Welcome!

@ThingsExpo Authors: William Schmarzo, Liz McMillan, Kevin Benedict, Elizabeth White, Mark Herring

Related Topics: @ThingsExpo, Agile Computing, @CloudExpo

@ThingsExpo: Blog Post

Blockchain: Why It’s So Much More than Bitcoin By @EFeatherston | @ThingsExpo #IoT

An interesting feature about blockchain technology is that there’s no central authority or single source of the ledger

(Note: This is the first in a series of posts dedicated to the topic of blockchain technology.)

There's a new kid on the block of disruptive technology. Blockchain. A day doesn't go by that you can't find numerous articles about it. Topics range from how JP Morgan is making significant investments in exploring the technology, to the Republican GOP using blockchain to allow online voting in the recent Utah caucus.

It's definitely a hot topic of discussion. At times it sounds like blockchain is replacing cloud in discussions as the technology panacea that will solve all problems. On the flip side, one of the first statements I invariably hear when blockchain enters the conversation with clients is, "We're not interested in Bitcoin." For many, the terms blockchain and Bitcoin are synonymous.

Blockchain ≠ Bitcoin!

In a recent weekend tweetchat (#CIOChat hosted by Myles Suer, a business strategist at Informatica), blockchain was the topic of discussion. One of the threads in the chat centered on the challenge caused by the blockchain / Bitcoin association. Ryan Fay, CIO at ACI Specialty Benefits, said it best, "I can't wait to start a conversation about blockchain and not spend an hour talking about Bitcoin." This reflected the viewpoint of many in the chat.

The connection is understandable. If you do a Google search on blockchain, the top results inevitably pair the terms "blockchain" and "Bitcoin." Blockchain technology originated in the establishment of Bitcoin. It enables digital currencies like Bitcoin to work.

A colleague of mine, Zach Slayton, VP of Digital Solutions at Collaborative Consulting, gave the analogy of fish and water. A fish (Bitcoin) needs water (blockchain) to survive. But water (blockchain) does not need the fish (Bitcoin). So while Bitcoin needs blockchain to work, blockchain doesn't need Bitcoin to provide value.

(I'm not going to attempt to discuss the pros and cons of Bitcoin here. Those conversations can be almost as emotional as political discussions - and voluminous enough to fill books.)

What exactly is blockchain?
In simple terms, blockchain is a digital ledger. You can think of it as a spreadsheet. The blockchain ledger comprises a constantly growing list of transactions called "blocks" - all of which are sequentially connected. Each block has a link to the previous one in the list.

Once a block is in the chain it can't be removed, so it becomes part of a permanent database containing all the transactions that have occurred since its inception.

One of the more interesting features about blockchain technology is that there's no central authority or single source of the ledger, which means it exists on every node that's associated with it. Yes, every node has its own complete copy of the blockchain. As new blocks are added, they're also received by every node that participates. Distributed consensus and trust ensures the integrity of the system.

Instead of Bitcoin, think in terms of assets
If you look at blockchain through the lens of Bitcoin (or for that matter, cryptocurrency in general), it can provide a very limited view of blockchain's business value and usefulness. If instead, we think of it in relation to assets of all kinds, we see a landscape of nearly boundless potential.

In her book, "Blockchain: Blueprint for a New Economy," author Melanie Swan describes three categories of blockchain:

  • Blockchain 1.0 - Currencies. This includes currency transfers, remittances, and digital payment systems. This is the area most of us are familiar with as it is the territory of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
  • Blockchain 2.0 - Contracts. This extends blockchain into financial and marketplace applications. Assets include items such as bonds, stocks, loans, titles, and anything that has an implied agreement or contract.
  • Blockchain 3.0 - Organizing Activity. This takes blockchain out of the financial space and into areas such as education, government, health, and art. In these areas, asset types may be physical, digital, or human in nature.

In the second two categories, blockchain has far more potential than Bitcoin. And these applications are starting to garner significant interest throughout various industries.

Blockchain 2.0: Contracts
The potential benefits (and disruption) presented by blockchain in the financial services industry has not gone unnoticed. As I mentioned at the beginning, JP Morgan is making significant investments in exploring blockchain. Many in the financial services industry are starting to take a serious look at blockchain technology and its potential impact.

