The problem with most coverage on the future of blockchain technology, a.k.a. the technology of trust in a digital economy and decentralized hyper-connected technological and business ecosystem, is that it’s still very much focused on what blockchain could do and mean.
In that regard it’s not that different from other technological evolutions of course. Take the future of the Internet of Things (IoT): what it could do and mean is still a very prominent theme in a lot of the coverage while actual IoT examples or strategic advice for the here, now and tomorrow lag a bit behind although in 2017 a lot has changed in this area, regarding IoT that is.
Fortunately there are also plenty of cases and examples of what blockchain actually ‘does’ and means today, which pilots are working better than others, what are the present and future most relevant use cases for organizations and which blockchain solutions are being deployed today for what purpose. In general that is often a more or less good indicator of what the future of a technology, in this case the future of blockchain will bring and, more importantly how it will impact your business, industry and opportunities to achieve whatever valuable goals, taking into account the challenges and stumbling blocks you should know.
So, instead of looking at what the future of blockchain could bring here is a look at what the future of blockchain will bring.
Present and future blockchain use cases that make business sense
One area that is pretty certain to be changed by blockchain technology is that of cross-border payments. Just look at the initiatives in 2017: SWIFT, Mastercard, IBM and R3 which thereby competes with its former member Ripple.
We also know that IoT and blockchain are a good fit in several aspects and have led to not just initiatives and pilots but also to real projects (the jury is still out on the models that will be used for industrial data exchanges though). So, here as well we’ll definitely see the necessary evolutions. Add insurance, manufacturing, banking in general, retail, healthcare and, probably for now in a lesser degree, government. Oh, and of course the legal profession and anything that has to do with settlements, payments, smart contracts, smart supply chain management, identity management, data management and healthcare.
We didn’t invent that ourselves of course. As described on our blockchain in business page, Juniper Research identified some of the latter use cases as being main use cases of blockchain.
That research, released in the Summer of 2017, also tells us about some of the main challenges (the inevitable interoperability issues between blockchain solutions, partners and clients that are reluctant which is a showstopper as we are talking ecosystems, potential disruptions to existing systems and architecture, as per usual costs and so forth).
Juniper Research also was nice enough to help us look at what the future of blockchain in a business context will be by reminding us that companies that are most likely to benefit from blockchain include companies that 1) need transparent and clear (trans)actions, 2) are dependent on paper-based legacy storage systems and/or 3) have quite some volumes of information that gets transmitted. You can put your imagination at work or read all about which industries are best fit for – and thus probably also most likely to leverage – blockchain technology over time in a paper, entitled, ‘Which Industries are the Best Fit for Blockchain?‘.
The future of blockchain across large organizations and ecosystems
As each year we were eager to listen to see, watch and hear IDC’s forecasts on so many topics we would like to cover but given the sheer amount and limited time we unfortunately often need to limit to a few. So, this time we started with what the future of blockchain holds.
There hasn’t been a specific webcast in the big list of IDC FutureScape 2018 webcasts, announcements and reports that is dedicated to blockchain. Yet, we’re pretty sure that blockchain will pop up in many of the industry-specific ones so make sure to register, they’re available for a year.
The first IDC FutureScape web conference took place on October 31, 2017 and, among the ten big themes covered was indeed blockchain with some predictions and a look at the future of blockchain, including recommendations. With the future in this case we mean the period from 2018 until 2020 with some 2021 in it as well. Earlier in 2017 Gartner also added blockchain to its top ten technologies list as you can read below.
According to the press release which IDC posted to kick off its worldwide IT industry predictions for 2018 and the years after that, we read that in the so-called second chapter of the third platform multiplied innovation will be enabled by, among many others, “the blockchain-fuelled rise of digital trust”.
What that means (leaving that second chapter of the third platform aside for a while) in practice is, among others that the company expects that by 2021 certainly (meaning: probably more) a quarter of the Global 2000 (the 2000 biggest public companies across the globe as per Forbes) will use blockchain services as the foundation for digital trust at scale.
Still, 2021 is not really tomorrow and all in all IDC expects the blockchain ledgers and interconnections for blockchain-based business use cases to evolve slowly, yet steadily, during the next 3 years. Hence the fact that IDC looks so far ahead although the webcast did shed some light on industry-specific evolutions in the future of blockchain for 2020 as well and did provide advice for organizations on what they really should be doing in 2018 and beyond in order to not miss the boat as you’ll see below.
