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Blockchain needs Linux-style open community to succeed in the enterprise, says IBM CTO

Matthew Finnegan | Oct. 7, 2015
"For any kind of blockchain technology to prevail it has to be open: it has to be built around a community where this is a governance model, similar to the governance model with OpenStack Cloud Foundry, Docker and Linux," says Jerry Cuomo.

"We are addressing those things. We are actually building out capabilities that make blockchain more suitable for business."

For example this means creating private blockchain networks that can be used internally or between financial institutions - an approach taken by a number of others, including Swiss bank UBS. In comparison bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies tend to rely public ledgers.

"We believe that at some level membership must be known. I don't want to say it is 'member's only' but you kind of have to be invited and you have to be assigned a role to come into the network," Cuomo says.

"We can let you to come in as a guest, we can ask you to come in as a transactor, or as a validator. But there is some sort of certificate authority that in a knowing way hands out."

Its researchers have also created "modulating pubilc keys" that can cover the tracks of a company transacting on a blockchain network to provide better security and privacy.

"However, we can still audit," explains Cuomo, "so that we can go back if we had to and follow the [user] activity, so that you can prove to a regulator that you are doing business the right way."

If it is possible to convince businesses that there is a safe and secure way to use blockchain databases, then there is plenty of potential in corporate uses, he says. This could mean creating a record of ownership across a network of companies - such as from a car manufacturer, to to dealership, to end customer - or within a large company.

"We believe that a blockchain for business allows companies to create business network [based on the technology]. There need not just be one uber business network, there may be a domain specific business network, just one big worldwide retailer having a procurement network might be enough to warrant an open network for procurers within that world."

Banks take aim at the blockchain

IBM is not the only company attempting to bring together some of the many attempts to harness the potential of blockchain technology.

Nine of the biggest banks in the world recently signed an agreement to develop blockchain use cases within the financial sector with US firm R3. 

Cuomo says IBM would like to work with the collective of banks and R3. "I hope the R3 folks join up and collaborate with us or vice versa."

Clearly moves to create standards around the blockchain are already underway - with or without IBM - and a host of startup businesses have already been engaging with enterprise customers to investigate how they can use the technology.


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