  • Oliver Bussmann, CIO of UBS says that blockchain technology could "pare transaction processing time from days to minutes."
  • Visa, Citi, and Nasdaq have invested $30M in the blockchain startup Chain.com.
  • DTCC (Depository Trust & Clearhouse Corp.) recently held a symposium on blockchain titled, "Embracing the Disruption." (DTCC acts as the trusted third-party clearing house for settling a majority of the securities transactions in the United States. Adoption of blockchain in the securities arena could cause a huge disruptive impact to their business model.)
  • In a recent article in Fortune Magazine, Christopher Giancarlo, a commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, expressed the view that blockchain could have helped save Lehman Bros. He said, "If an accurate [blockchain] record of all of Lehman's transactions had been available in 2008, then Lehman's prudential regulators could have used data-mining tools, smart contracts, and other analytical applications to recognize anomalies. Regulators could have reacted sooner to Lehman's deteriorating credit-worthiness."

It is worth noting that Bitcoin has no place in any of those discussions. This is purely about leveraging the technological benefits blockchain may provide to solve real-world business issues in the financial services sector.

Blockchain 3.0: Organized activity
Outside of the financial arena, blockchain could be used in some very out-of-the-box scenarios that one might not consider at first. As noted earlier, the use of blockchain to enable online voting during Utah's recent GOP primary is just one example.

This application of the technology clearly demonstrates the concept of distributed ownership. When I create my "vote asset" and it's placed on the chain, I don't own the chain but I do own my asset, which is my vote - and also a block in the chain. So every voter owns a block in the chain. These blocks become permanent records of each individual's assets and are immutably validated by consensus on the chain.

With that concept in mind, it's exciting to think about blockchain's potential in sectors and industries like government, education, and healthcare - just to name a few.

  • In Estonia, the government is using blockchain to secure over 1 million electronic health records (EHR). It's important to remember that patients own their individual EHR assets, the security and integrity of which are maintained within the blockchain. Rather than calling and relying on providers for record transferals, patients can transfer records themselves through the blockchain.
  • The United Kingdom's chief scientific advisor recently published a report entitled "Distributed Ledger Technology-Beyond Blockchain." In it, he states that the technology "can revolutionize services, both in government and the private sector."
  • During the weekend #CIOChat tweetchat I mentioned earlier, the topic of blockchain's potentially disruptive impact on education produced a lengthy chat that continued well beyond the weekend. Digital strategy advisor Stephen diFilipo, Digital Strategy Advisor, Peter Salvitti, CTO, Boston College, and Joanna Young, CIO, Michigan State University, all raised points of disruption and impact including:
    • Proof of learning and achievements
      • Credentials validation
      • Transcript verification
    • The concept of micro-learning and micro-credentials
  • In the world of the Internet of Things (IoT), IBM and Samsung jointly developed a proof of concept demonstrating a decentralized IoT telemetry system powered by blockchain technology.

We have miles to go and promises to keep
The great promise of blockchain extends far beyond its role as a platform for the successful operation of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Yet, for some applications under consideration, technological challenges including performance and scalability will need to be addressed.

As with any technology, blockchain is a tool, not a destination. Ultimately, as technologists, our job is to help the business achieve its goals - and reach its destination - by leveraging tools that provide business value.

I count having blockchain in our toolbox as a net positive, because as I've illustrated above, it's so much more than Bitcoin. I'm confident that as we progress forward, that association will slowly fade away.