What these precise actions to reap the fruits of blockchain are is of course contextual and depends on use case, indeed the topic Juniper Research looked at, industry, existing or new initiatives and ecosystems (and their success) and also where exactly the organization finds itself in the 3 chapters or stages of the third platform (essentially gauging maturity with regards to digital readiness and digital transformation goals).
Planning for the business future of blockchain
IDC does urge organizations to start preparing for the future of blockchain as there is a first mover advantage and a slow adopter disadvantage.
It made us think about some research about first mover advantages which can be very good but don’t mean by definition you will be a leader. In our interview with Nicolas Windpassinger on his IoT book, where blockchain of course also is touched upon, he reminded us about the research by IdeaLab’s CEO Bill Gross on what makes start-ups successful and the research by Peter N. Golder and Gerard J. Tellis; “Pioneer Advantage: Marketing Logic or Marketing Legend“.
Obviously the G2000 isn’t composed of too many start-ups and when thinking about market pioneers as in the latter research it of course also needs to be said that blockchain initiatives are quite often ecosystem initiatives: multiple companies and other stakeholders, when needed including start-ups. There is not much sense in having blockchains for a single organization, is there?
IDC doesn’t say that slower adopters will miss the boat. What it does say in the mentioned press release is that, quote “Early adopters will have the opportunity to establish very strong positions in the ecosystem, while slower adopters will not be entirely boxed out but should be exploring use cases”.
However, in the web conference it was mentioned that those organizations which are not participating in blockchains will be ‘at significant speed and cost disadvantages’ and that ‘early adopters have the opportunity to establish very strong positions’.
With regards to the impact of blockchain’s growing importance, those mentioned findings on the usage of blockchain networks in production across a few industries by 2020 (top global transaction banks, manufacturers, retailers and healthcare organizations) and, last but not least, the recommendations on what to do in 2018 and beyond we made the graphic above showing you a bit more about what the future of blockchain in business looks like and what you may want to start doing, as well as some key takeaways from other research mentioned on this page.
Of course, listening to the webcasts or getting one of those new reports will tell you far more.
The future of blockchain in conclusion: prepare now, beware of the promises and look at the facts
There are far more companies and people with data and views on the immediate and further future of blockchain.
On July 31, 2017 Gartner even published a separate hype cycle for blockchain technologies, among others showing smart contracts, distributed storage in blockchain and blockchain for IAM (Identity & Access Management) on the rise, distributed ledgers at the peak and cryptocurrencies sliding into the through.
On October 4, 2017, Gartner also announced its top 10 strategic technology trends for 2018 and in that list for the near future blockchain has a place as mentioned. The research firm cites use cases, applications and industries, on top of financial services for the obvious reasons, including government, healthcare, manufacturing, media distribution, identity verification, title registry and supply chain.
Yet, just as IDC does, also Gartner looks further in time with regards to the future of blockchain as the company believes that promise currently outstrips reality and that many of the associated technologies of blockchain won’t be mature until at the earliest 2019-2020.
You can’t exactly say that blockchain isn’t looked at by organizations as is clear when you look at all those findings we mentioned. As an additional token of that interest: Gartner’s Rob van der Meulen wrote a blog post in May 2017, saying that blockchain was the second-most-searched-for term on the website of the company. Yet he as well warned that ‘despite this surging interest in blockchain, large scale deployments in active use won’t come overnight’.
We now kow by when they will. Everyone seems to point at 2018 and 2019 as the years to get really ready (precisely as we stated on our blockchain business page quite some time ago) and 2020 and beyond for real usage of blockchain networks in action, as said among others in the Global 2000.
Of course also Gartner has its white papers, webcasts and reports on the future of blockchain and on the practical applications and usage of blockchain such as this ‘Practical Blockchain: A Gartner Trend Insight Report‘.
As we can’t cover everything we wanted to create a list of more forecasts on the future of blockchain in the real world instead of the possible world and a focus on the practical, the real instead of the promise, the applications and the industries.
However, it seems that the possible still outweighs the real and that, in order to understand the business impact and business future of blockchain, as well as the future of blockchain for your organization if you aren’t in a blockchain consortium yet or still aren’t really looking at blockchain but intend to you’ll have to rely on analysts, peers, partners, experiences that get shared and some digging to investigate existing initiatives and ecosystems, a bit like we do, and at the same time one of the recommendations from IDC for organizations who haven’t done so yet (according to us a huge majority) in 2018.
Top image: Shutterstock – Copyright: dencg