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Summary

If analysis of Google search term data is any guide, the initial wave of hype around blockchain has now passed and the emphasis is now more squarely focused on enterprise and/or cross-industry use cases.

As the hype cools, enterprises are exploring the true potential of blockchain

As of July 2018, the number of searches for the term "blockchain" were at about one-third of the peak level reached in December 2017, a level of interest that reflects the value of Bitcoin over the same period. However, while its relative disappearance from mainstream media coverage may suggest otherwise, the past 12 months have been very important in shaping potential real-world use cases for blockchain and distributed ledger technology.

Ovum’s 2017/18 ICT Enterprise Insights survey shows that large organizations in particular are active in running their own projects. Just over 20% of all large enterprises (those with $1bn and above annual revenues) reported that they were trialing some form of internal private blockchain in 2018, with another 27% planning to launch initiatives during the year. The corporate banking, retail payment, healthcare, and retailing sectors have been the most active when it comes to trials, with up to a quarter of large enterprises in each engaged in trials or proof-of-concept projects.

These verticals are where there are the most potential use cases for cross-industry infrastructures to be enhanced (or partially replaced) by blockchain-based projects. Activity in the financial services sector is arguably more advanced than in others, with many central banks exploring potential use cases around settlement, and Ripple now a notable player in the correspondent banking area, for example. In addition, the recent launch of the IBM and Maersk-backed TradeLens to improve the efficiency of shipping container tracking is another important case in which blockchain technology has been applied to significantly improve efficiency across an industry.

Nevertheless, 2018 has also seen many internal blockchain projects stopped or put on hold because understanding of the technology's limitations has also grown. In many cases, the complexities of moving from proof-of-concept to production environments have proven too great, with issues around security, scalability, and perhaps most crucially, the need to integrate with systems of record, creating barriers.

When it comes to cross-industry initiatives, the need to also have an agreed governance framework, alongside broad industry participation of course, are key requirements for success. The most important point here is that blockchain should be viewed as an enabling technology and not an end in itself. In the short to medium term, blockchain technology will have a bigger impact on improving the running of existing industry infrastructures rather than replacing them outright.

While the hype over the past three years makes it feel as though blockchain technology has always been with us, the true scale of the enterprise and industry change it will enable is still in the future.

Appendix

Further reading

Blockchain in Financial Services, IT0059-000069 (July 2016)

"Bank of Canada shows the potential for distributed ledger technology in financial infrastructure," IT0059-000108 (June 2017)

Author

Kieran Hines, Head of Industries

kieran.hines@ovum.com

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