More Stories By Ed Featherston

Ed Featherston is VP, Principal Architect at Cloud Technology Partners. He brings 35 years of technology experience in designing, building, and implementing large complex solutions. He has significant expertise in systems integration, Internet/intranet, and cloud technologies. He has delivered projects in various industries, including financial services, pharmacy, government and retail.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
In his Opening Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, John Considine, General Manager of IBM Cloud Infrastructure, led attendees through the exciting evolution of the cloud. He looked at this major disruption from the perspective of technology, business models, and what this means for enterprises of all sizes. John Considine is General Manager of Cloud Infrastructure Services at IBM. In that role he is responsible for leading IBM’s public cloud infrastructure including strategy, development, and offering m...
With tough new regulations coming to Europe on data privacy in May 2018, Calligo will explain why in reality the effect is global and transforms how you consider critical data. EU GDPR fundamentally rewrites the rules for cloud, Big Data and IoT. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Adam Ryan, Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Calligo, examined the regulations and provided insight on how it affects technology, challenges the established rules and will usher in new levels of diligence arou...
The 22nd International Cloud Expo | 1st DXWorld Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo, to be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, brings together Cloud Computing, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding busin...
Smart cities have the potential to change our lives at so many levels for citizens: less pollution, reduced parking obstacles, better health, education and more energy savings. Real-time data streaming and the Internet of Things (IoT) possess the power to turn this vision into a reality. However, most organizations today are building their data infrastructure to focus solely on addressing immediate business needs vs. a platform capable of quickly adapting emerging technologies to address future ...
No hype cycles or predictions of a gazillion things here. IoT is here. You get it. You know your business and have great ideas for a business transformation strategy. What comes next? Time to make it happen. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jay Mason, an Associate Partner of Analytics, IoT & Cybersecurity at M&S Consulting, presented a step-by-step plan to develop your technology implementation strategy. He also discussed the evaluation of communication standards and IoT messaging protocols, data...
Nordstrom is transforming the way that they do business and the cloud is the key to enabling speed and hyper personalized customer experiences. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ken Schow, VP of Engineering at Nordstrom, discussed some of the key learnings and common pitfalls of large enterprises moving to the cloud. This includes strategies around choosing a cloud provider(s), architecture, and lessons learned. In addition, he covered some of the best practices for structured team migration an...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Raju Shreewastava, founder of Big Data Trunk, provided a fun and simple way to introduce Machine Leaning to anyone and everyone. He solved a machine learning problem and demonstrated an easy way to be able to do machine learning without even coding. Raju Shreewastava is the founder of Big Data Trunk (www.BigDataTrunk.com), a Big Data Training and consulting firm with offices in the United States. He previously led the data warehouse/business intelligence and B...
Recently, REAN Cloud built a digital concierge for a North Carolina hospital that had observed that most patient call button questions were repetitive. In addition, the paper-based process used to measure patient health metrics was laborious, not in real-time and sometimes error-prone. In their session at 21st Cloud Expo, Sean Finnerty, Executive Director, Practice Lead, Health Care & Life Science at REAN Cloud, and Dr. S.P.T. Krishnan, Principal Architect at REAN Cloud, discussed how they built...
22nd International Cloud Expo, taking place June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and co-located with the 1st DXWorld Expo will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud ...
22nd International Cloud Expo, taking place June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and co-located with the 1st DXWorld Expo will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud ...
DevOps at Cloud Expo – being held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's largest enterprises – and delivering real results. Among the proven benefits,...
@DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo, taking place June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, is co-located with 22nd Cloud Expo | 1st DXWorld Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait...
Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo have announced the conference tracks for Cloud Expo 2018. Cloud Expo will be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, and November 6-8, 2018, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with the introduction of DX Expo within the program. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive ov...
SYS-CON Events announced today that T-Mobile exhibited at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. As America's Un-carrier, T-Mobile US, Inc., is redefining the way consumers and businesses buy wireless services through leading product and service innovation. The Company's advanced nationwide 4G LTE network delivers outstanding wireless experiences to 67.4 million customers who are unwilling to compromise on qua...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cedexis will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cedexis is the leader in data-driven enterprise global traffic management. Whether optimizing traffic through datacenters, clouds, CDNs, or any combination, Cedexis solutions drive quality and cost-effectiveness. For more information, please visit https://www.cedexis.com.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Google Cloud has been named “Keynote Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Companies come to Google Cloud to transform their businesses. Google Cloud’s comprehensive portfolio – from infrastructure to apps to devices – helps enterprises innovate faster, scale smarter, stay secure, and do more with data than ever before.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Vivint to exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st Cloud Expo, which will take place on October 31 through November 2nd 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California. As a leading smart home technology provider, Vivint offers home security, energy management, home automation, local cloud storage, and high-speed Internet solutions to more than one million customers throughout the United States and Canada. The end result is a smart home solution that sav...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Opsani will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Opsani is the leading provider of deployment automation systems for running and scaling traditional enterprise applications on container infrastructure.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Nirmata will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Nirmata provides a comprehensive platform, for deploying, operating, and optimizing containerized applications across clouds, powered by Kubernetes. Nirmata empowers enterprise DevOps teams by fully automating the complex operations and management of application containers and its underlying ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Opsani to exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st Cloud Expo, which will take place on October 31 through November 2nd 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California. Opsani is creating the next generation of automated continuous deployment tools designed specifically for containers. How is continuous deployment different from continuous integration and continuous delivery? CI/CD tools provide build and test. Continuous Deployment is the means by which...