The cathedral of Florence is one of the most impressive human constructions. Its dome is known to be the first work of Renaissance architecture. With a diameter of 45 meters, it still is the largest masonry dome of the world.
When you aspire to something new and ambitious, where do you start? If you aren’t an expert yourself, you would ask architects and engineers to help you implement the vision. They will tell what is possible, what the constraints are. Implementing a blockchain-based digital transformation requires something similar. Read on if you are on to implementing such a change.
How Florence outstripped Gothic architecture
In 1294, the city Florence decided that it needed a bigger cathedral. And not just a cathedral, but a monument that stood apart during its times. Its rival cities in Tuscany, Pisa and Siena, had bigger ones for long. Arnolfo di Cambio, the most renowned architect of the time, proposed Florence to aim for a 120-meter long structure, ten meters more than the cathedral in Pisa making it the biggest cathedral in middle-age Italy.
The initial plan pleased the ambitious citizens of Florence. At the death of Arnolfo di Cambio, in 1310, construction continued according to his original plan. In 1339, Siena raised the bar. Florence had to react. The design was reviewed, enlarged, aiming for a 44-meter-wide and 52-meter-high dome. Such a large dome had never been built before. It would be wider than one of the pantheon in Rome, the biggest of the time, built by the Romans centuries ago.
Filippo Brunelleschi was born in Florence in 1377. As he grew up, the Florentine dome had long become a symbol for foolish planning. Filippo knew that traditional techniques would not do the job. He explored ways to remove scaffolding.
As the city council opened a competition for building the dome, his model did not make it. None of the participants did. A few wealthy families, however, the Ridolfi, Barbadori, and Medici, saw the opportunity. Within months, they entrusted Brunelleschi with building the cupolas of their private chapels. This gave him sufficient credibility to be nominated as one of the chief masters of the cathedral. That nomination ignited further changes.
The traditional crane, powered by men, got replaced by an ox-powered one with reversible gear and unprecedented dimensions. To hold sandstone blocks together, Brunelleschi ordered special iron clamps. Once forged, the clamps were glazed with lead to prevent the iron from rusting and cracking the masonry. The clamps held sandstone beams together forming a chain.
Similarly, iron and wooden chains got embedded into the masonry to fight horizontal thrust. Circle by circle, the dome grew. In six years, 21 meters above the drum, the dome reached a critical angle of 30 degrees, above which friction alone would not keep the masonry in place until mortar had cured. Brick and mortar replaced sandstone to lighten the structure. The bricks were designed with self-carrying circle-specific herringbone patterns. Sixteen years after the construction had started, in 1436, the dome could be consecrated.
Blockchain binds broad visions to reality
Domes, like business processes, had been built for centuries without chaining of blocks. The uniqueness of block chaining is in making it possible to build larger structures than ever before. Chaining handled horizontal thrust, like blockchain technology provides trust. This is an interesting parallel. Replace scaffolding with inner reinforcements and, suddenly, new building forms are possible. Replace central data stores with distributed ones and, Voila! You could shape newer business models that have the potential to scale.
Blockchain is a key ingredient to extend the reach of your digital transformation
Creating a digital currency managed by an anonymous community (aka bitcoin and cryptocurrencies) has been an early use case for blockchain. From there, the technology expanded iteratively to financial processes. However, blockchain lends itself to other use cases where its relevance might be less obvious.
They are the use cases in which blockchain is one of multiple enabling technologies, hidden in the masonry, powering processes alongside other intelligent ingredients such as artificial intelligence, in-memory, cloud computing or internet of things (IoT). It is the mix of such technologies that unlocks applications that we believe are impossible. In the pharmaceutical industry, temperature-controlled transport is an unfinished cathedral. While packaging can keep pharma products in specified ranges such as between +15 °C to +25 °C, they are subject to external influences.
If products come out of range during transport, patients can be endangered, clinical trials can endure delay, or lead to wrong outcomes and ruin research investments. Doctors, patients, manufacturers and logistics providers need a trusted single source of truth on temperature. How do you get that vision implemented? A Swiss start-up, Modum and Swiss Post, embraced the challenge. They combined IoT and blockchain, designed a sensor that all can trust. Together, they offer temperature-controlled shipping services at scale. Additionally, the approach makes it possible to cover the fluctuations in temperature ranges with insurance contracts.
What vision will your industry implement with blockchain?
One obvious starting point is to look at what terrifies or, at least, affects your industry as a whole. For food businesses, tracing contaminated food immediately to a precise location means restoring consumer confidence in days. In maritime transport, businesses, transport companies, port authorities and customs traditionally exchange documents with a risk-prone, labor-intensive process.
In your industry, think of reputational risks linked for example with modern slavery, child labor, or environmental practices in your supply chain. Are there challenges that you share with peer organizations, industry stakeholders or authorities? If yes, what is holding you back to address them? If lack of trust or information imbalance is on the list of roadblocks, chances are that you hold a valid blockchain use case that could create positive impact on your industry.
The Ridolfi, Barbadori, and Medici believed that the dome could be built. They supported an idea that led the world to a Renaissance in architecture, art, and processes. May you too find a vision, cover your cathedrals and bring your organization, your industry peers and the world to a new era of collaboration. So, how would you want to lead the way?