An opportunity to attend a 2-day blockchain workshop, organized by Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA, in late June, provided a great insight on the need for a dedicated blockchain working group and the kind of standards such a group should address. The outcome of this workshop as shared here, could shape a remarkable era in which blockchain technology will re-order how we manage trust without a central authentication authority for transactions in areas as diverse as banking, trading, education, music, real estate, healthcare, government services and even ride sharing.
So how massive is the impact of blockchain likely to be? Late last year, when reporting the first securities transaction processed on the NASDAQ blockchain platform, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) noted that the technology could cut US$20 billion in annual costs in the global banking system alone. Blockchain can not only trigger savings by eliminating intermediaries but also slash time in completing transactions. Indeed, the fact that most of the blockchain code out there is open source, removes the cost entry barrier. Trust is designed in the architecture of blockchain and hence it becomes easy for any entity to operate in the trusted environment that blockchain brings with it. These are very exciting possibilities. And the amazing energy in the W3C workshop reflected the promise held by blockchain.
Among the most important exercises at the workshop were the discussions on subjects such as identity, legal, cloud, etc. It was indeed a privilege to witness each table presenting its findings and proposing directions for possible working group activities. To fuel the excitement, votes were taken to rate themes and prioritize them. The first immediate result of the workshop was the creation of the Blockchain Digital Assets Community Group - time to join and participate. For CIOs eyeing the technology, the outcome of the workshop will spell relief. Many are currently being deterred because of a lack of interoperable standards (among other things).
It was therefore good to see people at the workshop from the attendees to pure blockchain industry (people developing blockchain products or running blockchain networks) and also users (and some quite significant players in the financial markets). There was an exchange of views and knowledge and everyone got down to the task of figuring out what should be done next. But, as you may expect, in addition to the pure "standards" work that took place, there was a whole lot of networking going on.
What intrigued me, and came up a lot at the workshop, was the issue of web developers accessing blockchain to build apps via standard APIs. Many discussions revolved around the identity of users and the provenance (the record of ownership) of assets, two issues that greatly affect the financial services industry. People tend to think blockchain is the solution to everything. Well, it's not. It's a fantastic technology with great potential. Given its nature of being a distributed, shared, transaction database with immutability built in, it is well suited to certain types of use cases. Exploring them with the crowd there was just great!
We came out of this workshop with a much clearer idea of where W3C should progress in terms of standardization areas for blockchain. But more importantly, the intensive discussions shed light on where the technology can be put to good and effective use.
My colleague Presanna. V. Sundararajan (Practice Head - Blockchain and API platform, Wipro Ltd) put it really well when he said, "The standards are going to be the backbone of blockchain adoption. They will bring industry together. It will impact the whole business community and in the future blockchain might just be the standard for everything that we do, just like the Internet is now."
Now it is time to sit down and take all those ideas and put them into practice!