Reflections: one year working blockchain


I’m amazed that it’s over a year since I started this adventure, and figured that it’s good to reflect on what I’ve learnt.

[1] First projects make real

First  is what we call our customer’s initial excursions into blockchain usage. More than a disposable “proof of concept” first projects are designed to scale up into production usage. They consist of a two-day design thinking workshop combined with between two and five, two-week agile development sprints. Our goal is to rapidly render an initial solution to prove the benefit of blockchain.

We’ve seen customers moving quickly from awareness through experimentation towards production. We only recommend blockchain to clients when convinced usage will drive significant business benefit. We seek out initial “baby steps” so our customer can learn fast, prove initial benefit and drive larger benefits over time.

Most of our work has been in the financial sector, but there are compelling use cases in all industries. We enjoy learning and sharing cross industry – which is exciting and invigorating!

[2] Business networks drive value

We use the business network as the first “acid test” – no business network means think again about blockchain usage! Our customers have different approaches to building out the networks to drive full value from blockchain, and we often get to advise and guide them in the pragmatic, practical steps of network formation.

Our advice is objective, based on the first projects we’ve done with customers, and the key consideration are:

  1. WHAT is the business network – who are the members, their roles and what part will they play in the process of consensus?
  2. HOW will the network be formed? Will all parties be involved from the beginning, or more likely) will the network be incrementally grown over time?
  3. WHEN will new network members be introduced to the blockchain solution? Some of our customers decide to do the first one or two sprints themselves, simulating the role of other network participants whilst others want to involve key network members at the beginning of the journey through participation in the design thinking workshop.

[3] Choosing a first project is key

One of the most common questions we get asked in our work with customers is “what’s a good blockchain use case?”  So we’ve developed a way to ensure we are adding enough value by applying blockchain to a particular business problem. The approach is in five common sense steps, as explained in my previous blog post.

The steps culminate in a “blockchain fit” test – where make sure that the use case hit the attributes of Network | Consensus | Provenance | Immutability | Finality.

This selection process and associated discussion ensures we end up with a use case that:

  1. is suitable to augment customer awareness on blockchain
  2. can be implemented with blockchain in its current maturity state
  3. ensures blockchain is a good fit and drives significant business value.

[4] Permissioned networks are ideal for business

’s interests are in the application of blockchain to permissioned, business to business networks.  In these networks privacy services – rendered with cryptographic technologies – ensure that participants see only the parts of the ledger that are relevant to them, and that all transactions are secure, authenticated and verifiable.

Hyperledger blockchain fabric includes fine grained privacy services which can be tuned and configured to meet the needs of a vast variety of different use cases.  Our customers’ needs are also evolving, and our close links with development allow us to influence future requirements based on real customer needs.

We’ve also noticed that regulators are taking an active interest in most of our first projects in all industries, to understand how they can best interact with this new, fast moving .

[5] Hyperledger project engenders open innovation

We are a founder member and key contributor to the Linux Foundation Hyperledger project to build out a blockchain fabric for business. The project now enjoys some 100 members – impressive growth from the 17 founder members in December 2015!

We’ve already taken early code drops from the project and rendered these as blockchain (beta) services on our BlueMix cloud, and developed a High Security Business Network variant of blockchain that run our z-Series server.

We are very excited about the promise of Hyperledger and convinced that the open governance, open source and open standards based fabric will engender true open innovation in multiple industries, making the most from the transformation opportunity offered by blockchain for business.

More blockchain Information?

  1. Blockchain for Government
  2. Proving Provenance with Blockchain
  3. Blockchain and Cyber Security
  4. Blockchain, how SMART is your contract?
  5. Blockchain Privacy Services

[linkedinbadge URL=”” connections=”off” mode=”icon” liname=”John Palfreyman”] is Director – Blockchain at IBM Cloud Division