IBM has announced another major blockchain project, Trust Your Supplier. Digital Asset Live talked with IBM Blockchain Ventures MD about it, however today we have a unique opportunity to look at the same project from another angle, Digital Asset Live Editor-in-Chief talked to Sai Nidmarty, CEO/Founder Chainyard, blockchain partner of IBM in Trust Your Supplier.
Q1: Most blockchain startups start from scratch. You have started as a spin-off, if I may put it this way, of IT People, a large North Carolina based software developer. How exactly did it happen? Was it a group of blockchain enthusiasts among your developers, or did you see the business opportunity and had to hire blockchain developers?
A1: I have been in this industry for over 25 years and running IT People Corporation since its inception in 1999. In 2015, we decided to strategically invest in growing technologies including Cloud, Big Data, AI and ML to bring more differentiation to our core capabilities.
In 2016, we added Blockchain (enterprise focus) since it had the promise to transform and disrupt the way enterprises transact with each other.
In 2016 we had the opportunity to work with IBM during their early days of developing the open source blockchain platform which has been contributed to form Hyperledger Fabric. Our partnership with IBM helped us to grow significantly and enabled us to become leaders in Enterprise Blockchain.
Q2: On hiring blockchain developers, everybody knows there is a lack of them. How do you solve this issue?
A2: There are multiple ways in which we have worked to have skilled blockchain developers in our company. Here are three which have worked best for us:
- Initially, we had senior engineers/technical leaders familiar with blockchain run our projects and engage experienced developers who learned under the mentorship of the lead.
- We have developed a comprehensive in-house three month training program that covers a variety of topics from blockchain basics, Hyperledger Fabric, Ethereum and Corda fundamentals, NodeJS/Solidity/Web3JS/Golang programming, smart contract development, cloud devOps and testing fundamentals.
- We have used in-house projects for on-the-job learning with a by-product of having POCs to demo, common components to facilitate project delivery and blockchain specific tooling to accelerate delivery and deployment of blockchain solutions.
Q3: You made quite a splash in the world media, when you partnership with IBM on Trust Your Supplier was announced. How is it working with the Big Blue? Any advice to others, who aspire to get such a partner?
A3: It was great working with our big brother, IBM in the Enterprise Blockchain space. Without any exaggeration it was a unique one-time opportunity! It required team work of highly passionate, energetic, dedicated and hardworking individuals to partner with the best of talent at IBM. Working with IBM procurement and supply chain experts, our teams collectively built the solution using blockchain technology to disrupt the status quo. The experience of working with different IBM teams is by far the most fascinating experience for everyone in our organization. We are truly blessed to have their partnership.
My advice to others who aspire to become partners to companies like IBM is to be honest and transparent in the relationship. Always go an extra mile to deliver on your commitments no matter what challenges you face. You have to earn the reputation of a “trusted partner” who fully delivers on commitments with quality.
Q4: Trust Your Supplier. Can you explain, perhaps base it on an example, how it will function with regards to every participant to this blockchain?
A4: The goal of Trust Your Supplier (TYS) is to digitize, simplify and deliver efficiencies in the process of supplier on-boarding including capturing of supplier information using Buyer/Industry specific questionnaires, verifying answers and creating their digital identifier (digital passport). TYS personas include Buyer, Supplier, Verifier and Provider. TYS system is a win-win for all the business participants. The TYS blockchain enables all participants to work in a trusted decentralized environment without compromising transparency and privacy.
A buyer, such as Nokia, intending to do business with a supplier, such as Chainyard, can use TYS to invite Chainyard via the TYS solution to register and answer on-boarding questionnaires relevant to Nokia. Questionnaires cover general company information, location information, contact information, industry specific questions and buyer specific questions. The buyer enables TYS to emit the necessary events to verifiers who specialize in the different areas such as diversity, ethical compliance, financial viability, et al. The verifiers role is to validate the information provided by the supplier. In addition, TYS also enables third party data providers to enrich data and or provide additional services.
For buyers, TYS drives supplier life cycle management including supplier diversity, efficiency in the process of onboarding suppliers which typically was long drawn and often repeated under different business contexts. It delivers quality and accuracy of the information used to conduct business, decreases the cost of onboarding and managing the changes in a supplier’s lifecycle, and reduces time-to-market with a large pool of prequalified suppliers.
For suppliers it simplifies the qualification process, drives down the time and cost of the process, and provides exposure to a large pool of potential buyers thus increasing their market reach.
