IBM today announced a program designed to speed up the development of blockchain-based applications for business.
Blockchain technology — which enables secure, decentralized recording of information — has been picking up interest over the past year or two for the variety of important applications it could support. In the finance world, it can reliably and securely record transactions; in manufacturing, it can aid product recalls by keeping a record of the full supply chain of a product; in shipping, it can record the temperatures of medicines or perishables during transport to ensure they stay within contracted ranges; in public and corporate elections, it could confidentially but reliably record votes to vastly improve confidence in a fair outcome; and in health care, clear, unalterable records would cut down on billing and patient identity fraud.
It’s a powerful breed of technology with enormous potential, and in addition to the most well-known blockchains, Bitcoin and Ethereum, many more public blockchains have recently emerged (and CoinMarketCap currently lists 710 companies with their own cryptocurrencies).
IBM debuted its own blockchain earlier this year, called simply IBM Blockchain, and the company is clearly hoping to play a central role in the coming world of business blockchain apps. The company has been working on a number of blockchain partnerships since it launched its offering in February, but its formal announcement today of a “blockchain ecosystem,” open to any company interested in developing blockchain apps, is a big move to mark itself as the go-to business blockchain.
The ecosystem promises to offer route-to-market guidance and mentorship for startups building blockchain apps — and it offers them a place to market their apps on IBM Marketplace, forming a sort of blockchain “app store.” Enterprise developers and systems integrators can join the ecosystem, too, for access to tools, advice, and community. “IBM will provide education and tools to reduce the time required to go from idea to execution. IBM blockchain experts will hold ‘office hours’ via the Hyperledger Fabric Slack channel providing support to developers and help with troubleshooting,” the company said in its release. The company will also offer code libraries, smart contract templates, and other tools.
It’s very early days for blockchain technology, with adoption still quite low, but it’s clear that IBM hears the clock ticking on the opportunity here. Intel is another big, trusted name moving quickly to build out business blockchain solutions.
IBM Blockchain is based on the Hyperledger Project, an open source collaboration of 100 member companies (including Intel, IBM, J.P. Morgan, Hitachi, Cisco, VMware, and Fujitsu, to name a few) focused on developing blockchain tech specifically for business use. Hyperledger-based blockchains differ from well-known public blockchains such as Bitcoin and Ethereum in a few key ways. On the Bitcoin blockchain, for example, all transactions are anonymous, but anyone in the public can view the amounts and movements of those transactions. On a Hyperledger-based blockchain, such as IBM’s, users have known identities, and each application can define its own set of permissions to govern who can view which transactions.
“The future growth and adoption of blockchain is reliant upon building a strong ecosystem. Business networks will only reach critical mass when innovators, industry experts and infrastructure providers come together in new ways to reinvent how business transactions happen,” said Bridget Van Kralingen, senior vice president, IBM Industry Platforms. “The growing maturity of the Hyperledger Project code is a major milestone. That’s why IBM is investing to help developers accelerate the creation of blockchain networks by providing an environment where these players can work together.”
A number of startups have already joined IBM’s ecosystem. Here are a few examples of participants listed on today’s press release:
- Everledger is a UK-based startup using IBM Blockchain to authenticate and trace the origin of high-value and luxury goods, such as diamonds and wine, that are authenticated by trusted players like certificate houses.
- Gliding Eagle is a California-based company providing a cloud and mobile based technology system offering transparency and authenticity in tracking individual products from the producer to the end consumer, anywhere in the world.
- The Hive is a Palo Alto-based early-stage fund and venture studio focused on applications of AI and big data with a strong blockchain technology portfolio across fintech, cyber-security, industrial Internet and compliance. The Hive is actively co-creating ventures within IBM’s blockchain ecosystem by collaborating with entrepreneurs.
- Loyyal is using blockchain and smart contract technology to create interoperable loyalty and rewards infrastructure to address a highly fragmented industry, and offer multiple sectors an innovative way to incentivize customer behavior.
- Sensify Security is a Palo Alto-based IoT security startup that builds higher resistance to cyber-weapons by enabling operators to enforce access control in a decentralized manner within their operating environments. Its tamper-resistant propagation of security services to gateway-based points of enforcement offers operators centralized control, policy management, and compliance.
- Skuchain is a Silicon Valley startup building a blockchain-based platform for collaborative commerce called Brackets. Skuchain is demonstrating the potential of verifiable information on Hyperledger Fabric to eliminate supply chain friction in use cases ranging from trade finance to working capital to item level authenticity.