TORONTO — Along with machine learning, blockchain has faced pushback from some enterprises who are skeptical about whether there are real-world applications of the technology that suit their business.
This particular challenge has become the driving mission at Hyperledger, the multi-project open source collaborative effort hosted by The Linux Foundation. Hyperledger executive director Brian Behlendorf and his team of 8 staff members are working to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies through engaging enterprise developers.
In a talk at SaaS Monster in Toronto last week, Behlendorf said that his staff is focused on how its members can build commercial services on top of its open source projects, which include its Hyperledger Fabric and Hyperledger Sawtooth frameworks. (Salesforce launched its blockchain platform on Hyperledger this week.)
“The other thing staff does is help organize the developer community,” Behlendorf said. “I don’t pay developers directly. If I did, we’d write a lot less code, right? Our job is to act as air traffic control for the hundreds of developers who’ve shown up to work on these major pieces, like Hyperledger Fabric, Hyperledger Sawtooth, Hyperledger Indy, which is a digital identity platform. We’re effective if we’re shipping code that everyone else goes in and uses to deploy their own blockchain networks.”
There are no licensing fees to use the code, Behlendorf said, “there’s no trick here.
“My hope is that one-tenth of you out there report a bug, and one-tenth of those report a fix for that bug, and that one-tenth of those get involved in helping us build the code even further,” he said.
Hyperledger has around 250 paying members, which contribute between $5000 and $50,000 annually. The membership includes logo placement on the Hyperledger website, invites to a member summit, and attention from Hyperledger staff. These members include IBM, American Express, and Change Healthcare.
“Some of the biggest deployments of enterprise blockchain today are in the financial markets, particularly outside of the US and Europe, in places like Asia, for trade finance … I don’t really know much about trade finance myself, but it’s a lot more than just extending a letter of credit to somebody to finance the movement of package from one place to another.”
“There’s all sorts of KYC, there’s all sorts of paperwork and a lot of coordination with Export-Import banks and customs authorities and the like, all of which is this multi-participant, cross-jurisdictional bureaucratic process to some degree, but it helps ease the flow and allows us to do business with a factory in China be able to get packages, and be able to actually trust we are going to get what we expect.”
KYC is an acronym for Know Your Customer, i.e. the process a business would do to verify the identity of their clients before or during the time they work with them.
In healthcare, Hyperledger member company Change Healthcare routes insurance payments from insurance companies to a provider who covers it or performs the work. The company changed its centralized network to a decentralized one to fix its trust problem, he said.
“People had to trust that it was going through a central operator, and that put them in a very key position that made it harder for some of the other players to be willing to partner with them. They’ve changed it to a decentralized network, still with them as a convener of that network,” he said.
For Behlendorf, the appeal of blockchain technology wasn’t so much about programmable money, but the ability to build systems that are continuously self-auditing with the technology.
“These are systems that make it really, really hard, if not impossible, to perpetrate fraud,” he said. “There’s something important about the lack of trust we have in institutions in the world, whether it’s the banks or government or anybody who works on our behalf. If we’re going to bother to have rules we might as well try to find ways to have technologies that make following those rules easier and make it harder for the bad actors in that space to move forward. And so regulators I think clued into this pretty early on as well.”
For example, the SEC realized that in order to be a part of the movement, they would need observer nodes on these networks watching the traffic that goes on and listening to the rules, he said. It’s much easier to catch the bad actors this way then if they were to ignore it and treat it all as dark money or dark networks.