Can Blockchain mix it up with Enterprise Software?
Updated: Nov 11, 2021
Is Blockchain crypto? Software? A new rapper on the block 👀? Although a buzz word these days, Blockchain is quickly becoming an ever present technology, much like how the internet came to be accepted in the early 2000s. Let’s dive into this new and sometimes mysterious technology and understand how it could revolutionize software, especially for enterprise.
1. What is Blockchain?
Blockchain is a hashed, merit based, network where data is sealed and immutable. What does this mean in Layman's terms? Well, the Blockchain or simply “Blockchain” is built to be decentralized, essentially putting the ownership of the network in the hands of the participants.
These participants own a piece or a block of the ‘Blockchain’. This aspect is very different from the traditional way of networks where ownership is more or less centralized and governed by a few entities.
Blockchain is the foundation of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ether, Solana, Cardano and more...this makes sense as cryptocurrencies aim at bridging the financial disparity by enabling users to merit their place in the blockchain and thus create new blocks, in this case, new cryptocurrency pieces. Thereby, removing any central figure of authority.
Think of the Blockchain as a sort of ledger where transactions are recorded, hashed (protected) and shared amongst all participants. This is called a distributed ledger. The fundamental principles of Blockchain rest on this notion of “distribution” as it levels out the playing field.
Each transaction is recorded, stored and becomes immutable. Immutability gives the network a proof of validity and thus forces all the participants to be in accordance with each other to make a change in the Blockchain.
2. Blockchain Software
So how does software come into play? Well, the validation of a transaction is made through an authentication method called “Smart Contracts”. Smart Contracts are lines of code written on a blockchain software. They use ‘IF...THIS...THEN/ELSE’ statements to ensure that a new transaction can either be viewed, changed, added or deleted.
This might seem like a simple SQL query to a database but the difference with a blockchain network is that these conditions need to be validated by all the parties involved. Other stipulations might play a role too, essentially giving the request other hurdles before validating it on the blockchain.
The changes are immutable and only participants with the right access can see the changes. At the heart of these operations is the software that enables these transactions to exist. Creating a blockchain software these days is not a massive undertaking, most are actually available as open source code.
Hyperledger, from the Hyperledger Foundation, is a great example of a blockchain software project that aims to create an equitable ecosystem in the enterprise. The foundation aims at assembling a community of developers to help companies build reliable, safe and scalable blockchain based products.
Hyperledger is providing the platform for organizations to get into the blockchain revolution
Powered by it’s thriving population of partners and stakeholders, Hyperledger had to make sure that it was offering a platform that could take a specific business need and turn it into a viable solution.
To do this, it had to build a PoC or Proof of Concept. PoCs are great tools to validate an idea, they are essential in putting out software, whether it be a new feature, a new functionality or a new product altogether, such was the case when Hyperledger partnered up with Walmart.
Together with their technology partner IBM, Walmart decided to tackle one of their biggest challenges: creating a high degree of transparency in their food supply chain.
Although Walmart is known for embracing new technology, this wasn’t necessarily the case here: an outbreak of food-borne disease combined with an enthusiastic Director of Technology Karl Bed well, the project came into fruition (no pun intended).
Walmart was able to turn the complex network of food supply into a chain of traceable transactions, essentially enabling them to trace products within seconds rather than days or weeks. It started out small and steadily moved into other food categories.
The origin of foods such as lettuce is hard to trace due to a complex network in between growers and consumers
The team at Walmart were ecstatic about the results but they had to make sure that the technology could seamlessly integrate into their other core enterprise applications.
The article emphasizes this point, stating that “They [The team] also found it important to work with an open-source, vendor-neutral blockchain. Since the food traceability system was meant to be used by many parties, including Walmart’s suppliers and even direct competitors, the technology ecosystem underlying it needed to be open”.
4. Scalable solutions
The Walmart case study is proof that an enterprise grade blockchain solution can be implemented and scaled. If the results of the PoC campaign are not interpreted properly and adjustments are not made accordingly, they tend to become fragile as they grow to handle more complex use cases.
Solutions born out of PoCs can oftentimes become stand alone products that give birth to other products. Take Facebook for example, a way of checking on classmates turned into a social network giant, with it introducing ‘Messenger’, the latter becoming its own app.
So how can we leverage this on the enterprise level? Well, as the article mentioned, Walmart already uses multiple core applications to run their business. The open-source blockchain software was deemed to complement that.
Indeed, the technology has essentially been embedded into the enterprise systems, right from the get go. This allowed a seamless integration to the already established ecosystem of applications.
As an end-to-end solution, 3rd party participants (vendors, growers, distributors, wholesalers etc.) have become essential touch points in the traceability process.
For example, pork farmers in China are putting a certificate of authenticity on their meat, a detail that is hashed, stored and verified to validate the transaction. Fruits are labelled using GS1 standard barcodes, uniquely read by the Hyperledger blockchain.
5. Looking ahead
From cryptocurrencies to tracing pork, blockchain is proving to be a technology for the ages. It certainly is becoming mainstream but yet, it’s ultimate underlying competitive advantage is being underutilized.
A hashed distributed ledger can be a revelation to companies that are constantly trying to get their books in line. Imagine what a logistics company like UPS has to deal with: running payroll for its domestic and overseas employees, transacting with distribution partners, replenishing stocks, creating maintenance schedules on machinery and assets, dealing with financial transactions with banks, institutions, customers, vendors all around the world. And the list goes on.
UPS is a shipping behemoth operating in over 175 countries
The biggest headache for a company that size is that it has to compare its own pool of data to that of the outside entities. Those entities also have to deal with other parties that transact with them and so the cycle goes on and on. Software, although more evenly distributed these days, is still proprietary. So getting everyone on the same page can destabilize operations and create a nasty chain of events.
Blockchain can be the software inside the software. Without altering the functionality of any of the applications used, UPS can ultimately centralize its database by ‘decentralizing’ through the distributed ledger. And unlike the Walmart case where participants only recorded data by either scanning a barcode or punching in numbers, a Hyperledger type blockchain application can give permission to all participants to validate transactions and keep the network up to date.
Regardless of the size of any company, having a hashed common source of truth can facilitate ease of doing business, accelerate data validation and provide a layer of security that is unmatched by traditional enterprise software.
As the main players of the enterprise software era are getting into understanding the benefits of this new technology, SpartaX is building a platform to enable organizations to work out their PoC and simulate scenarios with their existing applications. The world is interlinked, now more than ever, with Blockchain.