In the past six months, mass media giant Thomson Reuters, perhaps best known for the Reuters international news agency, has made two significant moves in the blockchain sector.
More publicly known is news in late March that the firm had begun contributing to the Hyperledger project, an open-source blockchain initiative led by the Linux Foundation. The project boasts support from high-profile technology and financial firms as well as a number of blockchain-focused startups, and has attracted significant attention for its bid to bring the tech to big businesses.
Less publicized was its investment in Fluent, a startup looking to use permissioned blockchains for supply chain applications. The move was a strategic one, the company said at the time, indicating that it saw possible applications for the firm's technology across its global string of business units.
Among those units, Scott Manuel, vice president and head of product management for Thomson Reuters says, are the company’s tax accounting and legal research businesses.
Manuel said that while the company's financial data delivery and trading product divisions are looking at applications in line with major financial institutions, particularly exchanges and clearing houses, it’s on the legal side that the firm is seeing significant interest in blockchain.
He told CoinDesk:
"Our legal customers ... are very excited about the potential of smart contracts, what can smart contracts do, what can they allow in the blockchain world. As most of our legal customers also do legal work with financial services, those clients are all interested in how blockchain can apply."
Manuel, whose background lies in computer science, says he remembers reading a 2011 New Yorker article that offered an early take on the pseudonymous creator of bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto. It was an experience that he says was a factor as Thomson Reuters beginning a process of investing resources into investigating the technology, starting about two years ago.
Since then, he said, the company, which employs more than 50,000 people according to Forbes, has pursued an effort to see where blockchains could be applied to its business lines.
"We’ve gone down a path of bringing in chairs to the table, along with our business units and product people, to take use cases and start building small internal proofs of concept around them," he explained.
According to Manuel, "there seems to be thousands" of potential use cases for the tech. These include in data delivery and digital identity, which he cited as being of particular interest to Thomson Reuters.
"We have a very large [know-your-customer] business around individuals and institutions," he said. "So how will digital identity apply here? We’re investigating that with engineers, doing some internal proofs-of-concept in that space, too."
As to its investment in Fluent, Manuel pointed to bridging supply chains with blockchain as something of interest to the firm – an application that has already garnered recent interest among Hyperledger members, particularly in the area of drug manufacturing.
"Supply chain is very interesting and that’s going to be a business that has a lot of disruption," he said.
For now, Manuel says Thomson Reuters is looking to continue its support and involvement with Hyperledger, saying that the company isn't sure where it might have the most impact.
"They're still storming and forming," he said. "I don’t exactly know where we’ll ultimately play the biggest role, but I think we’re just going to have to let that develop over time."
But at the same time, he indicated Thomson Reuters sees its involvement as a learning opportunity as well.
"It’s in our philosophy of playing with code, and doing real things – and we can learn a lot from these other really smart players that are at the table," he said.
Manuel said that the company is continuing to work with startups in the space and hasn’t ruled out making further investments beyond its stake in Fluent. Ultimately, he went on to say, the company wants to investigate what kinds of products it can build and, in his words, "get our hands dirty".
"At the end of the day, to make real progress and work closely with our customers and get real things done, that’s the focus."