There is little doubt that the transition from a successful proof of concept to full-scale implementation has proved challenging for both governments and enterprises to date. Gartner has recently advised that of 398 consultancy service engagements reported to them, fewer than 4% resulted in a production deployment. We have explored some of the major challenges in interoperability, collaboration and the role that governments should play in blockchain adoption. Some other important factors also need to be taken into account to allow organisations to move beyond proof of concept.
Education is arguably the most significant barrier to achieving tangible benefits from blockchain technology use cases. The problem is twofold.
Firstly, for business leaders and regulators, the general level of understanding of the technology, where it can be used to greatest effect, associated risks and how to integrate it into an organisation is poor. This is largely down to the confusion that has ensued from the hype, which has impaired the normal cycle of questioning and learning. In other words, business leaders now seem to be less willing to ask questions of something they feel they are expected to know because it has been so talked about. The nature of the revolution has also meant that the best knowledge is often only available in unconventional forums, such as open source communities that business leaders are not familiar with accessing.
Blockchain today could be compared to the internet in 1995 when we had no idea of Amazon, Uber and Facebook.
The second half of the problem relates to technical skills. It is widely regarded that blockchain technology is in its infancy – blockchain today could be compared to the internet in 1995 when we had no idea of Amazon, Uber, Facebook etc. We may come to wonder how society ever lived without it, but as a consequence of the state of its maturity, the availability of technical skills and training to support development is very limited. This has made it difficult for organisations to research and develop blockchain applications, and will continue to hinder innovation.
Some organisations such as Hyperledger and B9lab Academy are beginning to offer both technical and business education for blockchain systems but there is a need for more and better education, as well as the continued development of a community to further raise awareness and champion the benefits of blockchain. Smart Dubai is taking a bold step forward in this regard. They have identified over 400 champions within each of the industry verticals to educate, understand the different stakeholder perspectives and ultimately help facilitate a united vision of success in order to improve people’s lives.
It may seem like a simple step but creating a vision and strategy for the usage of blockchain technology is an important enabler for adoption. The Dubai government, and subsequently the UAE Federal government have created clear and compelling strategies for adoption of blockchain technology.1 This has created a sense of common purpose among government entities and fostered a culture of innovation. The activities of the government have had the added benefit of increasing awareness and international cooperation on the topic, which is strengthening innovation. Other countries are showing similar leadership such as Malta, Switzerland, Estonia and Canada where there is increasing clarity over the direction for blockchain technology.
At a project level, having a clearly defined blockchain strategy is central to the success of any project. But blockchain is a very different technology that demands a new way of thinking and a different approach. First and foremost, a clear understanding of whether the blockchain technology is appropriate to solve the business problem is required – many proof of concept projects will not progress to implementation because they will ultimately derive no true business benefit.
Secondly, strategies and benefits must be articulated in the context of a decentralised environment, potentially one involving multiple parties in a consortium. Different stakeholders could have wildly different objectives, so strategies must be set carefully with all parties in mind.
Finally, blockchain initiatives should be conducted with risk management principles in mind. There are many traditional project challenges that will be encountered during the move into implementation – data migration and integration problems to name two. Effectively building the appropriate project controls that would be seen in any technology transformation can help align blockchain implementations to the same recognisable standards and create a degree of familiarity with project stakeholders. Stringent project governance should be applied and progress, risks and issues should be clearly communicated.
PwC studies have highlighted that over 53% of blockchain projects are being conducted by in-house R&D teams and whilst this is an excellent way to educate and develop internal blockchain capabilities, siloed projects of this nature can often fall short of achieving stakeholder expectations as internal teams focus on achieving small wins and are unlikely to be able to see the larger strategic picture. According to Gartner, if taking this approach, it is possible to overcome these risks through the support of independent third parties who are able to help in one or more of the following areas – strategy, business processes, technology, risk and integration.2 Independent assurance and advice over the work produced by in-house teams can help decision-makers trust in the end to end solution, giving them the confidence to move a solution into production.
There is little doubt that blockchain technology has the potential to change the nature of capitalism by bringing more trust, efficiency, transparency and accurate recording to everyday transactions. Governments are providing vision and leadership to pioneer this technology – enterprise organisations need to follow suit.
The time is now to invest in education, identify opportunities for collaboration to drive progress, and engage with regulators and standard-setters to establish clarity and stability. Only then will we see more projects fully implemented with the tangible benefits that are being promised.
Partner, Digital Trust Leader, PwC Middle East
Tel: +971 (0) 56 113 4205
Partner, Digital Trust, PwC Middle East
Tel: +971 (0) 56 480 2447