Blockchain Q&A with IBM’s Chris Kirby

April 15, 2019


Blockchain is coming.
Well, the reality is blockchain technology has been around for years now, but more and more people are finally beginning to recognize it as a valuable business solution.

Ahead of our ‘How blockchain will change Winnipeg’ luncheon coming up on April 26, we caught up with IBM’s senior technology leader – and keynote speaker for the luncheon – Chris Kirby, to get some more clarification on blockchain, directly from the source.

Tell us a little bit about your background in technology, and experience with blockchain.

CK: I have a little over 20 years of experience in the technology industry comprised of roles in application development, solution design, product management, enterprise architecture, technology sales, team leadership, and business consulting. You could say I’ve done a lot of things.

I’ve been involved with blockchain since the beginning as they say; I led two of the first pilots of the Hyperledger blockchain fabric in Western Canada, and I am working with multiple firms to help them understand and explore how blockchain technology can transform their business. One of my current passion projects is to link large parts of the Western Canadian economy through a blockchain-backed service to provide end-to-end traceability of goods, and to eliminate a lot of the ‘friction’ that occurs around the production, processing, and movement of bulk goods like food, minerals, and lumber in Western Canada.

Q: In your opinion, why should business leaders – across all industries – care about blockchain?

CK: There are two reasons why business leaders of all stripes should care about blockchain technology: efficiency, and competition. Blockchain has the potential to drastically reduce the friction that inevitably occurs when businesses have to interact with one another; particularly when the parties’ interests are not the same. Blockchain has the ability to significantly reduce errors, increase the speed of transactions, and inject trust into transaction.

Blockchain can also significantly reduce the barriers for new, disruptive competitors to enter established markets. Blockchain business networks can be created and operated for a fraction of the costs established solutions.  New “tech” firms are using this advantage to develop innovative solutions and ‘muscle in’ on what were once the sole preserves of large companies.

Q: What is the greatest benefit of using blockchain technology?

CK: I’ve touched on this a bit already but it’s worth summarizing; the greatest benefit of using blockchain technology is its ability inject trust into multi-party business networks through the secure, selective sharing of information. This enables firms to substantially increase their efficiency (through the reduction of errors) and enables them to optimize the use of their resources.

Q: If someone is interested in exploring the possibilities blockchain can provide, where do they start?

CK: The answer to this depends on your viewpoint. From a technology perspective I’m always a big proponent of getting your hands dirty and trying a technology out. If this is something you want to do I’d recommend looking at Hyperledger. It’s an open source project sponsored by the Linux Foundation that’s focused on developing cross-industry blockchain technologies and tools. There are lots of tutorials and code examples to learn from, and it’s supported by many of the technology industries largest firms (including my own).

If you’re more interested in business solutions built on blockchain I’d recommend looking at the industry case studies published by the large technology vendors, as well as networks like TradeLens, and FoodTrust that have been co-developed by industry. Of course, as folks will learn from my presentation, once you’re looking at business solutions, the technology used to build them isn’t a big factor; it’s the business capabilities it delivers that matter.

Q: Is there any group(s) or sector(s) in particular that you feel is going to be most affected by the emergence of blockchain?

CK: I can’t pinpoint it to groups or sectors, but I foresee two major areas that will be most impacted by blockchain: complex supply chains, and ‘trust’ businesses.

Complex, multi-party supply chains, such as those in food and commodity processing, as well as complex products such as automobiles, are a prime target for blockchain solutions. Consumers, regulators, and manufactures/producers are already demanding the ability to track-and-trace products to prove quality (e.g. organically-grown food), reduce the costs of recalls, and ensure authenticity (e.g. auto parts, software updates). Blockchain is the least costly technology on which to deliver these types of solutions.

Blockchain has the potential to eliminate or substantially transform the business of firms that create ‘trust’ in transactions by acting as intermediaries (e.g. clearing houses) or validating and holding information. We’re seeing emerging use cases where blockchain is being used to create much stronger trust at a lower cost than can be provided by these firms. Blockchain is also being used to collate and share what was once scarce information (e.g. corporate credit worthiness); providing a significant benefit to information users and a substantial challenge to firms who gather and sell this information.