Although most people think of cryptocurrency when they hear “blockchain,” that’s only a small part of the story. As blockchain technology matures, it is opening up new possibilities for enterprise innovation and competitive advantage. This was my takeaway after reading “Deloitte’s 2019 Global Blockchain Survey,” and “The Looming Impact of Blockchain on HR & the Future of Work,” from Constellation Research.
Here at Workday, we’ve been thinking about blockchain for a while now. If you’re not familiar with the broader potential of blockchain, David Clarke, chief technology officer, Workday, hosted an excellent episode of our Behind the Cloud video series on what blockchain can mean for digital identity.
And, Jason Albert, deputy general counsel at Workday, also highlighted the importance of blockchain in Workday’s 2019 policy priorities, and shared its potential applications, including the secure tracking of supply chain components, digital identity tokens, and digital rights management.
Of course, we’re not the only ones talking about it, which brings me back to those two reports. Whereas the Deloitte 2019 survey (the first was in 2017, a testament to the relative newness, and importance, of the technology) takes a global—literally—view of blockchain in the enterprise, the Constellation Research report narrows the focus to blockchain’s potential for human capital management professionals. Let’s get the big picture and then zoom in.
From Curiosity to Critical Priority
The most satisfying finding from Deloitte is that business leaders are taking blockchain as seriously as we’d hoped. Deloitte found that “53 percent of respondents say that blockchain technology has become a critical priority for their organizations in 2019—a 10-point increase over last year.” That more than half of the respondents name blockchain technology as a critical priority is, in my eyes, the first tremor in what promises to be a substantial shake up of the business technology landscape.
Accordingly, when the authors report that many leaders are focusing less on whether blockchain works (spoiler: it does) and more on what business models it might disrupt, they quote Deloitte Consulting LLP Principal Linda Pawczuk, Deloitte consulting leader for blockchain and cryptocurrency. She says, “We believe executives should no longer ask a single question about blockchain but, rather, a broad set of questions reflecting the role blockchain can play within their organization.”
One of the most fundamental insights from the Deloitte report is that blockchain has the potential to democratize trust. Analogous to how ridesharing services took existing elements—passengers, drivers, and cars—and combined them in new ways enabled by smartphones, GPS, and the cloud, blockchain will change how organizations think about trust.
As the authors write, “There is little new in blockchain’s underlying technology—for instance, cryptography or data transaction. What is fresh is the disruptive potential that emerging disruptors are driving in the way organizations get things done. One might call this disruption a democratization of trust.”
This “democratization of trust” is indeed disruptive, as it opens up new possibilities for trust-based experiences that span multiple entities. Blockchain allows data to be securely passed between different parties—with the receiver having absolute, verifiable trust in the data that are shared with them. Another way that these technologies further democratize trust is by putting individuals—the holders of data—firmly in control of their information.
These qualities open up new enterprise applications, and at the same time, offer individuals more transparency and control. This is an especially exciting area of exploration because as the relationship between employer and worker continues to evolve, people are bringing higher security expectations into the workplace.
The Stars (or at Least the Reports) Align
Speaking of trust, simplifying trust and identity management for HR professionals is one of the key benefits to blockchain that Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst, Constellation Research, identifies in “The Looming Impact of Blockchain on HR & the Future of Work.”
The challenges that are forcing companies to take a closer look at blockchain are, at heart, difficulties around trust, identity management, and the reshaping of the workforce. Mueller notes that enterprises have had to issue ID cards and install magnetic readers to compensate for the fact that traditional government-issued IDs don’t establish identity as needed day-to-day in an enterprise.
Mueller lists a number of business use cases that, as he puts it, are “not only supporting existing processes but even making the processes redundant and obsolete.” His list of potential uses is long—including such things as speeding up talent acquisition and powering workforce management through proof of work—but I found his section on digital identity especially compelling, including as it does a call-to-action for business and technology leaders.
Under the bullet-point “digital identity becomes real,” Mueller writes, “Enterprises cannot afford to wait for a government solution but must actively enable digital identity capabilities, at least for their enterprise.” He continues that beyond providing a way for employees, contractors, and gig workers to manage their identity, that, “enterprises should now maintain their part of the digital identity beyond employment. When operating a ‘people log’ in the public cloud, costs are low and fiduciary activities will be more efficient for the enterprise.”
The workforce is changing: becoming increasingly decentralized and distributed, as companies engage with an increasingly complex worker mix, and engage people in new ways. And in order for a more decentralized workforce to, well, work, it’s critical that everyone involved has a high degree of trust. As the workforce shifts, so too must the technologies that support them—and I believe that blockchain will unlock use cases and new types of trust-based applications that simply were not possible using existing technologies.
We’d strongly advise giving both of these reports a read. Over a decade ago, cloud applications emerged, reshaping the enterprise technology landscape forever. I believe that today, as decentralized technologies mature, they will bring about just as fundamental a change in the enterprise in the years to come.