Blockchain: A Rose By Any Other Name

John Bertrand

The question of what exactly blockchain is came to the fore in March with the publication of the eBook Blockchain Meets Supply Chain: Rewiring Business Operations for the Digital Age, which acknowledged “blockchain is difficult to pin down … it is a class of software composed of other technologies.” The eBook aims to clear that up a bit, as I’ll try to do here.

The blockchain is a secure, transparent, layered container. The container is distributed and made available across the Internet or cloud, with any changes reported back to all parties in the specified group. This process is referred to as distributed ledger technology (DLT).

The DLT is available to either a public or private group. Financial services activities will predominately be in private groups, for example “syndicated loans.”

The key features in the transparent container include:

  • Consensus – algorithms that confirm and accept the information as it arrives and make sure that information is distributed
  • Shared ledger – the record of information that is available to all parties
  • Immutability – cryptographic technology that ensures that records cannot be tampered with

Who says blockchain is hip and modern? The Byzantine Army in 330 AD needed to manage the diversity of loyalty in its generals through coded, distributed, hand-delivered messages. Today we use mathematicians and technology to ensure the shared ledger is robust and staying true to the course, as did the Byzantine generals.

It is the right choreographing of the different technologies that is most important, says the eBook. Given the correct combination, blockchain/DLT should appear sooner than currently anticipated.

Gone are the days banks when banks build their own technology. Most banks now only care that the technology works, with the caveat that the tech supplier is approved by the bank. To meet regulatory requirements, bank technology suppliers must be low risk, which is not the profile of most fintech companies!

The eBook suggests that more caution is needed in implementing blockchain; that is probably correct, but the banks’ situation is urgent. The long and ongoing low interest rate environment has made it very difficult for banks to generate revenue growth. The Swiss Central Bank now charges fees for money on deposit – so times really are getting hard. Banks also have very high internal cost infrastructures. Banks need to start charging for their services, cut costs, or both.

Blockchain/DLT offers efficiency, better security, and one source of the truth. As the eBook points out, the digital supply chain reduces procurement costs by 20% and halves supply chain costs, enabling controlled activity instead of caution.

The eBook’s focus on the digitalization of assets and the provenance of them, rather than crypto currency, is refreshing. I recently noticed on CoinDesk that one of the crypto currencies dropped 31% in 24 hours. That’s a Zimbabwean dollar-like fall. Maybe, like the Zim dollar, crypto currency will be officially abandoned and the U.S. dollar used instead.

One final question to ponder: What should we call the stack of technology that forms the blockchain and DLT? Every stack could be different. How about Rose? After all, U.S. hurricanes are given human names, and I believe blockchain/DLT/Rose will bring the force of the hurricane to banking. Blockchain Meets Supply Chain: Rewiring Business Operations for the Digital Age represents the calm before the storm.

To learn more about blockchain, read the Forbes Insights Briefing Report: Transforming Transaction Processing for the Digital Economy.

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Blockchain: Hit Or Miss For Supply Chain?

Richard Howells

Earlier this month I participated in an interesting show on the topic of “Blockchain Technology: A Hit or A Miss for Supply Chain Networks?” with Irfan Khan, CEO and president of Bristlecone.

The discussion was based on blockchain’s ability to drive end-to-end value, eliminate inefficiencies, and improve customer experience. Blockchain – a decentralized, distributed ledger payment system using cryptocurrency – is powering digital transformation for companies around the world.

“It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”

I set the stage by using this quote that has been attributed to several people, from Nostradamus to Mark Twain (who is attributed almost every quote known to man). It works perfectly for blockchain, which, according to Gartner’s latest Hype Cycle for Supply Chain Execution (July 2017), was rated “transformational” but with a market penetration of “less than 1 percent.” The key is to predict and identify use cases to improve transparency, traceability, and performance and that can benefit from secured transactions.

Where can blockchain benefit supply chain processes?

During our discussions, a few areas of opportunity emerged.

Logistics processes

It has been estimated that 90 percent of global trade is carried out by ocean shipping industry, and the cost of trade-related documents and administration is estimated to represent up to 20 percent of the actual transportation cost. And this process relies on a web of disparate systems across freight forwarders, customer’s brokers, port authorities, ocean carriers, and trucking companies. Imagine if we could digitize the process to collaborate across companies and authorities, reduce the paperwork, streamline cross boarder movements, and reduce fraud and errors. Blockchain has the potential to help enable us to manage and track a “digital twin” of shipping containers across the world.

