What does it take to get up to speed with blockchain, both from a personal career viewpoint, as well as to advance your organization’s interests?
Organizationally, it’s still the early, early days of blockchain. People are just starting to explore the potential impact of blockchain and other variations of distributed ledger technology. A recent survey of 1,314 auto industry executives out of the IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics, for example, estimates that 62 percent of automotive executives believe blockchain will be a disruptive force in the auto industry over the next two years. However, the research also finds that only a small percentage of OEMs and suppliers are currently ready for blockchain, or have a greater perception that blockchain solutions that are ready for commercial use.
As Tesla and the emerging electric, software-laden vehicle industry are proving, the automobile sector has been ripe for disruption. There’s disruption in vehicles of course, but another, perhaps profound disruption may be taking place behind the scenes, in operations, thanks to blockchain This may portend new ways of operating across all other industries as well.
Finance, supply chain and mobility services as top areas where blockchain could be beneficial, and in many parts of the world, aftersales and parts distribution also were seen as potential applications. “Currently part traceability throughout the lifecycle of a vehicle is very limited, which means counterfeit parts could be used by service centers in some markets,” the study’s authors, Matthew Jones, Dirk Wollschlaeger and Ben Stanley, relate. “Implementing blockchain-based solutions in the automotive supply chain could solve some of the issues around recalls, fake products and consumer safety.”
Blockchain could also introduce “improvements and operational efficiencies in areas such as financial transactions between ecosystem participants, authenticating access to cars and customer experience and loyalty,” Jones and his co-authors add. It will also change the way business is done: 54 percent of executives expect new business models to influence investments in blockchain.
Still, it’s very early for blockchain. Only 15 percent of the industry executives are actively forging ahead with blockchain. “Many executives lack a general understanding of their organizations’ blockchain strategies,” the IBM co-authors point out. Thirty-nine percent of OEM and 51 percent of supplier respondents are only slightly aware of their organizations’ strategies.
The other side of achieving results with blockchain or distributed ledger technology is skills, of which there aren’t enough. At least 37 percent of OEMs and 42 percent of suppliers cite insufficient skills as a concern for adopting blockchain-based approaches. As blockchain is embraced across industries of all types, there’s a growing need for skilled individuals who can put the technology in motion.
A recent study from LinkedIn puts blockchain skills at the top of their list of the fastest-growing jobs over the last five years. During this time, there has been 33x growth in blockchain-related positions, exceeding artificial intelligence or machine learning.
The top skills in the market at this time include Solidity, Blockchain, Ethereum, Cryptocurrency, Node.js. Again, it’s the early days for this skillset, and, at this time, much of this demand is concentrated within tech or related consulting companies developing blockchain/distrubuted ledger technology, much still tied into cryptocurrency.
Executives and professionals who seek to build blockchain capabilities need to be able to address the following questions, Jones and the IBM researchers recommend:
Where are we experiencing friction in our business network? “Identify the most compelling use cases by considering which frictions hold you back and tie up significant working capital and resources. Experiment in discrete areas where the attributes of blockchains drive rapid impact. Use design thinking to simplify the user experience and create agile proofs of concept to drive rapid adoption.”
Can we achieve network-wide standards? “Success in blockchain adoption will depend not on who has the best technology or app, but who can build the strongest network. Explore the role of alliances and consortia and how profit pools might be redistributed and then decide on your network role. Collaborate broadly to achieve globally accepted standards.”
How can we scale with new revenue models? “As business models are disrupted by blockchains, think through how you can make money in new ways, such as consumption-based pricing, licensing and micro-charges and payments. Explore how new blockchain-based services and apps can replace or complement and scale existing revenue models. Experiment by joining emerging online marketplaces for mobility, parts and service.”
There are specific skills emerging as well. The types of jobs calling for blockchain-related skills can be see in the following job descriptions, culled from leading job sites:
Blockchain developer (software development company): “Responsible for designing, implementing, and supporting a distributed blockchain-based network through various stages of development and production. Analyze requirements, design blockchain technology around a certain business model, research new technical solutions and protocols, create and automate blockchain development workflows, implement test-driven development practices and build and launch a blockchain network.”
Blockchain engineer (financial services platform): “Work on creating underlying blockchain infrastructure as well as implementations and end products on top of that infrastructure. Develop around meta-transaction infrastructure via mobile apps. Develop around document-signing frameworks and associated infrastructure. Develop APIs that interface with the blockchain.”
Blockchain Platform Engineer (healthcare technology firm): “Provide expertise and development support to blockchain initiatives throughout the company. Develop subject matter expertise on blockchain network platforms, architectures, and administrative/operational requirements. Design and build back-end blockchain functionality, i.e. network infrastructure, consensus algorithms, smart contracts, identity authorities.”
Blockchain Protocol Architect/Director (non-profit microloans provider): Work with govenments to “build a blockchain identity and credit-scoring system to enhance financial security. Build a global multi-tenant platform that includes , scaling across the world. Partner with other distributed systems engineers to develop a highly scalable cloud-based system. Bring thought leadership around Blockchain across the organization and externally to continue to develop our engineering brand.”
Software engineer (technology provider): Build networks such as “a food quality tracking blockchain, used to record and validate assertions about quality food production, packaging, transport, and final use. Build a new generation of high-performance blockchain focused on optimized smart contract execution. Develop a crowdfunding blockchain.”