A group of global enterprises representing the oil and gas industry, the financial sector and software development firms will today formally launch the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, dedicated to developing ethereum into an enterprise grade blockchain.
Comprised of British oil giant BP, bulge-bracket bank JP Morgan, software developer Microsoft, India IT consultancy Wipro, and about 30 other diverse firms, the group aims to reimagine the consortium model as a non-profit, donation-based system.
If successful, the model could have ripple effects for other fees-based structures.
Expected to be formally revealed today at an event in New York City, the Alliance is designed in one sense to more closely align with the open-source philosophy of its founder Jeremy Millar, while also giving large corporations and small startups alike a stronger sense of accountability for their investment in the technology.
At stake is more than the dollars of potential customers being spread across a rapidly growing number of consoritia working to leverage DLT technology – there's also increasingly tough search for talent to build actual applications.
First reported by CoinDesk in January, we now know the Enterprise Ethereum is a 501 (c) (6) non-profit organization incorporated in New York City.
With the same non-profit status set aside for so-called 'business leagues', such as chambers of commerce, the goal of the alliance is to build out a series of standards for ethereum in the form of best practices, security, privacy, scalability and interoperability.
Founding members of the Alliance's rotating board of directors include Accenture, Banco Santander, BlockApps, BNY Mellon, CME Group, ConsenSys, Intel, JP Morgan, Microsoft, and Nuco. Blockchain educational institution, IC3 is also a board member.
Non-board founding members include AMIS, BBVA, BP, Credit Suisse, Fubon Financial, ING, The Institutes, Monax, Tendermint, Thomson Reuters, UBS, Wipro and more.
The news is expected to be formally revealed at an event in Brooklyn, at which a live version of an enterprise grade ethereum product is expected to be demonstrated in a transaction between Spanish bank, Santander, and US bank, JP Morgan.
"What we will demo on stage is what Santander is using to run real money transactions already, internally," said Millar. "We're going to be demoing a real app."
Blockchain balancing act
At the core of the creation of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance were two main objectives.
First, the group aims to create an enterprise-grade blockchain solution that makes it easier for its members to comply with various regulatory requirements based on their industry. But at the same time, it will help them better capitalize on the benefits of faster transaction times and higher volumes possible with a blockchain.
The result, Millar hopes, is a stronger private blockchain funded in large part by the enterprises, that trickles down to benefit the public blockchain on which anyone can build.
"The public chain will benefit from permissioning," said Millar. "The public chain will benefit from privacy algorithms, the public chain will benefit from fungible consensus algorithms."
Second, the group is experimenting with new governance models designed to give the kind of control regulated enterprises need.
Specifically, a board of directors will help create a sense of accountability, while various other blockchain-based governance models are being considered to further empower the 'self-organizing' network effect created by authors of smart contracts and other code developers working on independent projects.
Millar said he’s a supporter of the decentralized management structures enabled by ethereum and other blockchain implementations.
But he emphasizes that the same structure that works for the Ethereum Foundation and the Ethereum Improvement Proposals on the open-source network don’t give enterprise clients the ability to conform to certain privacy requirements they’re obliged to honor.
"They want to know that their voices are being channeled into the protocol in a way they’re familiar with," said Millar.
Getting paid in open source
In addition to meeting the unique demands of enterprises building on ethereum, the Alliance is experimenting with new ways to capitalize on one of the network’s most valuable resources: developers.
Initially, a technical advisory working group will consist of ethereum developer and zcash advisor Andrew Miller; Dominic Williams, president of String Labs (also a member of the alliance), and Bob Summerwill, Enterprise Ethereum’s lead architect and a member of ConsenSys, which has helped oversee much of the group's early development.
Founding members are not initially expected to be charged fees to join, unlike members of some other blockchain consortia, though Jeremy Millar said the founding documents will reflect the ability to change that policy if necessary.
In conversation with CoinDesk, he emphasized that while the project is open source and any one can work with the code, that does not necessarily mean it will be a volunteer operation. By focusing on rapidly iterating and improving products made by and for the Alliance’s members, Millar hopes they won’t ever have to charge fees to pay contributors.
"Our approach as we develop a budget and need to hire people, will be to have suggested donations based on company size as a possibility," said Millar. "We hope that that works, because it’s more philosophically aligned with an open-source community."
Chumming the water
But another focal point of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance is the fight for talent.
With the proliferation of blockchain consortia, the struggle to staff development projects is becoming an increasingly difficult obstacle.
Though exact developer numbers aren’t currently available, one potentially useful metric is the number of downloads of the Truffle ethereum development tool, which has currently been downloaded 43,821 times, according to the site.
Millar hopes that positioning the permissioned enterprise as beneficial to the public blockchain will help him win over some of that talent.
By comparison, a recent report by Aite Group showed that only four companies out of 16 polled had more than 100 employees. Two offerings, Hyperledger and R3CEV are consortia, and two, Nasdaq Linq and Digital Asset Holdings are private corporations.
To help bridge that talent gap, the head of wholesale banking at founding EEA member ING, Ivar Wiersma, said his bank has been in conversations with ethereum inventor Vitalik Buterin since the early days of its experiments with blockchain.
Now, with 10 employees dedicated to narrowing down 27 proofs-of-concept to a few high-value implementations, his small team is looking to expand its opportunities to work with other talented developers.
Wiersma indicated that, in the current prototyping work using technology from Hyperledger, R3CEV and Digital Asset Holdings, his team meets with the partners on a daily basis. With Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, he expects even more opportunity.
"On the Ethereum Enterprise Alliance there will be shared initiatives that we’re going to work on," Wiersma told CoinDesk.
Millar positioned the importance of developers in slightly starker terms:
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