Read views of Infosys experts on how blockchain technology offers an unprecedented opportunity to transform the transactions of the future, how its adoption will create newer value propositions and what is required for its integration into larger IT systems.

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September 19, 2019

Unblocked, Unchained

In Quentin Tarantino's 2013 classic 'Django Unchained', Leonardo Di CAprio's colorful character Calvin Candie famously utters: "Gentlemen, you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention."

Well, that's what blockchain enthusiasts die to hear during most client conversations. However, given that blockchain or DLT (Distributed Ledger Technologies, as it is famously referred now) belongs to a pack of 'new age digital technologies', it gets to go through the pain of being regarded as any other technology in its pack & thus, routinely faces the question - Is it different, or is it really different?

Let us try a bit to understand this world of new-age digitech that is often looked upon as a beautiful rainbow, that promises to fill color into the otherwise bland world of technologies of the recent past, that by the way, operate wonderfully well inside of the enterprises already. So, what does this rainbow promise, really? Well, each color promises its unique merits over-the-top of existing IT landscape of an enterprise. They range from Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Blockchain (/DLT), Internet-of-things (IoT) so-on.

However, past few years of digital evolution have amply shown that true value of digitech to an enterprise will emerge only when those technologies are mixed in suitable proportions, considering the underlying business problems as the core basis in the first place, instead of force-fitting technologies into the existing IT ecosystem.

 In order to understand this better, one must observe the nature of new age digitech. They essentially fall into two broad categories: Inside-out technologies & Outside-in technologies. Inside-out digitech could be defined as ones that provide wonderful over-the-top usability to the existing (read: boring) end-user experience of ERP, MIS, Core systems of records of past three decades. These technologies make it possible for organizational users to fall in love with their existing systems once more, all over again!!! Analytics-driven actionable dashboards powered by AI/ML, multi-device AR/VR driven interfaces - are typical manifestations of such technologies. Basically, they allow for organizational users as well as end-customers of an enterprise to access and perceive their existing systems better.

But, some things are not fully sorted out even after that 'digital over-the-top makeover' done intrinsically. Those things are to do with the 'external nature of an enterprise' i.e. the manner in which an enterprise is perceived in its value chain, that consists of a larger group of business stakeholders like vendors, distributors, bankers, regulators, shippers, insurers et al. Those things are to do with the 'Outside-In' nature of the business, and thus, related to a connected world - a world of coopetition, driven by an innate collective need of a value chain to democratize itself. Thus, the second kind of digitech are the 'Outside-In' technologies, with Blockchain or DLT as their flag bearer.

Over the last 4-5 years, from the time the industry started to take note of DLT's seriously enough, they have been put through initial experimentation, albeit with the hangover of "Inside-out' technologies, with trends like - find the most convenient business processes that are internal in nature, that are least on risk, that don't involve external (read: difficult-to-influence stakeholders), that are not necessarily core to the business & therefore conduct quick "proof of concepts" around them, and let them die slow death ie show them the door. This 'POC-driven phase of frivolous use cases' that went on over last 2 years, for use cases that were internal, least-risk & non-core in nature, has been the primary reason for many analysts to have blocked (read: pan) this technology in its initial days, instead of panning the way in which the technology was deployed in the first place.

Blockchain is not an 'over-the-top' technology. It is in fact an 'under-the-floor' invisible technology that provides an exclusive conduit for not just a singular enterprise, but to its entire value chain. All stakeholders in a given value chain will push something selective & useful into blockchain, and retrieve something relevant from the blockchain, thereby slowly moving to the idea of 'value chain driven' networked approach of doing business. 

* That, in essence, is the power of blockchain. It literally chains the enterprises seamlessly, who are otherwise connected by the purpose of their existence, but disconnected by way of their respective technology choices of the past. So, looking at blockchain as an 'inside-out' technology is of no use beyond the initial-stage POC's. If an enterprise truly wants to benefit from blockchain, they must mobilize their entire value chain to experiment, question and suitably accept or reject the technology after conducting multi-enterprise networked experimentation that is 'outside-in' in nature.

* That 'multi-enterprise business network' is a true manifestation of 'outside-in' technologies such as blockchain. But even that is not enough...not just for this blog, but in general! In our experience thus far, no single technology is complete in itself. When the genuine and relevant business problem becomes the core of any technological consideration, then it is often noted that one needs a medley of such technologies instead of any one specific technology. In this context, Blockchain, when mixed with other digitech like IoT, provides a viable basis for connected enterprises to observe collective value in such initiatives.

That's when the enterprise world will shine brighter in the emerging white light. This is what Newton proved during 1700's through his famous colored disk experiment, that when all colors in the rainbow are mixed, all of them fade out to provide bright white color. Infosys stands for creating and facilitating such experiences...more on this, in the next blog in this series...

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