Are private blockchains the route to public blockchains for big business?

There’s no question the corporate world is serious about blockchain technology. Exhibitors at the recent Blockchain Expo in London included multinational tech, finance and consultancy firms.

But what stage have big companies reached in developing blockchain projects? And are they ready to accept the original Bitcoin vision of public blockchains—rather than working on ‘in house’ private blockchains? Many in the Bitcoin world see the latter as like the so-called ‘walled gardens’ of online services such as AOL and Compuserve, which were popular before the Internet overtook them as the public grew more confident about going online.

CoinGeek spoke to two executives from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to understand their perspective on blockchain adoption.

Compared to even a year ago, “the use cases are becoming more specific and clearer,” said Steven Kok, Principal in BCG’s London office. “It’s becoming a much more real business problem, when it used to be just a technical problem.” On the other hand, “the challenges for mass adoption of some of these use cases, which are essentially predicated on scaling are becoming much more apparent as well.” Also, there’s a greater “willingness to pull out of the things that don’t make sense any more.”

Steven talked about how blockchain opportunities can act as a spur to the digitisation of legacy processes, to allow data sharing across or between businesses. In some cases, he says, the achievement is more in the digitisation than the use of blockchain: it’s about replacing historic paper-based processes with something more efficient.

Steven’s colleague, Kaj Burchardi, Managing Director, BCG Platinion, said that blockchain does offer some specific advantages over, for instance, a database. It provides a level of trust around digitisation without the need for a third party.

He cites a big blockchain project by Walmart. A case of E. coli on a lettuce revealed that the U.S. supermarket didn’t have a way to find out where the lettuce came from—and therefore how much other stock was affected. So they had to throw away all their lettuces at that time at a cost of a couple of million dollars. Now with a blockchain system, “they can actually track and trace where the lettuces are coming from in a few seconds.”

On the question of public and private blockchains, Kaj agrees that the use of private blockchains is not as “disruptive” as public blockchains could be. But he sees private blockchains, because they’re “much closer to the business we know,” as being a “normal start” for a new technology. In future, he believes some of the use cases could move to a public blockchain and indeed that possibility has sometimes already been built into the platform.

One advantage that Kaj sees in public blockchains is that where the code is open source, experts can be asked to check and contribute to improving it. You might not want to do that on a private blockchain, he says, although there may be new services being created that will do that privately.

To hear more from Steven and Kaj, listen to this week’s CoinGeek Conversation.

The podcast also includes a detailed example of one blockchain project in an interview with Aisling McGibbon, senior product manager with PWC. It’s called Smart Credentials, and is a platform which allows users to get their qualifications validated by the bodies that issued them.

You can also watch the podcast video on YouTube.

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New to blockchain? Check out CoinGeek’s Blockchain for Beginners section, the ultimate resource guide to learn more about blockchain technology.