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Are We Heading Into The Teenage Years Of Blockchain?

One should not fear this, it’s just a sign that things are getting real…all part of growing up! Maybe we are heading into the teenage years for blockchain, exciting, challenging but all worth it in the end.

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There is no dearth of summits and conferences being held on Blockchain in India as well as globally, even within the aviation sector. With over thousands of attendees, its gives a good picture of the interest and momentum in blockchain within aviation right now.

Blockchain isn’t going away any time soon

Given the number of participants and breadth of the industry represented at these event, there is clearly more than just a passing interest in blockchain within aviation. The general feeling is that this technology is not going away and questions are changing from how can one use blockchain? to how and where can one implement it?

Focus on use cases that deliver value

As often happens when new technologies emerge, the early focus tends to be on the technology itself. For blockchain, most of the focus to-date has been on building proof of concepts (PoCs) that investigate different ledger protocols and evaluate security, performance and other standard IT metrics.

This is no surprise because before committing to any new technology, there is a need to do due diligence to make sure that it is fit for purpose and stable enough to deploy real-world applications. While the blockchain technology is not yet fully mature, it has come on a lot in the past year or so and many of the early concerns have been addressed.

Today, the perception is that businesses are undergoing a shift. Technology players are moving from researching the technology itself to figuring out the potential business value of blockchain. The type of questions that they are now asking more and more are: “what problem does this fix?”, “what new opportunity does it open up?”, “is it possible to quantify the value of blockchain vs a traditional solution?”

Industry is moving away from general technology investigation towards exploring particular uses where blockchain delivers the biggest hit. Broadly, these fit into three categories:

  • Simplify: Reducing time and effort in the, often manual or paper-based, way that wecurrently do things
  • Collaborate: establishing the “single source of truth” for shared data sets to facilitate better decision making across the industry
  • Prove: providing a trusted and transparent record of identity, qualification or activity

A lot of research going on right now is diving into specific use cases to determine the value proposition in areas such as flight operations, maintenance repair and overhaul, cargo, etc.

Size and collaboration matter

A key point to mention for all these use cases is that there is a marked network effect in blockchain. Put simply, the more organizations that are collaborating on a single blockchain network, the greater the payoff will be for all participants. Up to now, technology companies  have been largely focused on whether one can tackle a business problems with blockchain. This can be done with a fairly small representative sample of industry players.

However, to be able to prove the worth of using blockchain, we need to scale up. When there are only five participants contributing data then the technology works but none of the participants will gain much value.  If the network is expanded so that there are 100 participants, there is nothing new from a technical standpoint but now there is a single source of truth based on 100 contributors, which is something much more valuable.

Into the future…

2019 will be seen as the year when blockchain moved away from hype and speculation of initial coin offerings (ICOs) towards more practical implementations. This year, the PoCs will become less technology-driven and more business-focused. Blockchain will increasingly  become a part of a broader solution rather than an end in itself.

There’s a lot of talk around combining hybrid solutions - traditional storage alongside distributed ledger, or combining blockchain with IoT or AI. Along the way, things will get bumpy: debates over public versus private blockchain, protocol wars (e.g. Ethereum versus Fabric), who controls the network(s) etc.

One should not fear this, it’s just a sign that things are getting real…all part of growing up! Maybe we are heading into the teenage years for blockchain, exciting, challenging but all worth it in the end.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Barry McLaughlin

The author is Lead Architect, Advanced Technology Office, SITA Lab

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