Network Gears Image by Gerd Altmann from PixabayI have been writing, as well as assembling information, on blockchain for almost 6 years. Some 950 pieces – and almost a million words – later, I am going to cease.

That said, I have some specific reflections – mostly disappointment – below.

Blockchain’s lack of coalescence

The first is that blockchain as an ‘industry’ or ‘focal point’ has never really coalesced. Compare blockchain with, say, ERP. There has not been a consistent evolution of significant players over the past 5+ years.

This has manifested itself in a constant turnover of people and companies offering ‘the world’ but who rarely lasted more than a year or two. Even IBM, with all its financial and technological firepower, has swung from major enthusiasm to what is probably despair (see Tradelens below).

From an analyst position, this was frustrating. It has meant much churn with little depth and few long-term or dependable results.

TradeLens

TradeLens was the initiative of Maersk and IBM. The concept was high flying and seemingly wholly relevant. It wanted to use blockchain to link shippers, finance houses, authorities (for example, customs and tax regimes), ports and more with customers at the start and end of supply chains to establish a global simplification as well as authentication for those supply chains.

When CMA CGM and MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) integrated onto TradeLens, the digital platform running on IBM Cloud/IBM Blockchain, it seemed all the world’s major shippers were on board. Yet, in an announcement in late 2022, IBM and Maersk declared: “unfortunately, while we successfully developed a viable platform, the need for full global industry collaboration has not been achieved. As a result, TradeLens has not reached the level of commercial viability necessary to continue work and meet the financial expectations as an independent business.” So ends that supply chain dream.

ASX

ASX, the Australian Stock Exchange, was early into the finance sector’s interest in blockchain. It saw blockchain as the way to replace its Clearing House Electronic Subregister System (CHESS).

Again, in late 2022, ASX terminated its blockchain interest – taking a financial hit of circa A$250M. “ASX pulled the plug on a seven-year project to replace the ageing CHESS system – which transfers ownership and manages payment for equities – with distributed ledger technology known as blockchain.” A big, and expensive, disappointment.

Where blockchain, perhaps, should or will be

In contrast, within other financial institutions, blockchain has appeared to be going strong. One example: is Partior, the JP Morgan, DBS blockchain payment system.

Partior, and similar initiatives, seem to be different to TradeLens. They are private rather than open initiatives that appear to be specific financial institutions seeking to gain an opportunity for themselves while offering a service that has value for others. Whether this is possible remains open (though, arguably, SWIFT represents more of a TradeLens than Partior ‘equivalent’).

Blockchain and Triple Entry Bookkeeping

On a personal level this represents the greatest disappointment. Triple-entry accounting is an accounting method for which a third component is added to the debit and credit accounting system. Despite valiant work by several academic institutions, it has not taken off in any meaningful business way.

When first encountered, the ‘seemingly’ obvious beneficiaries were ERP vendors with their large numbers of customers. Conceptually, triple-entry accounting exploiting blockchain’s authenticity and reliability between business was there for implementing. But no. For whatever reasons, ERP vendors have mostly opted to steer clear. Triple-entry accounting, though potentially so useful, has made little progress.

Enterprise Times: what does this mean?

Blockchain will likely be able to ‘separate from’ the cryptocurrency scandals. In any case, crypto will still need blockchain to be able to survive.

Where blockchain as a technology goes next is rather less clear. As indicated above, ‘broad spectrum’ blockchain seems to be at a dead end. Even digital currency proponents do not necessarily envision blockchain as the answer. Instead, blockchain progress may have to succeed within institutions (especially financial ones) for internal purposes before any future breakout into the wider environment can occur.

 

 

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Charles Brett is a business/technology analyst consultant. His specialist areas include enterprise software, blockchain and enterprise mobility tech (including metering). Specific industry sectors of interest and experience include finance (especially systems supporting wholesale finance), telecommunications and energy. Charles has spoken at multiple industry conferences, has written for numerous publications (including the London Times and the Financial Times). He was the General Chair of the bi-annual High Performance Systems Workshop, 2005. In addition he is an author and novelist. His Technology books include: Making the Most of Mobility Vol I (eBook, 2012); Explaining iTunes, iPhones and iPads for Windows Users (eBook, 2011); 5 Axes of Business Application Integration (2004). His published novels, in the Corruption Series, include: The HolyPhone Confessional Crisis, Corruption’s Price: A Spanish Deceit and Virginity Despoiled. The fourth in The Corruption Series - Resurrection - has is now available. Charles has a B.A. and M.A in Modern History from the University of Oxford. He has lived or worked in Italy, Abu Dhabi, South Africa, California and New York, Spain, Israel, Estonia and Cyprus.

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