Track and trace and genealogy processes

In many industries, we are continually pushing for improved traceability by both regulatory bodies, and consumers. For example, in the food and beverage industries, we are seeing an increased demand for local and organic products with a clear proof of origin and sustainability.

Let’s look at the simple coffee bean as an example. This starts literally, at the source, in remote farms in Africa where 70-80 percent of the world’s coffee beans are grown. Imagine if we could have mobile machines that could capture the grade, color, size, and quality the coffee carries at source, and by leveraging AI and machine learning, determine a fair-trade price for the specific lot. This could be transmitted to the buyers who could agree a purchase with the farmer and perform an electronic transfer of funds immediately. Imagine also that the quality information and price paid is tracked throughout the harvesting, logistics, roasting and consumption of those beans all over the world. A consumer could have an app that would tell them where the coffee came from, the journey from farm to cup, and even if the farmer was compensated fairly.

This example is not too far-fetched. Check out what a company called Bext360 is doing as a proof of concept today.

Asset lifecycle management

Many industries have capital-intensive, business-critical assets (think airplanes, mining equipment, trucks, tractors) that are expected to be in use for 10 or even 30 years. Over its lifespan, each asset will go through numerous upgrades, repairs, and refurbishments and may also go through numerous owners. This ensures that all the parts used to perform these activities are of high quality, from reliable, legitimate sources and are critical for end user or passenger safety and security. We can now put IoT-enabled sensors on every part within an asset and track (Big) Data at a level never imagined a few short years ago. Ensuring the traceability and security of this data is critical to ensure the history and provenance of parts, the or the maintenance and repair history of a capital-intensive piece of equipment.

Blockchain, along with other technologies such as IoT, predictive analytics, and machine learning has the potential to manage assets from the design of the product, through manufacturing and throughout its active life and keep a secure, digital twin that can be tracked and analyzed for a complete history of that asset.

Blockchain is a key part of a digital supply chain

Blockchain, although relatively early in its existence, has the potential to help digitize our supply chains. However, as we discussed, it is not a solution by itself. We see several technologies coming together to enable the digital supply chain. The Internet of Things enables smarter and connected products and assets that are generating amazing amounts of data from all areas of the supply chain. This “Big Data” is the catalyst for predictive analytics, and machine learning adds intelligence to this data and drives automation and artificial intelligence through physical devices. Blockchain’s role is to automate transactions, ensure traceability, and address cybersecurity.

For more on blockchain, see Blockchain: Much Ado About Nothing? How Very Wrong!

Article published by Richard Howells. It originally appeared on Huffington Post and has been republished with permission.

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Richard Howells

About Richard Howells

Richard Howells is a Vice President at SAP responsible for the positioning, messaging, AR , PR and go-to market activities for the SAP Supply Chain solutions.

Finance 2025: When Blockchain Fulfills CFOs’ Paperless Vision

Nadine Hoffmann and Juergen Hofmann

Bonded loans – a well-established type of financing in the commercial lending area – are a common approach to finance strategic growth initiatives or larger investments. Although many finance organizations are stepping up efforts to digitalize and automate processes, speed time to market, and deliver value-driven services in real time, processes for bonded loans have been, for the most part, untouched. But all of this is changing as lenders and investors start to consider the new possibilities for distributed ledger technology (DLT), which is commonly associated with blockchain.

Currently, approval and issuance of bonded loans follow a highly manual and paper-based process:

Source: “Connecting the Dots: Deriving Business Value from Blockchain Technology Through Integration with SAP Solutions,” Deloitte & SAP, 2017. [KYC = Know Your Customer]

According to Deloitte and SAP, connecting networks based on DLT with ERP or other back-office systems could “unlock the true potential of the technology for corporations.” In its whitepaper “Connecting the Dots: Deriving Business Value from Blockchain Technology Through Integration with SAP Solutions,” coauthored by SAP, it mentioned that this approach will likely eliminate the drawbacks of bonded lending to open up a €75 billion (US$90 billion) loans market and new business models.

Could this be the last step to achieving the age-old dream of a paperless finance function within the next five to 10 years?

