Featured Stories

How IBM is Helping Establish, Evolve and Extend Blockchain Networks

March 21, 2018
Written by:

The digital economy has made trust more important than ever. Without trust and transparency, vast amounts of value are trapped and siloed inside business processes and organizations. That’s why blockchain is quickly moving mainstream as an important new way to instill trust into transactions and entire business processes.

Interest in blockchain has never been greater, driving more focus on how it can be used in the enterprise. In fact, more than half of the world’s big corporations are either actively considering, or are in the process of, deploying blockchain technology. And two thirds of firms state they expect the technology to be integrated into their systems by the end of 2018, according to Juniper Research.

Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology that establishes a shared, non-alterable record of all the transactions that take place within a network and then enables permissioned parties access to trusted data in real time.

This business value and investment will only continue to increase with Gartner finding the business value of blockchain expected to grow to $176 billion by 2025 and $3 trillion by 2030 by improving business efficiency.*

But while awareness of blockchain’s benefits continues to increase, the Juniper research found there is also a danger that businesses underestimate the scale of internal and external disruption–such as interoperability and migration–when adopting blockchain in their businesses.

It is important to understand that not all blockchains are created equal. For broad business and government use, enterprise blockchains are needed which meet fundamental requirements. They must be:

  • Built on open standards
  • Scalable and enterprise secure
  • Developed with industry expertise by convening new ecosystems

We are laser focused on these fundamental requirements, and this commitment is the reason our clients are partnering with us across every industry. There is no other company offering such a broad range of resources for clients — from supporting the individual developer or startup that wants to begin building networks on their own, to consulting with organizations that want to transform their business with guidance from our services experts.

To support clients at every stage in their journey, today we’re launching three new consulting services offerings and the IBM Blockchain Platform Starter Plan, an inaugural, low-cost plan for clients, developers, and startups to quickly develop, operate, and govern networks on the IBM Blockchain Platform.

New Blockchain Services Offerings

With more than 1,500 dedicated blockchain experts, and the full backing of many more across IBM, we’ve undertaken more than 400 blockchain projects representing the most mature blockchain business consulting practice to date.

Based on hundreds of projects across industries such as retail, banking and financial services, transportation, government, healthcare, media, supply chain and logistics, IBM Blockchain Services has developed methodologies and practice models to support all types of organizations at different phases of the blockchain adoption journey. This varies from establishing a blockchain network, to evolving to a multi-institution production network, or extending an established network to additional members and adding new applications.

For example, AIG is working with IBM to create the first “smart contract” multinational insurance policy providing the global finance and insurance corporation with full transparency to its master and local policies, including premiums, payments and policy issuance.  And Northern Trust, a multinational wealth and asset management firm, is another client moving beyond their existing network and leading in innovation as one of the first to host both a regulator and auditor on their blockchain networks, providing real-time insight and transparency to fund managers and investors, as well as allowing regulatory access when required.

Today’s new services we are announcing will provide the right consulting expertise and technologies to support the adoption of blockchain throughout the maturity of the network including:

  • Blockchain Starter Services – helps organizations understand their key challenges and prioritize appropriate business use case for blockchain. This combines advisory services, business value design, and the rapid development of a minimum viable network in 12 weeks or less.
  • Blockchain Acceleration Services – works to commercialize networks and produce tangible business outcomes by providing the essential governance and commercial models, systems integration, and process reengineering to help entire industries address specific business challenges.
  • Blockchain Innovation Services – business innovation services provide the consulting and technical expertise to create new applications and business models on top of established networks. It also works to combine other advanced technologies such as AI, automation, IoT and cloud to extend blockchain into new business use cases and ecosystems.

These new services are underpinned by IBM’s Design Thinking methodology providing a unique approach to solving business problems with greater efficiency.

Beta Launch of IBM Blockchain Platform Starter Plan

Just as we are accelerating our enterprise clients’ capabilities to start their blockchain journeys, there has been an uptick in job openings for blockchain developers, ranking second among the top 20 fastest-growing job skills by Upwork last year. Job postings for workers with blockchain development skills have more than doubled since 2016.

Keeping with our focus to help our clients get started, we know that enterprises, startups, developers and even students that want to begin quickly building their own blockchain networks want an entry point as well. For this we have created the IBM Blockchain Platform Starter Plan, which is the easiest way to get started.

The plan provides a low-cost entry point ideally suited for pilot projects, early and iterative development, and startups that want to build new solutions on the IBM Blockchain Platform which currently has 250 active blockchain networks. IBM Blockchain Platform Starter Plan is currently in beta and provides the same experience as the production ready IBM Blockchain Platform enterprise plan, plus a quickstart network configuration, sample apps and Hyperledger Fabric 1.1 and Composer which make it easy to develop, govern and operate a blockchain network in minutes.

Organizations or developers of all sizes who are interested in permissioned blockchain can sign up here to participate in the IBM Blockchain Platform Starter Plan beta program.

Additionally, IBM Blockchain Ecosystem initiatives include a Digital Mentorship program, no-cost access to the platform, and a collaboration with MState, a blockchain growth lab focused on scaling early stage, enterprise focused start-ups. The Founder’s Handbook provides best practice experience for how to convene and govern a network.

To support the increasing demand for a skilled technical workforce trained in blockchain, IBM is sharing its blockchain expertise by provide education and network access with as many as 1,000 universities in the IBM Academic Initiative. For self-guided learners, there is the IBM Blockchain developer program available on Coursera where nearly 20,000 active learners are already enrolled.

Next Steps

The blockchain hype is here and though some organizations are realizing the immense value these ecosystems and networks can bring to their businesses functions, it is important to choose the right problems to solve with the technology.

Beyond the dramatic headlines, the real news is how many organizations are realizing the immense value of blockchain in the enterprise. By applying blockchain to transform core processes, new ecosystems and networks are forming.

For example, through we.Trade, nine of Europe’s largest banks are working with IBM to build and host a new trade finance platform designed to simplify and facilitate domestic and cross-border trade for small and medium enterprises in Europe, while helping to increase overall trade transaction transparency.

IBM Food Trust is being used by a collaboration among 10 food producers and retailers — Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart, to enhance food tracking, traceability and safety and to achieve greater transparency across the food supply chain.

Maersk and IBM are forming a joint venture to use blockchain technology to help digitize, manage and track the paper trail of tens of millions of shipping containers across the world by digitizing the supply chain process from end-to-end to enhance transparency and the highly secure sharing of information among trading partners.

With these new services underpinned by the IBM Blockchain Platform, we will help many more organizations embrace and adopt enterprise blockchains to transform their industries.

This story first appears on IBM Think Blog