The blockchain disillusionment

There is no doubt that blockchain is in Gartner’s ‘trough of disillusionment’. The expectation from here is we should see a shakedown of the pretenders with the stronger firms emerging onto the ‘slope of enlightenment’. The weak will not make it out of the trough and this week we had another casualty with SETL, a blockchain settlement startup going into bankruptcy.

The question is, when those that survive the trough emerge, what will their businesses look like? There is a very strong possibility that the survivors that do make it on to ‘the slope’ will do so without the chains.

The problem is however, that blockchain largely lacks any real use cases. That may be heresy in some circles; despite the many claims that most were either anarchic or were actually use cases for smart contracts or better data management.

For some time now, blockchain enthusiasts have been wandering around with their distributed ledger technology (DLT) hammers looking for problems to solve. Thousands of POCs later and we are starting to realise that there is very little need for distributed ledgers as a means of storing data.

While I am struggling to find a place for the distributed ledger aspects, I have no such issue with the sister offering of distributed applications or smart contracts. What climbs up the slope of enlightenment will probably be great advances in the use of smart contracts and complex workflow automation, with the ability to use a distributed ledger as and when, or even if, it is ever necessary.

Smart contracts do not require DLT. They can run perfectly well on centralised databases and when we couple this with the developments in cloud technology there are many more options available to us than there were even three years ago. Those use-cases that were really data management issues can often be solved by advances in data management, encryption and security controls.

The evolution of process automation using tools like Digital Assets’ DAML has the ability to transform business process management. This may also usher in a new era of significantly operational efficiency with the ability to reach beyond an organisation’s workflow and include multiple third parties, with automated triggers based on action confirmations from other parties involved in the supply chain.

By breaking free of the chains we may find that improved workflow systems are more adaptable and able to accommodate those who do not wish to or have yet to ‘digitise’ their workflow. And by adding NLP bots we can create interfaces, both voice and text based to interact with analogue elements in the workflow chain.

The DLT part will become just another storage option that is available, and there may well be use cases out there where DLT is a good solution, so we shouldn’t discount it. We just need to shift the emphasis – the important aspect in all of this is the automation and workflow efficiency; the means by which the data is stored is a secondary, technical issue.

There is another benefit of DAML; in the drive towards microservices, abstracting the workflow drivers from applications creates a new level of flexibility and possibility. Apps no longer need to contain workflow management elements, they can instead be driven by a core workflow engine that is more sophisticated than anything we have encountered before.

The future is about workflow automation and advanced technologies that will have a significant impact on the ability to automate complex events and processes. It will be a large step up from the simplistic implementations of RPA that we have seen so far and provide real and tangible value to businesses, and more importantly business cases that are implementable.

What climbs up the slope of enlightenment could well be RPA 2.0.

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