Blockchain for corporate lending: More than just cryptocurrency

Whenever the word “blockchain” comes up, most people immediately think of Bitcoin. But there is much more to it. “In the digital world, a speedy approach in close collaboration with our customers and partners is essential,” said Jürgen Müller, chief innovation officer of SAP, in a recent interview. “With blockchain as a service, we provide the possibility for an open collaboration in divided enterprise processes via peer-to-peer networks.”

As a distributed system, blockchain records and stores a chain of transactions in a shared and immutable peer-to-peer environment that is created through linked transaction blocks and a digital ledger. Reliance on established crypto-techniques enables all parties of a bonded loan program to interact with a trusted network without establishing a preexisting relationship.

The entire loan process becomes simpler, faster, highly transparent, and eases compliance, thanks to the elimination of:

  • Manual steps
  • High volumes of paper
  • Limited transparency of ownership changes
  • Slow-moving, disjointed communication and information exchange
  • A central authority that owns the entire process

Every action and decision is visible and verified by all participants in the blockchain – all in real time. Because the loan is digitalized, there is greater speed in how the loan is granted and managed until repayment, while increasing trust that the network’s investment is sound and compliant.

By forming a viable means of collaboration between network members and audit trail management, blockchain is shedding its Bitcoin reputation to emerge as a fundamental element of the paperless finance function. A blockchain-backed bonded loan allows businesses to borrow faster and cheaper, with transparent information about bonded loan transactions as well as investors.

Check out how your business can take advantage of an integrated, blockchain-based bonded loans platform. Read the Deloitte and SAP whitepaper “Connecting the Dots: Deriving Business Value from Blockchain Technology Through Integration with SAP Solutions.”

Follow SAP Finance online: @SAPFinance (Twitter) | LinkedIn | FacebookYouTube

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Nadine Hoffmann

About Nadine Hoffmann

Nadine Hoffmann is the global innovation manager for distributed ledger technology (DLT) within SAP Financial Services. In this role, she guides and supports financial services customer in their blockchain activities with SAP globally and therefore, also drives the overall SAP Financial Services DLT strategy. Nadine has over 20 years’ experience in solution management at a senior level for financial services. Her previous focus has been to support financial and non-financial customers transforming their payments landscape as the solution owner for the SAP payment engine. Prior to SAP, she worked in the banking sector for cooperative banks. Nadine holds a degree in Business Administration from the Duale Hochschule Baden-Würrtenberg in Mannheim.

About Juergen Hofmann

Jürgen Hofmann is global solution manager for SAP Financial Services. Jürgen evaluates new technologies and trends in Financial Services for relevance to software solutions. He works internationally with customers and partners to transform new technological capabilities into beneficial solutions for the financing business.

Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences

Kai Goerlich

 

Google Cardboard VR goggles cost US$8
By 2019, immersive solutions
will be adopted in 20% of enterprise businesses
By 2025, the market for immersive hardware and software technology could be $182 billion
In 2017, Lowe’s launched
Holoroom How To VR DIY clinics

Link to Sources


From Dipping a Toe to Fully Immersed

The first wave of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is here,

using smartphones, glasses, and goggles to place us in the middle of 360-degree digital environments or overlay digital artifacts on the physical world. Prototypes, pilot projects, and first movers have already emerged:

  • Guiding warehouse pickers, cargo loaders, and truck drivers with AR
  • Overlaying constantly updated blueprints, measurements, and other construction data on building sites in real time with AR
  • Building 3D machine prototypes in VR for virtual testing and maintenance planning
  • Exhibiting new appliances and fixtures in a VR mockup of the customer’s home
  • Teaching medicine with AR tools that overlay diagnostics and instructions on patients’ bodies

A Vast Sea of Possibilities

Immersive technologies leapt forward in spring 2017 with the introduction of three new products:

  • Nvidia’s Project Holodeck, which generates shared photorealistic VR environments
  • A cloud-based platform for industrial AR from Lenovo New Vision AR and Wikitude
  • A workspace and headset from Meta that lets users use their hands to interact with AR artifacts

The Truly Digital Workplace

New immersive experiences won’t simply be new tools for existing tasks. They promise to create entirely new ways of working.

