With their massive user bases and influence, the world’s largest brands could one day “flip a switch,” giving blockchain features to billions who’ve never heard of the technology before. When? No one knows for sure, but the first half of 2019 brought plenty of signals that large players are actively jockeying for position in a blockchain future, even as the timing and nature of that future remains uncertain.
Almost a third of the world’s population would suddenly have easier access to blockchain-driven currency if Facebook (with 2 billion users) succeeds with Libra, announced last month. Consider the influence the 27 additional companies listed as members of the Libra Association (including Visa, Uber, and Spotify) have with their customers, and the impact amplifies. Even if Libra fails to launch, how long will it be before another alliance of brands with a fresh approach circumvents the regulatory gauntlet?
But blockchain’s growing influence goes far beyond currency. Since new partnerships were announced this spring, over sixty percent of the world’s containership capacity is controlled by TradeLens members, a blockchain joint venture between IBM and shipper Maersk. IBM’s Food Trust ecosystem covers more than 100 organizations, including Walmart, Carrefour, and Albertsons, and consumers are already able to use a QR code to verify the source of their food using a blockchain in some retail locations. But these are just the signals hitting the headlines. As we enter the last half of 2019, where is momentum building and where has it stalled?
Mostly Hidden From View, Momentum Takes Shape
Many teams are making progress on potentially disruptive, complex, multi-year projects behind closed doors. The enterprise projects that are making more public progress tend to be lodged in the deep back office—markedly ho-hum on the surface, but a foundation that could be leveraged to one day impact the way we work and play. This makes it very difficult to see the magnitude of enterprise development from the outside—there is no market cap equivalent for corporate projects. This is coupled with a rough hangover from 2018’s overhype that has fed widespread skepticism and pullback in funding for new upstarts.
It’s in this environment that executives are faced with the difficult decision of letting others take on the significant expense of testing use cases and the market—or making investments of uncertain return in the hope of being on the winning side of a new wave of digital disruption.