Technology consulting firm Capgemini took its latest step on its bid to dramatically increase its investment in blockchain tech this week, announcing a partnership with industry startup Ascribe that would find it using the startup's solutions to create a real-time rewards system.
The project comes amid a larger push by the Paris-based company that has seen it go public with its desire to hire 100 blockchain professionals for its financial services department by the year’s end. The move positions Capgemini as among the more aggressive global consulting firms in seeking a market share in blockchain, following announcements by Accenture, PwC and KPMG, among others.
In interview, Mahendra Nambiar, global insurance head of solutions at Capgemini, said that the statements, while admittedly grandiose, are meant to signify that the firm is taking what he considers the "right actions" to satisfy what he believes will be significant market demand for the emerging technology.
Nambiar told CoinDesk:
Nilesh Vaidya, senior vice president at Capgemini, agreed, noting that the company believes blockchain could be disruptive to a "number of areas" in which its clients have interests. At the company, divisions focused on retail, insurance and banking are already investigating how the tech could solve client needs.
"We want to be there to shape the agenda. What they’re looking for in this space are people who understand the business domain and can apply that," he added.
As part of today’s announcement, Capgemini revealed that it will be working with Ascribe on prototypes using its recently released BigchainDB platform. Together, the partners will specifically move to create a new rewards and loyalty system based on the technology.
Sankar Krishnan, vice president of financial services at Capgemini, said the effort is meant to capitalize on an area in the market where he believes efficiencies can be achieved today.
"Across the banking and capital markets, we’re looking at syndicated loans and proxy voting. But, we realize that for this to take off, you can’t go into areas where it’s tough to get everyone involved. We thought, 'Why don’t we pick one area where it’s so simple?'" he said in interview.
Krishnan said the effort attempts to prove that blockchain isn’t a technology just for the "sophisticated" but that it can solve simple issues for everyday consumers.
For example, he said that consumers today often require loyalty points from regional supermarkets, but when they move, these benefits don’t carry over to differing regional brands.
Going further, Krishnan said that Starbucks users are often unable to guarantee their cards will be used in other countries, and that having a blockchain-based rewards system tied to a mobile wallet could enable better brand loyalty.
Krishnan said that such a system could benefit banks, who might be able to gain from the foreign exchange trading that may need to support such transactions.
Banking and insurance
On the banking side, Vaidya said Capgemini has identified two areas where the blockchain could impact banking, one in the area of low-value loan transactions and the other in cross-border payments.
In this context, he said Capgemini has been engaged to examine how blockchains could be used to process and approve loans more quickly through blockchain-based smart contracts.
Still, Vaidya cited both use cases as areas where clients are "moving on" from blockchain experiments to see how they might be applied more broadly.
“Up until a few months ago, there was a lot of interest in education, but now we find that everyone caught up on what’s happening, the big players are more familiar with the nuances, so the discussion is shifting from tell us what’s happening to let’s get down to more detail,” he said.
As for the specific technologies being used to enable such experiments, Vaidya said the banking division has tried "a number" of public blockchains and consensus algorithms, mentioning Ethereum as a specific area of study.
Still, he said that Capgemini has not yet developed a thesis on blockchain technologies and their variations.
Vaidya went on to indicate this education process is still ongoing, and that it might still be some time before blockchain solutions go live, noting that what would likely happen is that initiatives are launched in “limited environments” or in “limited geographies”.
As for its efforts in the insurance industry, Nambiar indicated these were more early stage and driven by client interest.
More proof needed
As for how Capgemini will meet its quota for blockchain professionals at a time when they are in short supply, Nambiar said the firm is taking a variety of approaches.
These included "aggressively hiring" architects and experts, as well as training its existing team. Further, he said partnerships would likely play a role, a strategy that has been embraced by professional services firms including Deloitte and PwC.
"We’ll start to develop partnerships with the firms out there that are currently hosting those ledgers. Those partnerships, from Ethereum to Ripple, will be a part of helping us understand how the technology works,” he asserted.
In regards to the goal of attracting 100 professionals, Nambiar indicated that he sees the April press release as more of a statement of purpose than a direct goal.
"I feel pretty confident that we’re going to take the right actions to execute against it. It’s not a simple thing to do," he said, adding:
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