VR avatars that look and sound like their owners will soon be able to meet in realistic virtual meeting spaces without requiring users to leave their desks or even their homes. With enough computing power and a smart-enough AI, we could soon let VR avatars act as our proxies while we’re doing other things—and (theoretically) do it well enough that no one can tell the difference.

We’ll need a way to signal when an avatar is being human driven in real time, when it’s on autopilot, and when it’s owned by a bot.


What Is Immersion?

A completely immersive experience that’s indistinguishable from real life is impossible given the current constraints on power, throughput, and battery life.

To make current digital experiences more convincing, we’ll need interactive sensors in objects and materials, more powerful infrastructure to create realistic images, and smarter interfaces to interpret and interact with data.

When everything around us is intelligent and interactive, every environment could have an AR overlay or VR presence, with use cases ranging from gaming to firefighting.

We could see a backlash touting the superiority of the unmediated physical world—but multisensory immersive experiences that we can navigate in 360-degree space will change what we consider “real.”


Download the executive brief Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences.


Read the full article Swimming in the Immersive Digital Experience.

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Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation. Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

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Blockchain: Much Ado About Nothing? How Very Wrong!

Juergen Roehricht

Let me start with a quote from McKinsey, that in my view hits the nail right on the head:

“No matter what the context, there’s a strong possibility that blockchain will affect your business. The very big question is when.”

Now, in the industries that I cover in my role as general manager and innovation lead for travel and transportation/cargo, engineering, construction and operations, professional services, and media, I engage with many different digital leaders on a regular basis. We are having visionary conversations about the impact of digital technologies and digital transformation on business models and business processes and the way companies address them. Many topics are at different stages of the hype cycle, but the one that definitely stands out is blockchain as a new enabling technology in the enterprise space.

Just a few weeks ago, a customer said to me: “My board is all about blockchain, but I don’t get what the excitement is about – isn’t this just about Bitcoin and a cryptocurrency?”

I can totally understand his confusion. I’ve been talking to many blockchain experts who know that it will have a big impact on many industries and the related business communities. But even they are uncertain about the where, how, and when, and about the strategy on how to deal with it. The reason is that we often look at it from a technology point of view. This is a common mistake, as the starting point should be the business problem and the business issue or process that you want to solve or create.

In my many interactions with Torsten Zube, vice president and blockchain lead at the SAP Innovation Center Network (ICN) in Potsdam, Germany, he has made it very clear that it’s mandatory to “start by identifying the real business problem and then … figure out how blockchain can add value.” This is the right approach.

What we really need to do is provide guidance for our customers to enable them to bring this into the context of their business in order to understand and define valuable use cases for blockchain. We need to use design thinking or other creative strategies to identify the relevant fields for a particular company. We must work with our customers and review their processes and business models to determine which key blockchain aspects, such as provenance and trust, are crucial elements in their industry. This way, we can identify use cases in which blockchain will benefit their business and make their company more successful.

My highly regarded colleague Ulrich Scholl, who is responsible for externalizing the latest industry innovations, especially blockchain, in our SAP Industries organization, recently said: “These kinds of use cases are often not evident, as blockchain capabilities sometimes provide minor but crucial elements when used in combination with other enabling technologies such as IoT and machine learning.” In one recent and very interesting customer case from the autonomous province of South Tyrol, Italy, blockchain was one of various cloud platform services required to make this scenario happen.

How to identify “blockchainable” processes and business topics (value drivers)

To understand the true value and impact of blockchain, we need to keep in mind that a verified transaction can involve any kind of digital asset such as cryptocurrency, contracts, and records (for instance, assets can be tangible equipment or digital media). While blockchain can be used for many different scenarios, some don’t need blockchain technology because they could be handled by a simple ledger, managed and owned by the company, or have such a large volume of data that a distributed ledger cannot support it. Blockchain would not the right solution for these scenarios.

Here are some common factors that can help identify potential blockchain use cases:

  • Multiparty collaboration: Are many different parties, and not just one, involved in the process or scenario, but one party dominates everything? For example, a company with many parties in the ecosystem that are all connected to it but not in a network or more decentralized structure.
  • Process optimization: Will blockchain massively improve a process that today is performed manually, involves multiple parties, needs to be digitized, and is very cumbersome to manage or be part of?
  • Transparency and auditability: Is it important to offer each party transparency (e.g., on the origin, delivery, geolocation, and hand-overs) and auditable steps? (e.g., How can I be sure that the wine in my bottle really is from Bordeaux?)
  • Risk and fraud minimization: Does it help (or is there a need) to minimize risk and fraud for each party, or at least for most of them in the chain? (e.g., A company might want to know if its goods have suffered any shocks in transit or whether the predefined route was not followed.)

