IBM: No Shortage of Blockchain Ideas

Of the tech giants, IBM is perhaps the most involved in blockchain. The crown of large blockchain based projects by the Big Blue has just received a new jewel, a project named Trust Your Supplier.

Digital Asset Live Editor-in-Chief talked to David Post, IBM Blockchain Ventures MD. He leads the Trust Your Supplier work:

Q1: Due to the projects one reads about, TradeLens, Food Trust, and IBM Trust Your Supplier Network, one of your priorities in application of blockchain lies in supply chain management. What is IBM vision for blockchain in this area? What large projects can we expect in the near future?

A1: Blockchain networks such as TradeLens, Food Trust and Trust Your Supplier will drive substantial efficiencies across a range of supply chain areas. IBM’s vision for blockchain in this area is that these networks will ultimately converge and be interoperable, creating a network of networks. For example, in the near future it may be possible to use Trust Your Supplier data as a form of decentralized corporate identity that will serve as the identity layer such for blockchain networks such as TradeLens and Food Trust. Similarly, Food Trust data on individual products could one day soon be used by members of TradeLens as networks converge and connect. In the long run, blockchain networks will develop a competitive advantage in their primary focus areas while aligning their capabilities to drive enhanced business value for network members.

Q2: Can you please elaborate on IBM Trust Your Supplier Network, how exactly will it function for every participant to blockchain?

Trust Your Supplier shifts the point to point process of supplier onboarding to the context of a business network. By aligning the extended supplier management ecosystem – including buyers, suppliers, 3rd party validators, business networks, and certification organizations – around a shared ledger, Trust Your Supplier will set the standard for how supplier onboarding and validation occurs. For examples, the supplier questionnaires that the network utilizes provides approximately 80% of the common information that Fortune 500 buyers typically collect and pre-populates this information in suppliers’ profile on the network. Over time, we expect that this percentage will increase dramatically as our governance board members share best practices and arrive at an optimal model that is applicable across both industries and geographies. Given the industry leading organizations that are involved in the network, we anticipate that TYS will establish the global standard for supplier onboarding and validation.

Q3: Does IBM believe public blockchains may be used, and if yes, where? What are the disadvantages of public blockchains in comparison to private blockchains?

A3: Over time, we think that the enterprise blockchain space will trend towards a hybrid approach that utilizes both public and private blockchains. Private blockchains are particularly well suited to situations where privacy, security, and permissioned access are critical for network members and the business processes they are focused on. The advantages of public blockchains is that they provide a public record of transactions that have occurred and in the long run could provide the infrastructure layer for interoperability between networks.

Q4: One more question on openness. In May 2019, Blockchain Pulse, the IBM Blockchain Blog, stated that open means a) collaborative development community, b) use of open source licenses, c) open governance model, d) open standards. Which major IBM projects in blockchain follow these principles, which do not, and why?

A4: In addition to being a long time proponent of open source projects, IBM is also a major contributor to the open source blockchain consortium Hyperledger. Facilitating a collaborative development environment with open standards allows technology to evolve among common principles and standards, which ultimately leads to faster adoption and enhanced business value. In similarity to other technologies, Hyperledger’s open source approach benefits the development and uptake of blockchain.

Q5: Quite a few blockchain startups dream to work with you, or to be purchased by a large corporation, as IBM. When you look for a blockchain startup to cooperate or to buy, which criterion does IBM look for?

A6: There is no shortage of blockchain network ideas. However, there are few blockchain companies that have gotten to significant scale. Given that IBM has substantial convening power for establishing blockchain networks, the primary criteria that we look for is that a startup has developed mature technology that can serve as the basis for an initial blockchain network use case. For example, Chainyard, our partner on the Trust Your Supplier network, is a global expert in the development of blockchain applications. By pairing their technological acumen and ability to act quickly and nimbly with IBM’s blockchain expertise and global reach, we have been able to collaborate to establish Trust Your Supplier much more quickly then either organization could have done working alone.

Q7: Currently, do you have own blockchain production or do you rely mainly on external subcontractors? In your assessment, approximately how many people do blockchain projects in house for IBM? What are the most popular skills? Do you plan to expand?

A7: IBM currently utilizes a variety of approaches to develop blockchain applications. From a technical perspective, we look for developers and designers with deep blockchain skills who have the ability to work with our enterprise clients to create high impact blockchain applications.

Q8: How do you solve the issue of lack of blockchain developers?

A8: One approach to solving this issue is ensuring that leading universities teach blockchain skills. As such, IBM has a blockchain academic initiative that includes a mix of online courses, educational collateral and university partnerships. For example, last year we partnered with Columbia University to establish the Columbia-IBM Center for Blockchain and Data Transparency. The Center focuses on three synergistic tracks – research, teaching, and innovation – that will help strengthen the New York City blockchain ecosystem.