IBM blockchain chief Jerry Cuomo: it's the open way or the highway for blockchain

“It’s the open way or the highway,” IBM’s VP blockchain and Hyperledger lead Jerry Cuomo tells ComputerworldUK – as the firm this month released over 40,000 lines of open-source blockchain code. See also: what is Blockchain?

Blockchain is a way to conduct transactions that’s gained significant traction from the popularity of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. Financial firms have shown a particular interest, but it could theoretically be used for any business process where transactions are made.

A fully worked-out system could drastically reduce overheads for anywhere that requires a common, trusted system of record.

Blockchain would do so in a distributed, peer-to-peer way, so that transactions are dispersed to various nodes in the ‘chain’ rather than locked into one system.

That could have “profound” implications for industry, Cuomo says, so it’s no wonder that many of businesses’ heavy-hitters, including IBM, have signed up to the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Project. Also among its ranks are Cisco, Fujitsu, Red Hat and Intel.

Hyperledger intends to advance the blockchain concept in a unified and open way – forming a basis for consensus on how the technology works so it can be trusted between a large network of businesses.

“About a year ago we got very excited about the possibility of applying blockchain to a broad set of business problems, from supply chain to security settlement,” Cuomo explains.

Intrigued by the possibilities, IBM decided to “put code to paper” and build from the ground up. “It gave us confidence in what we were doing,” Cuomo says. “We congregated around the Linux Foundation, and together created the Hyperledger Project. We offered this code. Now it’s opened and governed, we’re a premier sponsor, and there are many other fine vendors in there as well.”

“I think it’s the open way or the highway,” Cuomo says. "Especially with the type of technology we’re talking about – it’s a peer-to-peer network that involves cryptography, possibly working within regulated industries, and I can’t imagine a path forward that isn’t an open path.”

Cuomo is confident blockchain is already snowballing. Many of IBM’s clients are approaching it not for proof of concepts, but to instigate first projects. “They’re attempting it,” he says. “This is where the snowball is really happening – we’ll be surprised by the number of production activities in 2016.”

This will be led by the idea of a ‘shadow chain’, in other words, a way to incrementally introduce blockchain into an existing business platform. “I think that’s our ramp into blockchain for some of these clients,” Cuomo says.

Indeed, IBM now offers 'blockchain-as-a-service' on its open standards cloud applications platform Bluemix, for creating, deploying, running and monitoring blockchain applications on the IBM cloud.

In addition to secure transactions between businesses, Cuomo imagines a self-parking vehicle as part of the internet of things, which would only be insured against the driver when actually behind the wheel – otherwise the manufacturer or even the software vendor could be liable.

“I think the changes to industry are pretty profound,” he says. “New cost structures for things. The example I gave with micro-insurance, reducing cost and time overheads by working peer-to-peer, allows a new type of business interaction to occur, one that wasn’t possible before.

"Wouldn’t it be nice not to have to pay for insurance when your car is in the garage? But how do we agree between multiple parties that 'yes, this is your car, yes, it’s on that road?'

Blockchain could provide a ledger that an insurer, a manufacturer, and the driver could all agree on as a trusted record.

“It’s really bringing those parties together in real time to make that entry that everyone agrees on in one common system of record that everyone shares.

“That’s where this becomes life-changing.”

And last but not least – being able to conduct business out in the open will ensure blockchain-based systems are more secure and can't be tampered with.

“To be able to work at scale with your partners, transact in real time, and have visibility to what’s going on in that network, the right levels of checks and balances to enable speed,” Cuomo says. "But also to enable best conduct, I think that’s at a revolutionary potential level, to do things with heightened trust.”

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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