Connecting blockchain with the Internet of Things

This is where blockchain’s value can be increased and automated. Just think about a blockchain that is not just maintained or simply added by a human, but automatically acquires different signals from sensors, such as geolocation, temperature, shock, usage hours, alerts, etc. One that knows when a payment or any kind of money transfer has been made, a delivery has been received or arrived at its destination, or a digital asset has been downloaded from the Internet. The relevant automated actions or signals are then recorded in the distributed ledger/blockchain.

Of course, given the massive amount of data that is created by those sensors, automated signals, and data streams, it is imperative that only the very few pieces of data coming from a signal that are relevant for a specific business process or transaction be stored in a blockchain. By recording non-relevant data in a blockchain, we would soon hit data size and performance issues.

Ideas to ignite thinking in specific industries

  • The digital, “blockchained” physical asset (asset lifecycle management): No matter whether you build, use, or maintain an asset, such as a machine, a piece of equipment, a turbine, or a whole aircraft, a blockchain transaction (genesis block) can be created when the asset is created. The blockchain will contain all the contracts and information for the asset as a whole and its parts. In this scenario, an entry is made in the blockchain every time an asset is: sold; maintained by the producer or owner’s maintenance team; audited by a third-party auditor; has malfunctioning parts; sends or receives information from sensors; meets specific thresholds; has spare parts built in; requires a change to the purpose or the capability of the assets due to age or usage duration; receives (or doesn’t receive) payments; etc.
  • The delivery chain, bill of lading: In today’s world, shipping freight from A to B involves lots of manual steps. For example, a carrier receives a booking from a shipper or forwarder, confirms it, and, before the document cut-off time, receives the shipping instructions describing the content and how the master bill of lading should be created. The carrier creates the original bill of lading and hands it over to the ordering party (the current owner of the cargo). Today, that original paper-based bill of lading is required for the freight (the container) to be picked up at the destination (the port of discharge). Imagine if we could do this as a blockchain transaction and by forwarding a PDF by email. There would be one transaction at the beginning, when the shipping carrier creates the bill of lading. Then there would be look-ups, e.g., by the import and release processing clerk of the shipper at the port of discharge and the new owner of the cargo at the destination. Then another transaction could document that the container had been handed over.

The future

I personally believe in the massive transformative power of blockchain, even though we are just at the very beginning. This transformation will be achieved by looking at larger networks with many participants that all have a nearly equal part in a process. Today, many blockchain ideas still have a more centralistic approach, in which one company has a more prominent role than the (many) others and often is “managing” this blockchain/distributed ledger-supported process/approach.

But think about the delivery scenario today, where goods are shipped from one door or company to another door or company, across many parties in the delivery chain: from the shipper/producer via the third-party logistics service provider and/or freight forwarder; to the companies doing the actual transport, like vessels, trucks, aircraft, trains, cars, ferries, and so on; to the final destination/receiver. And all of this happens across many countries, many borders, many handovers, customs, etc., and involves a lot of paperwork, across all constituents.

“Blockchaining” this will be truly transformational. But it will need all constituents in the process or network to participate, even if they have different interests, and to agree on basic principles and an approach.

As Torsten Zube put it, I am not a “blockchain extremist” nor a denier that believes this is just a hype, but a realist open to embracing a new technology in order to change our processes for our collective benefit.

Turn insight into action, make better decisions, and transform your business. Learn how.

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Juergen Roehricht

About Juergen Roehricht

Juergen Roehricht is General Manager of Services Industries and Innovation Lead of the Middle and Eastern Europe region for SAP. The industries he covers include travel and transportation; professional services; media; and engineering, construction and operations. Besides managing the business in those segments, Juergen is focused on supporting innovation and digital transformation strategies of SAP customers. With more than 20 years of experience in IT, he stays up to date on the leading edge of innovation, pioneering and bringing new technologies to market and providing thought leadership. He has published several articles and books, including Collaborative Business and The Multi-Channel Company.