By Mo Marshall
IBM announced a program designed to speed up the development of blockchain-based applications for business.
Blockchain technology — which enables secure, decentralized recording of information — has been picking up interest over the past year or two for the variety of important applications it could support. In the finance world, it can reliably and securely record transactions; in manufacturing, it can aid product recalls by keeping a record of the full supply chain of a product; in shipping, it can record the temperatures of medicines or perishables during transport to ensure they stay within contracted ranges; in public and corporate elections, it could confidentially but reliably record votes to vastly improve confidence in a fair outcome; and in health care, clear, unalterable records would cut down on billing and patient identity fraud.
It’s a powerful breed of technology with enormous potential, and in addition to the most well-known blockchains, Bitcoin and Ethereum, hundreds of other public blockchains have recently emerged (CoinMarketCap currently lists 710 — and those are just the ones with their own cryptocurrencies).
IBM debuted its own blockchain earlier this year, called simply IBM Blockchain, and the company is clearly hoping to play a central role in the coming world of business blockchain apps. The company has been working on a number of blockchain partnerships since it launched its offering in February, but its formal announcement today of a “blockchain ecosystem,” open to any company interested in developing blockchain apps, is a big move to mark itself as the go-to business blockchain.
The ecosystem promises to offer route-to-market guidance and mentorship for startups building blockchain apps — and it offers them a place to market their apps on IBM Marketplace, forming a sort of blockchain “app store.” Enterprise developers and systems integrators can join the ecosystem, too, for access to tools, advice, and community. “IBM will provide education and tools to reduce the time required to go from idea to execution. IBM blockchain experts will hold ‘office hours’ via the Hyperledger Fabric Slack channel providing support to developers and help with troubleshooting,” the company said in its release. The company will also offer code libraries, smart contract templates, and other tools.
It’s very early days for blockchain technology, with adoption still quite low, but it’s clear that IBM hears the clock ticking on the opportunity here. Intel is another big, trusted name moving quickly to build out business blockchain solutions.
IBM Blockchain is based on the Hyperledger Project, an open source collaboration of 100 member companies (including Intel, IBM, J.P. Morgan, Hitachi, Cisco, VMware, and Fujitsu, to name a few) focused on developing blockchain tech specifically for business use. Hyperledger-based blockchains differ from well-known public blockchains such as Bitcoin and Ethereum in a few key ways. On the Bitcoin blockchain, for example, all transactions are anonymous, but anyone in the public can view the amounts and movements of those transactions. On a Hyperledger-based blockchain, such as IBM’s, users have known identities, and each application can define its own set of permissions to govern who can view which transactions.