A few weeks ago I attended the IBM Blockchain Summit 2017 in New York. The Summit included a number of talks and panels, and - most important, - presentations of concrete blockchain use cases IBM has been working on in a number of areas, including finance, supply chains and healthcare. Such real-world use cases are particularly important when introducing a new, complex set of technologies in the marketplace. They’re the best way of getting on the learning curve for the new technologies as well as of explaining the kinds of problems they help us address.
Blockchain has the potential to transform our economic and social systems, but such a transformation is still many years away. Like the Internet, blockchain is a foundational technology, whose adoption process is gradual, incremental and steady, unlike the hockey stick adoption we typically associate with disruptive technologies as defined by Clayton Christensen 20 years ago. Foundational transformations must overcome many barriers, - technological, organizational, governance, political, - which is why they take a long time to play out.
Lest we forget, TCP/IP, - the communications protocol that defines the Internet to this day, - was first adopted in the mid-1980s. So were the protocols used in e-mail, - the first widely used Internet application which enabled its user base in government, universities and research institutions to easily communicate with each other. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the Internet was first opened up to public, commercial users. General Internet adoption took off a few years later with the advent of the World Wide Web and the Web browser, and its transformational power wasn’t fully evident until the late 2000s, with the explosive growth of smartphones and the mobile Internet.
The concrete uses cases presented by IBM as it defines its blockchain strategy brought to mind the approach we took in the early days of formulating IBM’s Internet strategy, which I was closely involved with.