Blythe Masters Looks Beyond Finance for Next Wave of Blockchain Growth

FEATURE
Ian Allison
Aug 6, 2018 at 12:30 UTC  |  Updated  Aug 7, 2018 at 11:34 UTC

To hear Blythe Masters tell it, the time has come for Digital Asset (DA) to spread its wings and fly.

The distributed ledger technology (DLT) company she founded in 2014 is entering a new phase, heralded by, among other things, a partnership with Google Cloud to simplify and proliferate the tech.

To date, DA's strategy has stood out among the big enterprise blockchain players for its laser-like focus. Instead of spending a lot of time on consortiums, proofs-of-concept and the like, the New York-based company concentrated on landing the one big fish.

It achieved that goal late last year when the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) officially hired DA to replace its creaky Clearing House Electronic Subregister System (CHESS), a multi-year project that's currently underway.

Now, having earned the rare distinction of a bona fide production customer, Masters' startup wants to foster an ecosystem around its Digital Asset Modeling Language (DAML), which is about to become available with a software development kit (SDK) via Google Cloud.

"Having spent three and a half years in the design-and-build phase, this is the 'open up and educate' phase and [the time to] build a community of channel partners and developers," Masters told CoinDesk.

This, in turn, will open a vast range of opportunities for DA, she said – both within the financial services industry where Masters spent most of her career and outside it.

"The application of this technology is by no means limited to the world's biggest market infrastructures," the former JPMorgan Chase executive said, adding:

"It goes well throughout financial services, well beyond capital markets and beyond financial services into all the other industries that have a vested interest in improving the efficiency of their workflow orchestration."

According to Masters, there is "a lot of pent-up demand" for DA's technology which the cloud-based DAML SDK can start to meet and a "potential addressable market that is almost unmeasurable."

To give a sense of the breadth of this market, Masters rattled off a litany of new pastures for DA, including: healthcare and insurance claims; digital media rights; royalty streams; real estate; lending and collateral management within capital markets, derivatives post-trade, securities post-trade, reference data, supply chain, crypto wallet custody of assets and more.

However, Masters was careful to qualify this, acknowledging the fatigue felt in many corners following the blockchain hype of a few years ago.

"I think there was some fair criticism that blockchain was a technology solution looking for a problem to solve," she said. "But our approach has very much been to work with customers to identify the problem first and sometimes not to recommend a DLT solution."

'Web-paced innovation'

The DA team recently returned from San Francisco, where Masters and Shaul Kfir, DA's CTO, gave a talk on DLT partnerships at the Google Cloud Next conference.

The primary aim of the Google Cloud partnership is to make it easier for developers to deploy DA's tech, which Masters describes as "a mission to unleash web-paced innovation across multiple industries."

This means abstracting away the underlying complexity of the cryptography, the data architecture, the blockchain or DLT state engine, said Masters.

The Google Cloud-DA partnership appears to run deep as well as wide. To help drive the DAML platform-as-a-service (PaaS) program, DA has also welcomed former Google engineering executive AG Gangadhar to its board.

"We will start to see application development accelerate, some of which will be used in production but others will be useful to helping programmers test and iterate on applications that run on a distributed ledger platform like Digital Asset's," said Gangadhar.

And adding to the symbiosis, Google Cloud has joined DA's developer program private beta, giving Google Cloud developers access to DAML.

"The DLT space has garnered extraordinary enthusiasm and Google's developers and its customers are no less curious and motivated in this space than any others," said Masters.

It's now clear Google is getting serious about blockchain following candid comments last month from co-founder Sergey Brin that the search giant was playing catch up with the blockchain trend.

Google would not comment on the partnership or DLT generally, but an insider close to the DA-Google Cloud partnership confirmed to CoinDesk, "All of Google has access to the DAML SDK, and this includes Alphabet," Google's holding company, which has portfolio companies in a wide range of industries.

But not every influential figure in Mountain View is a blockchain convert. CoinDesk asked Google's chief internet evangelist, Vint Cerf, if he thought tokens could perhaps be used to incentivize users and align them with the goals of tech platforms.

Cerf, who was not commenting on the DA partnership but on cryptocurrency generally, replied in a curt email: "Not clear yet. It could just turn into a speculation like tulip bulbs and bitcoin."

Still, Masters said DA and Google share a common approach to solving engineering problems and "a focus on empowerment of enterprise customers, particularly in the workflow orchestration space that we have in common. So that is where the enthusiasm is coming from."

Maverick Masters

To be sure, DA is far from alone among enterprise blockchain vendors in trying to expanding its ecosystem.

For instance, IBM and Hyperledger are hard at work exploring what they can do with partnerships. Meanwhile, a recent announcement from banking blockchain consortium R3 talked up the potential for its Corda platform to be interoperable across a wide range of industries.

There has also been an increase in blockchain-as-a-service announcements of late. BlockApps Strato has also been welcomed onto Google Cloud, while Amazon Cloud Services (AWS) recently cemented a partnership with ethereum design studio Consensys in the form of the Kaleido project.

But Masters pointed out that DA has always charted its own course, adding that the company's strategy remains unchanged.

"It's where we always intended to focus," she said, referring to the new priority on building a developer ecosystem. "We just didn't approach it via the same avenue necessarily as everyone else."

Aside from ASX, other customers DA has publicly disclosed it is working with are the U.S. clearing and settlement giant DTCC and Dutch megabank ABN Amro.

Another thing enterprise blockchain watchers seem to be interested in is a possible amalgamation between private or permissioned DLTs and public chains, with their fluidity of tokenized assets.  

Asked for her opinion on the nascent token economy and where it might bleed into the enterprise world, Masters said she is "not ruling out tokens by any means."

She agreed there is lots of good research and development work being done on this, but said the institutional use of enterprise tokens requires enterprise-grade command-and-control infrastructure.

"It won't be until the kind of controls you routinely expect around transactions and post-trade processing of a stock or bond today can also be produced for the transaction of a tokenized instrument – whether it's a stock or a bond or a cryptocurrency – that we will see widespread enterprise adoption of tokenized instruments that rely on public chain technologies."

Ever the hard-headed businessperson, Masters would not be drawn on the merits or otherwise of one DLT architecture versus another, but answered categorically all the same when she said:

"What I believe in is our technology. I don't mix philosophy or religion with technology. I believe in solving business problems using tech in a cost-effective and safe manner."

Blythe Masters mage via CoinDesk archives 

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