Verifiers and providers benefit from a transformative business model with links to their current processes, new streams of revenue, real time access to changes in the supplier lifecycle and the ability to deploy custom applications that leverage TYS network to enable new revenue streams.
Q5: Trust Your Supplier is about optimisation or restructuring supply chain. What other application of blockchain technologies do you see as most promising, from a consumer’s point of view? And a developer’s point of view?
A5: There are many opportunities where blockchain can provide value. A few we have worked on for our clients include Trade Finance, Asset Management, Settlement, Tokenization of Payments, Supply Chain Transparency, Ethical Manufacturing, Brand Reputation/Anti-Fraud/Anti-Counterfeiting.
From a developer’s perspective, building components such as tokenization libraries, integration components with third party applications, management dashboards, and zero-knowledge proofs are good areas of study. Additionally, understanding different blockchain platforms (e.g., Hyperledger Fabric, Hyperledger Sawtooth, Hyperledger Indy, Enterprise Ethereum, Corda), cross-platform interoperability, and different cloud platforms (e.g. AWS, Azure, IBM Cloud, Google Cloud) will be very rewarding.
Q6: Chainyard has also joined BITA. Why? Any exciting projects to come out of this membership?
A6: One of Chainyard’s focus areas is transportation which includes intermodal shipping, logistics and settlement. By working with BiTA, we want to understand and contribute to the basic business objects that are critical to the participants in a supply chain such as Party, Shipment, Location, BOL, BOM, etc. We are engaging with BiTA to provide our experience in blockchain technologies that guide the definition of these business objects including compliance with regulations and standards such as GDPR and GS1. We are working on the BiTA standards workgroup so we are prepared to develop these objects within our supply chain projects effectively for our clients.
Q7: Please describe an optimal algorithm to launch and implement a blockchain project. I know it is all different, perhaps some general observations based on your experience may be drawn?
A7: This could be considered a trick question for if there were a single algorithm, many companies would use it and launch successful blockchain networks. With that said, we’ll share what has made Chainyard and Trust Your Supplier launch successful with a few tips with most important elements bolded.
- Must have vision to see opportunity and creativity to figure out a business model that improves upon the status quo. This is true for all start-ups and not just blockchain centric entities.
- Blockchain is a team sport so the next important element is to identify the stakeholders (players) on your team. Who else sees value in the vision – ensure there is value for all stakeholders to ensure active engagement.
- With help of the team, refine the vision, business model and determine key elements which are needed for a successful launch of a Minimally Viable Product (MVP).
- Blockchain is new technology and requires several disciplines for successful development including software engineering, devOps engineering and network engineering. Ensure you have the right technical team to architect, build, deploy and operate the solution. Chainyard was fortunate enough to have blockchain accelerator tools and frameworks which accelerate the development and deployment of the network.
- Work with team to develop the governance model for the solution. The governance includes both business and technical elements. Ensure the governance board, whatever form it takes, is representative of all stakeholder types to ensure decisions made will benefit all stakeholders.
- Work with stakeholders to develop product roadmap. Ensure governance model keeps the network operator(s) highly engaged by having appropriate incentive models in place. Not all stakeholders will want to operate nodes, so the network operator plays a vital role in helping with technical governance and can be member of governing board.
- Launch network with MVP ecosystem, recruit new customers to join and use the network. Grow the business as with any entrepreneurial activity and successful business.
Q8: What do you find the most challenging and the most rewarding in blockchain projects?
A8: The initial PoCs and MVPs provided Chainyard with a foundational understanding for how blockchain technology works as well as the challenges and benefits of using it at an enterprise level.
Our initial findings demonstrated the blockchain’s ability to improve transactional transparency, make seamless peer-to-peer transactions, and enhance automation while also highlighting the challenges associated with data and process standardization, alignment with current regulations and standards, and an overall understanding for when blockchain offers better overall value than traditional options.
This core philosophy embodies our enterprise solution for the Trust Your Supplier network.
The biggest challenge is identifying the right Use Cases and developing and defining better business models, incentive models, and governance models required for the solution to succeed.
Like any investment, the better the business case, the more likely the success.
Another challenge to consider are operational requirements of our clients regarding deployment of the solution across multiple cloud environments and compliance with regulations across geographies.
At Chainyard, we have developed expertise over the last four years to help our customers to address these challenges.