The US Department of Commerce has just released a report on blockchains with several tips for businesses. More precisely, it is the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) which has written this sixty page summary document, entitled “Blockchain Technology Overview” . He returns in detail – and very clearly – on the fundamentals of technology: distributed register , nodes, consensus , hash , “proof of” , blocks, Smart Contracts . But, above all, it addresses the issue from a pragmatic point of view (which is not always the case) for companies that would like to test it.
Why a Blockchain rather than a classic database?
In front of the marketing wave and the avalanche of more or less serious projects, the first doubting reactions began to be heard.
One joke, for example, was that the Blockchain , who knows how to do anything in PoC from food traceability to insurance on flight cancellations, still can not make coffee in production. An infographic, sarcastic and purely humorous, summed up this growing mistrust:
Joking aside, the truth is obviously more nuanced. The Gartner estimates in its Hype Cycle that the use of the blockchain will reach maturity in 5 to 10 years . It will not be able to do everything, certainly, but there are many cases where it is a very interesting option to test .
Frédéric Panchaud, the former Mr. blockchain of Viseo, revealed the lessons that the first blockchain projects .
Recently, Martha Bennett, an analyst at Forrester Research, also drew the contours of a reflection on the relevant use (or not) of a blockchain in a business project.
To make a pre-diagnosis, Martha Beneth recommended asking four key questions:
Do multiple parties need access to the same dataset?
Do all parties need to be sure that the data are accurate and have not been falsified or degraded?
Is the current system error prone, incredibly complex, unreliable, messy?
Are there good reasons not to have a single, centralized system?
Decision models have blossomed to answer this simple question: why use a Blockchain rather than a classic database?
A question not so simple in the end because if we can read between the lines of responses of project managers, the motivations of a blockchain project are not only technical. Far from there.
“Want to test at all costs” vs “Find a good use case”
“The fear of missing out is great. Many organizations address the issue of “we absolutely want to test the blockchain, what can we do about it?” Confirms NIST. But this approach “often leads to frustrations because it is a technology that is not intended to solve everything.”
On the contrary, his report advocates “a much better approach [which] consists first of all in understanding the blockchain – where it is adapted; then to identify the systems (old or new) that can gain to enter the blockchain paradigm “.
To identify these systems, we can advantageously apply the developer of Martha Beneth. The report of the US Department of Commerce recalls for its part – taking over a decision tree of the Department of Homeland Security – that the blockchain is a very special data repository.
It is shared , participative (several entities are led to write), not modifiable a posteriori (or immutable ), with a public or semi-public register (ie whose data are not entirely confidential), between actors which are not a priori not trust . And, last but not least, it is a base adapted to the recordings for which the exact chronology of the events is important .
Have a critical approach and favor existing solutions
With this funnel approach, the relevant use cases seem to be rather small. And again, even if a project fits the 7 points above, the conclusion is that it can be a suitable case for a blockchain. Not that he is .
But NIST assumes it. “The critical approach is the one most organizations should have; they should evaluate whether other existing IT solutions (NDR: databases, managed databases, encrypted databases, distributed databases) can solve their problems. ” The report drives the point: “analyze the blockchain and use it if it’s relevant – not because it’s new”.
Still, this report – downloadable for free on the NIST website – forgets an obvious current advantage of the blockchain. She is a great communication tool to talk about her business, to give herself a modern and innovative image, and ultimately “to be fashionable” . Which, as Frédéric Panchaud emphasizes, is just as valid a justification as any other when it is assumed.