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Open innovation in blockchain is key to mass adoption


The tech community has been talking about “open” a lot these days. Maybe it’s because most of us know that openness drives innovation while fostering new markets — especially where new technology is concerned.

While it’s easy to put some code on GitHub, label it “open” and call it a day, being open means more than that. IBM believes that open means a welcoming, collaborative development community, use of responsible open source licensing, adoption of an open governance model and the use of open standards which creates open, diverse and thriving ecosystems.

During the Consensus 2019 Blockchain Conference, I talked about open innovation, standards-setting and building blockchain networks on any vendor’s cloud. My co-presenters were Marley Gray, Principal Program Manager Azure Blockchain Engineering Cloud from Microsoft, and Heather Dahl, CEO of Sovrin Foundation. It was a great discussion on how collaboration — even among players with different strategies and viewpoints — can foster and accelerate innovation for an entire industry.

This is why IBM is investing in efforts across the enterprise blockchain ecosystem. Open standards form a strong foundation for adoption and interoperability. Digitization of assets and representation of their value as a token is a key use case for blockchain. Efforts like the Token Taxonomy Initiative are working to create a common set of standards that define what a token is, how it works and what it represents so they can be used interchangeably across token-enabled blockchain platforms. This is a critical step to ensuring common standards with the upcoming fabric token implementation, introduced in Fabric v2.0.

Standards are an important base, but specs alone are not enough. Code is key!  “Coopetition” in open source can hasten the maturity of blockchain technology while fostering innovation and reducing vendor lock-in. Hyperledger is an open community that is committed to advancing diverse projects and technologies in blockchain. IBM has been a core committer to The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric, but with 12 active projects under the Hyperledger umbrella, there are new opportunities for collaboration. The Burrow project for Ethereum smart contracts interoperability with Hyperledger is one bridge between communities, and Transact, a new Hyperledger proposal from Bitwise.io, Cargill, Hacera, IBM and Intel, envisions a transaction execution platform across distributed ledgers.

IBM’s commitment to open, acknowledges that diverse networks need new ways to collaborate. Developing new blockchain technologies is important, but the real value comes as these networks grow and connect — we have learned that scaling networks is hard work. That’s why we are collaborating with the Sovrin.org community as a Sovrin Steward because permissioned access to consumers’ data is critical to trusted transactions. Sovrin’s protocol-agnostic approach is advancing decentralized identity.

Cross-industry groups such as Sovrin, Hyperledger and the Token Taxonomy Initiative are enabling businesses, public sector organizations and citizens to interact with trust — partnerships that show a truly open approach.

Another key element of our strategy-to-scale adoption is about meeting network participants where they are. Irrespective of their existing technology choices, our aim is to serve a broad range of unique, diverse networks whose members have varying business needs and customized technology infrastructures. It’s the reason why we are the only vendor that currently offers a blockchain solution that supports a multiple cloud environment. The IBM Blockchain Platform can run on-premises via IBM Cloud Private, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. This approach allows companies in today’s public/private/hybrid world to leverage a fully managed network on Hyperledger Fabric. IBM Blockchain Platform complements Hyperledger with advanced tooling, monitoring and governance while ensuring users have the freedom to move to any other authentic version of Fabric (Oracle, Amazon, Microsoft, SAP, Alibaba, etc.) without vendor lock-in.

It’s also why we are optimizing performance not only on our LinuxOne and IBM Cloud Hyper Protect platform, but also why we are collaborating with Intel on optimizing IBM Blockchain Platform on Intel Select solutions.

All this open technology means freedom from lock-in, where no one vendor can dictate how an organization deploys its technology. This philosophy of openness is core to the IBM Principles of Blockchain, intended to foster trusted and transparent blockchain networks. These principles were honed through hundreds of client engagements and tens of millions of live transactions across multiple networks. In our view, these design tenets are the only way to deliver real business value and create an equitable enterprise platform that promotes collaboration across a diverse and thriving community.

We’ve seen some dramatic changes over the past five years at Consensus on everything from cryptocurrencies to ICOs. But finally, real collaboration efforts on enterprise blockchain are happening at scale. That’s why IBM and our partners were together again at Consensus discussing how to do blockchain right. All of us need to work together so open innovation can ensure that blockchain fulfills its promise to support networks where everyone sees value from collaborating around trusted, shared data.

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