Shoot for the Moon or Take It Slow? Tech Giants Talk Blockchain

Leaders from IBM, Microsoft, Blockstream and Cognizant discuss how technology companies can best reimagine their products by building with blockchain.

AccessTimeIconMay 3, 2016 at 5:59 p.m. UTC
Updated Mar 6, 2023 at 3:15 p.m. UTC

Three massive tech companies and one of the most heavily funded startups in blockchain today debated the merits of deploying blockchain technology incrementally or going after moonshots with the power to shift entire industry paradigms.

Speaking on stage at this year’s Consensus 2016 conference in New York City, executives representing more than $571bn of market capitalization and $76m in venture capital engaged in a linguistic dual over which path was best, with the occasional point of agreement.

Austin Hill, founder and CEO of bitcoin blockchain startup Blockstream, expressed a lack of interest in firms that want to utilize portions of a blockchain to use in isolation.

Hill said:

"We don’t look for use-cases that are just using a small part of the blockchain."

If a company wants chooses that route to achieve incremental growth, Hill suggested, there’s probably a traditional solution better suited for the task.

Instead his company, which has raised $76m in venture capital is seeking out those potentially paradigm-shifting applications.

Important experiments

On the other hand though, there’s something to be said for breaking down the blockchain’s facets into smaller use cases, according to Lata Varghese, senior partner at Cognizant – a publicly traded IT firm currently valued at $35.37bn.

One value of these implementations, Varghese said, is to help employees put the technology in the current context of the company’s services. “I think the experiments that we’re doing, the proofs-of-concept, are important steps,” she added.

To Varghese, it is important that companies take stock of their existing enterprise apps and understand how blockchain might potentially help them, while at the same time being mindful of cohesive solutions.

She explained:

"You want to simplify. You don’t want to add more blockchain spaghetti to your existing spaghetti."

Although Microsoft’s global business strategist Yorke Rhodes agreed with Varghese, he warned of a potential downside of that approach, encouraging the audience to weigh the benefits of slow growth with paradigm-shifting ideas.

Yorke, whose company is currently valued at $397.58bn, said:

"The interesting thing with starting small is you can have a quick win. The tough part is there’s not a lot of value."

Working together

Providing a counterpoint to the debate was IBM’s Jerry Cuomo, vice president of the $138.8bn company’s blockchain technologies project.

Cuomo, who is a participant in the Hyperledger Project alongside Blockstream and others, told the audience how several of his clients had been trying to build with blockchain in a way he thought wasn’t necessarily suitable for the technology.

It turned out, that in order to get the projects funded, the clients believed the service had to be build with blockchain.

Cuomo advocated for a similar strategy to the one proposed by Varghese, adding that collaborative approaches to problem solving are another great way to learn.

While he agreed that small steps are important, he concluded:

"You need to have your moonshot."

Moon and buildings image via Shutterstock. Conference image by the author


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