Implementing Blockchain: Who Are You Going to Call?

OPINION
William Mougayar
May 4, 2016 at 17:00 UTC  |  Updated  May 4, 2016 at 20:07 UTC

A year ago, the blockchain industry landscape consisted mostly of technology companies.

It was dominated by various blockchain protocols (eg bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple), some bitcoin derivatives (Mastercoin, Counterparty), bitcoin API companies (Chain, Gem, Coinbase, Coinkite) and a patchwork of sprouting middleware overlay software companies that were not yet known.

Fast forward to today, and we see a different landscape of players, with entry from several new companies that are focused on implementations, and other newcomers with software capabilities at higher stack levels than the blockchain protocols themselves.

So, if you are an enterprise organization pondering your implementation options, what choices do you have in order to get going?

The table below summarizes the main options:

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IT Services

This option is pursued via a typical outsourcing arrangement with a firm that will deliver or build anything you'd like.

Most of the known global IT/consulting firms now have a blockchain practice, and some of these companies specialize in particular technologies or have specific alliances with certain solutions or technology providers.

Others will start via a consulting approach to help you discover use cases or build strong cases for proofs of concept and trials.

Some choices: Accenture, ConsenSys, Cognizant, Deloitte, IBM, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), Ernst & Young.

Blockchain first

In this case, you work directly with the given blockchain tools and stack.

Assembly is required, so this isn't for the faint of heart at this point, as many of the technologies are still developing and evolving. However, working directly with the blockchain provides a good degree of innovation, for example in building decentralized applications.

This is where entrepreneurs are creating ambitious end-to-end, peer-to-peer applications, such as OpenBazaar (on bitcoin), or Clearmatics (on Ethereum).

Some choices: Bitcoin, Ethereum.

Development platforms

Here, you don't start with a preference for a blockchain.

Rather, you start with a development approach orientation, and you build an app that backs into a blockchain infrastructure that could be served in the cloud.

The goal here is rapid development and you focus on the blockchain programmability.

Some choices: BlockApps, Blockstream, Eris, EthCore, Hyperledger, Tendermint.

Vertical solutions

This segment is where we have seen the most rapid metamorphosis in the past year, mostly in financial services.

These solutions are industry specific, and they are based on private blockchain or ledger infrastructures.

A caveat here is that some of these are not full blockchains. Rather, they are distributed ledgers, which are a subset of blockchain capabilities. And some don't even include a consensus element, which takes the implementation another level down from distributed ledger tech.

Some choices: Axoni, Chain, Clearmatics, Digital Asset Holdings, itBit, R3.

APIs and overlays

This approach uses the blockchain as an asset, ownership or identity-binding infrastructure, and you build applications with a specific focus on chains of proof, ownership rights, title registries or other specific services with a built-in trust-based component.

Some choices: Blockstack, Factom, Open Assets, Tierion.

Several large organizations are poking at these five areas in parallel because they can learn from each one of them. Each approach has its own merits and challenges.

Which one(s) are you taking? Why not let us know in the comments below?

Red phone concept via Shutterstock

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