A note to India Inc on thinking through its Blockchain strategyBy Chinmaya Sharma, Zeonlab

Manufacturing, policing, military, healthcare, currency have all been areas where countries have worked in complete insulation from each other at different points in time in history.

And yet, these are all areas where open borders and collaboration are par-for-the-course now. Think of technology-sharing pacts, Interpol, military alliances, vaccination initiatives and the Euro respectively.

The end-game for Bitcoin is to push this very doctrine of an ‘open ’ to a degree where it becomes an enabler for frictionless trade, remittances and information sharing. We will leave whether that dream will get realised or not to the speculators. For the time being, the biggest harvest from Bitcoin is the distributed ledger technology or blockchain.

Most transformational technology cycles in early days are marked by the simultaneous existence of hyperbolic exuberance as well as doomsday predictions about its future.

For Blockchain, hyperbolic exuberance is best represented by utterances like “Blockchain is the new internet. Everything will move to Blockchain”.

Doomsday predictions are represented by those strongly pointing towards and computing power spends and proclaiming that anything Blockchain can do, existing technology advancements can do too if applied creatively.

Because a strong opinion is often a widely-accepted proxy for insights, individuals and corporate can both find themselves in the quagmire of believing Blockchain is either a godsend or a complete dud. It probably is neither at this point in time- this piece seeks to lay out the ideal course for an Indian enterprise to chart with respect to Blockchain.

Rule #1- You cannot win at what you do not understand

Blockchain is relatively nascent and rapidly evolving. Developer communities across the world are helping interpret it and run projects that make it more accessible and productive.

There are technologies that are not about doing something more efficiently, they engender a completely new way of doing things. Remember how the internet was not a more efficient way of sending fax back in the ‘90s. The internet rendered the fax extinct.

Same with Blockchain. And that’s why this is one of those technologies where the understanding of it should not be limited to the CTO or CIO. All business leaders across functions need to be a part of the thought process and the memos being floated.

Read a lot, ask questions a lot, get leadership workshops conducted or enrol in courses- if knowledge is an unfair advantage, then leaders ought to carve out time to gain knowledge individually as well as create opportunities for institutional learning.

Rule #2- Wield Blockchain like a scalpel, not a bludgeon

In several boardroom conversations, Blockchain is an answer looking for a question. Let the right question come to you to which Blockchain presents itself as an answer organically.

This almost always implies that selected use-cases where you decide to apply Blockchain should be narrowly and sharply defined. For example, a logistics company should not start an internal initiative that aims to move all tracking and storage to Blockchain. Instead, the company should seek to move a specific business unit-say, poultry transport to Blockchain over one specific route.

Further, move specific data-points, say, location of the truck or temperature of transport as opposed to all relevant data to Blockchain first. Unless you are looking to start the next Ethereum-killer project, it is perfectly okay for you to remember what they say about a journey of a thousand miles.

Also, a certain spirit of fault-tolerance and rapid iterations commonly associated with the alpha and beta stages of consumer internet product development cycles will help.

Rule #3- Even auto-pilot aircrafts need two pilots

This rule is one that applies broadly and uniformly to almost all business pursuits. Accountability is a pre-requisite to success.

Even if, as the CIO or CTO you feel Blockchain is too non-core a topic to have a full-time team run the agenda, it is important to have a name against that checkbox. Ideally, the person running point here is technology-savvy and is clear on expectations.

Blockchain is evolving at such a rapid pace that keeping track of all the innovations relevant to your industry is in itself a task. If you want a layer of thoughtfulness on top of industry coverage, think hard and carefully about the person or team in charge. And create resources and time on their calendar to do justice to the task.

This is a low-investment, potentially high-returns way of keeping one eye trained on the industry. The same team then doubles up as your project champions once you decide to kick-off a Proof-of-Concept.

Rule #4- Blockchain is like Grand Theft Auto- more fun in the multi-player mode

This one is an advice for those slightly ahead in their Blockchain journey. As you begin figuring out and prioritising use-cases, you will realise that for most use-cases collaboration will amplify returns.

It could be a consortium of competitors or you could get your customers or partners together. For an internet-based money-lending business for example, if you are looking to use Blockchain to prevent identity frauds, join up with a few of your competitors to create a platform.

Set the right expectations and technology protocols to ensure commercially sensitive information is protected yet the right degree of data-sharing to nitro-boost measurable outcomes is implemented.

Rule #5- Be Zen. Understand yourself first

There is a strong case for CIOs across industries to pursue the Blockchain agenda. There is an equally strong case for being circumspect and understanding your ambitions as a company first.

Have you always banked on technological innovation as your competitive advantage? If not, is pursuing Blockchain purely an opportunistic move or is there a deliberate change of ? What are the most pressing topics for attention and resource allocation?

It is not okay to ignore innovation -but you could be innovative with your business model, with your marketing strategy, with your core offering. Not pursuing Blockchain for now is not the end of the world. Do not rush in, tread carefully.

In summary, understand the technology, keep your customers in sight when deciding interventions for Blockchain and be agile about decision-making and execution. No business is going to win all battles and hence caution is better applied than regret.

(The author is the CEO of Zeonlab, a Blockchain strategy and development company. Views expressed above are his own)



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