May 27, 2016

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Triaging BlockChain Investments - Part 1

Hype is a built-in feature of business technology.

Sometimes, technology impact on business is minimal; Apple releases a new watch, Google designs computerized eyeglasses, Microsoft’s Windows 8.

Sometimes, technology goes unrecognized and then changes the world; the impact of Google’s search engine, iTunes network effect, the rise of the mobile.

Often, the technology comes from established companies recognized for innovation: the Apple iPhone. Just as often, the technology comes from a garage and a drop out University kid: Facebook.

These high-profile successes colliding with an age of government-supported global entrepreneurship have caused technologists to be more sensitive than ever to how technology can literally change the world overnight.

As a result, there is a renewed and vigorous interest in technologies from hot startups. So much so, that the number is impossible to curate organically - a methodology has to be installed.

BlockChain's Activity

BlockChain is driving tremendous activity because it's such a fundamental solution to many business problems intersected by a workable technology.

BlockChain is viewed as game-changing; the Economist publishes it on their front page, the FT regularly features high-profile BlockChain figures and 40 banks join a consortium to prepare themselves.

But here’s the reality: no-one knows how to use it yet.

It’s so early that it hasn’t even hit the Technology Adoption Lifecycle. It’s at that part right at the beginning where the technology exists but doesn’t have a clear, unambiguous proposition for even the most enthusiastic early innovators agree with.

Regardless of sector or industry, whether it’s in the payments space, insurance contracts, bond issuances, trade finance documentation, the world really hasn’t said ‘this is what we’re looking for’.

It may be obvious that it’s revolutionary - and it’s easy to create applications for the BlockChain, theoretically. It’s such a fundamental improvement - trusting computers to tell the truth where human intervention is impossible - that it’s actually difficult not to fall over and land on a viable BlockChain application if you ignore the retrofit problems an organization has.

The result of this paradigm shift means that companies are awash with opportunity. Having too many decisions to make is worse than having none. Cash is being thrown at the technology; new jobs are created to explore the space, large companies announce investments into startups, intra-preneurs and senior managers fund proof-of-concepts.

Given this situation, if the company wanting to use BlockChain is to be successful then the onslaught of interest has to be managed. The ideas flowing from all parts of the business are generating a large number of potential applications and having some way of sifting through these to determine potential winners is necessary to stem losses placed in poorer investments.

Right Tool for the Job

Large organizations have large sets of problems. Collecting the best minds together to solve these problems generates a large set of use cases where BlockChain technology may be appropriate.

However, BlockChain is not the only technology that can solve a problem, there are more mature and stable solutions out there. For example, a shared database can be used instead of a distributed ledger and public key cryptography can be used to sign an email to guarantee the sender’s identity.

How is BlockChain determined to be the most effective technology; to quickly implement at low risk and low cost?

One way is to define a methodology that applies various tests of applicability of the technology to the use case being examined.

The methodology contains a series of factors that need to be identified which indicate a good fit for the use of BlockChain. These factors can be applied quickly to the use case to determine potentiality that can then be followed up with a deeper investigation. I will cover more of these factors in the next blog