Blockchain has yet to become the game-changer some expected.
That’s according to a new report by McKinsey & Company, an American management consulting firm. The report, Blockchain’s Occam problem, highlights that the technology has been touted as “a revolution in business technology.”
As a result, companies, regulators, and financial technologists have spent numerous hours and money exploring its potential. For instance, IBM is thought to have invested over $200 million in a blockchain-powered data-sharing solution for the Internet of Things (IoT).
However, while the report notes that the blockchain is a “potential game-changer,” there are emerging doubts about it. Not only that, but of the more than 100 blockchain use cases identified, the authors argue that many of the applications remain stuck in the pioneering stage or are shutting down due to the inability to raise sufficient funding.
From an economic theory perspective, the stuttering blockchain development path is not entirely surprising, the authors write. It is an infant technology that is relatively unstable, expensive, and complex. It is also unregulated and selectively distrusted.
The report notes one reason there is a lack of progress is due to the emergence of competing technologies. Taking the payments industry as an example, it states that it makes sense that a shared ledger could replace the current system. But as the study points out, the technology is not the only solution on offer.
“Of nearly $12 billion invested in U.S. fintechs last year, 60% was focused on payments and lending,” the report adds.
Additionally, the payments industry realize that by investing in disruptive technologies such as the blockchain, this could lead to a reduction in their own revenues.
According to Angel Versetti, CEO of Ambrosus, a decentralized IoT network for next-generation supply chains, there is no technology that really competes with the blockchain in terms of its core value proposition: censorship-resistant, universally trusted ledger of transactions and contracts with no central point of failure.
There is no other technology that has come anywhere close to creating this in theory, much less in practice, Versetti added. Blockchain is governed by mathematics and a fixed set of rules, executed transparently and verifiable.
In Versetti’s opinion, the problem during the technology’s hype was that many projects tried to use the blockchain for all of the world’s problems, and those that didn’t exist, which led to many failures. While he concedes that it won’t solve all issues, “in the core value proposition of data integrity and immutability, blockchain is king,” he said.
Primarily led by the financial industry – boosted by the emergence of cryptocurrencies – from 2012 to 2015 resources were being used for the early development of the blockchain, placing them 18 to 24 months ahead of other industries. Other sectors soon followed though: insurance, automakers and the public sector who saw an opportunity to modernize and improve services.
By the end of 2016, investment in the technology was high and its future looked promising. Yet, just when development was gearing up for the growth stage, it seemed to falter. As the report notes, when other industries were taking the next step in development stage those within the financial sector underwent a mood change that was more cautious.
By late 2017, many people working at financial companies felt blockchain technology was either too immature, not ready for enterprise level application, or was unnecessary, it added. Many POCs [proof of concepts] added little benefit, for example beyond cloud solutions, and in some cases led to more questions than answers.
Consequently, financial institutions changed the focus on their blockchain strategies, putting their POCs under more scrutiny, paying attention to just one or two use cases rather than tens of them. For many industries the progression to stage two isn’t happening as quickly as many may have envisaged, eroding any initial enthusiasm.
Brent Jaciow, head of blockchain affairs at Utopia Music, a music data tracking platform, argues, though, that as with any software or technology, the user experience must make the end user’s life easier.
“Blockchain is still an emerging technology (even if it has been around in one form or another for 20 years), and developers must work hard to remove any roadblocks to firm’s harnessing its capabilities,” he added. “Given the current market environment, only those projects which clearly provide value to its end users in a compliant structure which investors understand will receive the funding necessary to bring their idea to fruition.”
Of course, while the authors of the McKinsey & Company report note that the “blockchain is a poorly understood (and somewhat clunky) solution in search of a problem,” it’s not all doom and gloom about the technology.
It notes, for example, that validation protocols used today will be upgraded or replaced in the next two to three years, helping to increase security and solve latency issues. Not only that, but advances in use cases away from the financial sector have been noted such as supply chains, identity management and the sharing of public records.
Certainly, it brings benefits where it shifts ownership from corporations to consumers, sharing “proof” of supply chain provenance more vertically, and enabling transparency and automation, the report states.
It adds that it is these types of use cases rather than those within finance, which will demonstrate the most value. Yet, while it has the potential to revolutionize business processes from banking and insurance to shipping and healthcare, the authors expect fr”doses of realism” as research into the technology continues.