Blockchain breaks into the mainstream
We caught up with Nicolas Kozakiewicz, Head of Research & Development and Innovation, Worldline, Atos Fellow and member of the Atos Scientific Community after his presentation at the Analyst conference in Boston, USA.
Q: Nicolas, you covered a lot of ground in your speech just now, giving us an overview of developments in blockchain technology. What is the overriding message people have taken away from your talk?
Nicolas Kozakiewicz: In 2017, we viewed blockchain more as something we are working on, something we wanted to be ready for when the wave hits the shore. 2018 is the year of adoption. In the past few years, it has been important to explain what blockchains can do, and cannot do, and now we are really at the phase where the technology can become industrialized.
Q: Where do you envisage that blockchain will have most impact?
NK: Blockchain can be used in many different environments – healthcare, financial services, the Internet of Things, government and voting to name just a few areas. It burst into public consciousness in the area of financial services, with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, but since this is set to become a highly regulated environment and the use of cryptocurrencies has a well-publicized ‘dark side’ I think other areas will come to the fore in 2018 and beyond.
It is interesting to note that it is in logistics and transportation that blockchain is starting to be adopted and that is basically because it can solve concrete problems relating to traceability. In these sectors you have users who share a common goal, who do not necessarily trust one another, and as part of that goal they need to trace and log data throughout the logistics chain.
Blockchain allows information to be traced and logged in a structure that means it cannot be altered. In other words, it guarantees the immutability of logged history. So, in situations where people don’t necessarily trust each other, it provides certainty – nobody can put the blame for a late delivery or a missed package on someone else as the blockchain records it all!
Q: How is blockchain being used in the logistics sector?
NK: A good example is a solution to guarantee the integrity of food. Chain histories will stop people who put horsemeat into their beef lasagna from claiming it wasn’t their fault or that they didn’t know, which will protect everyone from producers through to consumers.
We have been working with Bureau Veritas, a certification organization, who launched Origin in March, the world’s first traceability label built on blockchain that will give consumers a complete end-to-end proof of a product’s journey, from farm to fork. Shoppers flash a QR code in-store to see the full history of each product and make informed purchase decisions.
Q: You said in your talk that 2018 will be the year of maturity for blockchain. What do you predict the key elements of this maturity will be?
NK: So far there has been only a little known industrial use of blockchain. There have been many trials, many proofs of value. However, we know that Estonia has set up a whole eGovernment system based on blockchain, and because of the benefits of traceability and identity-related issues, I believe the use of the technology will be ramped up and adopted in different environments in 2018. What will be key is to encourage sectors to adopt its usage and apply it in beneficial ways. The Bureau Veritas approach is smart because they will grant their traceability label on condition that participating companies choose blockchain to establish that their products and services are safe.
Q: Where is blockchain going in the next 5-7 years?
NK: I think we are going to see fewer blockchains appearing, and a consolidation of some existing blockchains. One is not enough but 1,500 blockchains is too many. More and more usages will go live, and I hope we will see a more rational approach to blockchain, looking beyond the cryptocurrency hype that drew so much attention in 2017.
It’s important to remember that there is no blockchain solution by itself. Blockchain is simply a useful layer amongst other layers in a project, providing efficiency in the ability to exchange digital assets. Blockchain is a technology you leverage into a bigger project.