Billed as having the same disruption potential as the web, Blockchain is described as “trusted third party removal technology”.
For these reasons, many companies whose very nature is to act as trusted third parties (banks, insurance companies, notaries, etc.) have received from their management the injunction to take an interest in Blockchain. In itself, this is excellent news: the United States are already two years ahead of France, and anticipating this major technological change is a necessary precaution.
Where the shoe pinch is that many initiatives are launched in spite of common sense, and one can sometimes wonder if the motivations which underlie them do not relate more to communication and “blockchainwashing” (to l image of “greenwashing”) than of business logic.
- Existence of simpler solutions. The blockchain is sometimes implemented to solve problems that would be satisfied with very simple solutions: for example, when the problem is above all a process problem that does not require data security. Remember that excellent electronic certification solutions with time stamps have been in existence for a few years and do not require resorting to the complexity of a blockchain (for example Certinomis, – developed by La Poste).
- Immutability is not suitable for all business scenarios. Business logic is sometimes omitted by the teams responsible for identifying use cases: David Treat, – Director at Accenture on blockchain issues insists on a recent forum, on the need to be able to modify data in certain business contexts (fraud, entry error, etc.) Why set constraints as long as the regulator does not impose them…?Accenture also announced last week have filed a patent for a technique of publishing private blockchains by a central authority. This announcement received a lot of criticism from the community which considers that it amounts to qualifying as blockchain a shared but centralized database …
- Transparency is not for everyone. Many players are reluctant to work on a public blockchain (Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc.) because they do not want their data to be publicly visible. This is particularly the case of the banking sector, as pointed out in a recent article in Financial Times, “Banks find blockchain hard to put into practice”. They are therefore turning to solutions based on private blockchains. However, a private blockchain only offers real security if it has enough participants so that the risk of a majority group of them acting together to falsify certain data is almost zero.
- Collaborating with its competitors is long and difficult. Building a private blockchain requires agreeing on operating procedures with a sufficiently large number of players, often competitors. Building a consortium is a difficult task that requires real talents in diplomacy and leadership. In this regard, welcome the initiative of the CDC, with the creation of the BChain which now brings together around twenty players and has launched its first case studies. However, as long as the consortium does not share private data between its participants, the risk is to remain on experience sharing and external communication.
The real challenge is to enter into a dynamic of open innovation between competing companies, which requires very strong managerial will.
There are therefore few real blockchain initiatives in France, and there are many more announcement effects than real “Proof of Concept”.
To avoid a drift towards blockchainwashing, which would give the illusion of innovation while France’s lag behind the United States is widening, a number of initiatives must be put in place:
- First of all, it is necessary to educate leaders over time. Indeed, it must be recognized, there are few members of the management teams of large groups who have really understood the blockchain. And that’s quite normal, because the subject is extremely complex, especially for those who do not have a technical background. It takes time and interactions with experts to be able to assimilate it. Many groups offer a half-day of training for their top management on an ad hoc basis. This allows participants to acquire a superficial varnish, but education must be done over time, not to make them experts, but so that they are really able to understand the impact of the blockchain on their profession. From this point of view, the launch of MOOCs is an interesting initiative. These MOOCs cannot however replace face-to-face, which allows you to test your understanding and start developing business scenarios during collective brainstorms.
- At the same time, large groups must get closer to start-ups who can innovate in a much faster and more radical way than them (see the famous innovation dilemma). Today, most blockchain investments are indeed made internally, while investments in start-ups are struggling to reach one million euros this year. In comparison, investments in start-ups in the United States alone amount to one billion euros for 2015, and certainly more in 2016. Like any early stage investment, these are eminently risky, but they are a unique way to understand the issues from the inside, without relying on consultants who are often tempted to push artificial use cases, either by misunderstanding their client’s business, or by business logic.
Ex-Ubisoft, Google and entrepreneur, Virginie gretz is passionate about blockchain trying to make the subject as understandable as possible for newbies.