun up its own blockchain solution rather than use something from Hyperledger or a variation of Ethereum, demonstrating a retrenchment towards more of a “can do” attitude.
On the subject of leaving the Libra Association last October, Mastercard Labs EVP Ken Moore said the company “is keeping a close eye” on the progress of the Libra project as it enters a new phase of regulatory appeasement.
“We just have to be careful how our brand is perceived by global regulators,” Moore said, suggesting that rejoining Libra was not out of the question.
Other enterprise highlights at Consensus included the pairing of platform giant Salesforce with platform giant killer Dfinity.
Dfinity CEO Dominic Williams wants to tear up the enterprise playbook and start over with an Internet Computer protocol, reminiscent of the early “world computer” ambitions of the Ethereum Foundation.
Dfinity, which created in January an open version of LinkedIn called LinkedUp, has also been engineering “Sales Machine,” a completely decentralized version of Salesforce – a company Williams referred to as a “ravenous monopoly.”
Adam Caplan, Salesforce’s blockchain and emerging technology lead, kept a cool head, saying the tech giant was sticking to its mission of innovating on behalf of its 150,000 customers.
Also looking to shake up big business: John Wolpert of ConsenSys and Paul Brody of EY’s interesting Baseline protocol, which uses the public Ethereum blockchain as an immutable shared record of big companies’ procurement efforts.
Brody pointed out that enterprise blockchains have not scaled well because nobody wants to join someone else’s private network. Most enterprise blockchain efforts have an average of 1.5 members, he said. Another data point on consortiums being a particularly human problem.