Blockchain for Enterprise is a controversial topic. On one hand, you have the Blockchain “purists” who insist that Blockchain is a tool for decentralization and was meant to take power back from the “greedy corporates” and put it back into the hands of the masses. On the other hand, you have people who are strong believers that Blockchain can fix every problem that plagues the enterprise world.
My opinion on the matter rests somewhere in the middle. While I do agree with the former group when we talk about ventures like Bitcoin, I think most of these people seem to forget that Blockchain is so much more than cryptocurrencies. While decentralization is a fundamental pillar in the cryptocurrency world, it is not applicable to several interesting use cases in the Enterprise world.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who tout Blockchain as a silver bullet for pretty much everything in an Enterprise context. While I think Blockchain can be used in a large variety of situations, I think a general rule of thumb for most companies should be: if your problem statement does not include interactions between a large consortium of companies, don’t use blockchain. This is where the benefits of Blockchain are truly realized. First and foremost, you reduce cost by getting rid of third parties that might be in the middle of you and other companies you deal with. It also makes for greater transparency, as all transactions are recorded and visible. Security is one of the major benefits too, as data is shared across multiple parties, making it significantly harder for hackers to change anything.
At PALO IT, we have received multiple requests from big enterprises who want to do POCs on Blockchain. While some of these do fall into the lets-use-blockchain-because-why-not category, there are others who actually could benefit a lot from Blockchain. I think some of the emerging themes that we see are centered around Education (for instance, a network of decentralized education providers, who could track certifications of people on the Blockchain), Settlement Systems (between collaborating Banks, or global Telco partners etc), Health (for instance, unified patient medical history across different clinics or hospitals). These use cases are just the tip of the iceberg and the benefits that you could get in these industries, by cheaper and easier sharing of information, are huge.
A lot of the clients who approach us are mainly just trying to explore Blockchain technology, and trying to discover if/how it could help them with certain problems within the company. Unfortunately, exploration is not always very easy for a person who is just jumping into the technology. There is a whole host of things that a person would need to know before they even reach a place where they could work on their original use case.
This is why we decided at PALO IT to create a simple, open-source tool (called Hash-It) which could help someone looking around to play with Blockchain easily. The vision is that from a UI aspect — someone can deploy a new private Blockchain network with the click-of-a-button. Once the network is created, the tool will provide the user with ready-made application templates (smart contracts), which would tackle some of the common themes I mentioned above. Users will be able to easily customize or “code” the smart contracts through the UI, and tweak them according to their own requirements. Once done, they can deploy the smart contracts onto the private network, and then interact with the smart contracts through the UI as well. All of this makes it very easy to visualize how a decentralized Blockchain application works.
Once we had set the vision, we worked on the “How” of this project. The first step was to choose a Blockchain platform, which would allow us to build smart contracts. After going through some options, we decided that we would leverage on Ethereum, as it met our basic requirements. Ethereum provides out-of-the-box support for Proof-of-Authority private networks, which we think are perfect for an Enterprise context. On the infrastructure layer, we worked closely with our friends at Microsoft and decided to use the Azure Blockchain Workbench. Workbench makes it ridiculously easy to create and manage an Ethereum network, and scaling up/down is very easy. The Hash-It tool itself would be an AngularJS UI, served by a set of Java microservices running on a Kubernetes cluster.
To build the actual tool, we conducted an internal hackathon across all our offices globally over the course of one weekend. The event itself was fun and challenging! A large number of interested Palowans came down over the weekend to help build the tool and to work on their areas of interest. Some engineers from our partner, Microsoft, were also present at the hackathon. At the end of the hackathon, while we weren’t completely finished, we did complete a significant part of the work. In the coming weeks, we are going to look to wrap this up, and share the product with the community!
Overall, we believe this tool would be really valuable to a lot of enterprises keen on exploring the Blockchain world, as it can drastically reduce the time spent understanding Blockchain and developing MVPs. If you’re looking to create a Blockchain application, this tool can help you deploy your own private Ethereum network, and then help you write, deploy and interact with your own smart contract in a matter of minutes! It makes experimentation a lot more fun, as you don’t have to worry about the detail of the underlying infrastructure setup, or the deployment details, and can focus solely on achieving your business function. Do get in touch with us if this is something you’re interested in, and we can arrange a demo for you!