Enterprise hits and misses - debating digital futures and blockchain's distributed ledger

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed January 3, 2018
Summary:
This week: debating the future of digital. Are we headed towards empowered subscribers or disempowered plebes? And: a contrarian blockchain piece ruffles marketing feathers. Your whiffs include several reader contributions.

Cheerful Chubby Man

Lead story - Data capitalism, digital government and the empowered subscriber by Phil Wainewright

What's Phil going on about here? Well, not much, except the future of government, technology and the free world:

There are two contrasting images of the future as we move towards an increasingly connected and digital world. One is a world of freedom and choice, in which the customer comes first and the priority of every business is to ensure their engagement and delight. The other is a dystopian nightmare in which faceless systems deliver substandard products and services to disempowered individuals.

Yep, that sums up the 2018 outlook. So what's "data capitalism"? That's when "accumulations of data have put concentrated market power in the hands of the largest players." Enter Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple. Andwho is the "empowered subscriber"? That's us, folks - the digital citizens who deserve a transparent government, and choices on how we share data for services.

Phil reviews the promise of digital government and where we're falling short: "the public sector’s track record in delivering citizen delight is hardly reassuring." As for which path we're headed down, hits/misses readers know I trend dysptopian, but I'm not sure it matters. What matters is that we grab an oar and row.

Thoughtful discourse wouldn't hurt either. Maybe we should give that a go in 2018. Thanks for joining us again at diginomica, as we try to do that in our maddening occasionally brilliant inimitable enterprise style.

Happy children eating apple
Diginomica picks - my top three stories on diginomica this week

Vendor analysis, diginomica style. Here's my three top choices from our vendor coverage:

  • Oracle’s self-cannibalization is over rated - it's a solid pivot - Denis takes on financial analysts with a different Oracle take: "The message from the last couple of OpenWorld conferences has been that Oracle has been to charm school and is working to move from being a conventional vendor to becoming a solutions provider. "
  • Building a faster shovel for shifting data - Martin on a new data management system from startup WekaIO, including their partnership with HPE, and the prospects of being, yes, a "game changer." Meow! (An enterprise meme sparked by John Appleby: whenever someone uses the phrase "game changer", somewhere, a kitten meets its maker).

Jon's grab bag - Almost all the core writers at diginomica did yearly roundups with picks and highlights (here's mine). They're all worth a look; here's the three most recent.

Denis nabs post title of the week with The socially mediated addiction economy needs a reset. Denis' points tie with Phil's; he earned a comment from Doc Searls, cited for his work on Vendor Relationship Management. Searls: "As fully connected participants in the world’s digital economy, we should have far more agency—the power to act with effect in the world—that we had in the Industrial Age."  That's the right vision, anyhow.

Finally, Cath takes on another downside of digital living in GirlCrew takes on loneliness among women. "Platonic dancing buddies" for the win! As a Facebook group admin for my town, I can guarantee Facebook hasn't solved local networking. Neither has Meetup (just ask Clive, a hits/misses reader who isn't pleased with Meetup of late).

Best of the rest

Waiter suggesting a bottle of wine to a customer
Lead story - Ten years in, nobody has come up with a use for blockchain by Kai Stinchcombe

Blockchain skeptic and financial advisor Kai Stinchcombe stirred the holiday pot with his acerbic throwdown:

Each purported use case rom payments to legal documents, from escrow to voting systems—amounts to a set of contortions to add a distributed, encrypted, anonymous ledger where none was needed. What if there isn’t actually any use for a distributed ledger at all? What if, ten years after it was invented, the reason nobody has adopted a distributed ledger at scale is because nobody wants it?"

I almost didn't select this piece, which came via reader Frank Scavo, simply because the "ten years in" aspect is pretty misleading. Enterprise players like IBM have only gotten serious about blockchain the last few years. Numerous pilots are underway, and we'll see more production examples next year.

Even if we concede Stinchcombe's timeframe and allow for ten years and billions of dollars, that's not the crux. It's not like one company paid out the billions, and is now under investor pressure for returns. If blockchain pans out in year 11 or 12, it won't matter how long it took to get there.

There will be enterprise use cases for some kind of distributed ledger or smart contract lifted from blockchain technology. Most of the objections Stinchcombe raises from the peanut gallery are problems to be solved, not insurmountable obstacles. I don't see blockchain as revolutionary, but I believe we'll see subledger scenarios where it proves effective.

But Stinchcombe gets kudos for diligence - and polishing our collective BS detectors. He's not just venting spleen but deconstructing use cases. His fundamental question: just how important is a distributed ledger when you're not trying to build a completely independent system like Bitcoin? That should haunt/motivate blockchain advocates.

He neglected, however, to break down one of the most interesting use cases, a Chinese food safety alliance with IBM, Walmart, JD.com and Tsinghua University. ("Recent testing by Walmart showed that applying blockchain reduced the time it took to trace a package of mangoes from the farm to the store from days or weeks to two seconds.") It stretches credibility to imagine this alliance was formed out of vanity, or a marketing push to find a sexy slide for a distributed ledger project.

Even as blockchain projects go live, critics like Stinchcombe might ask, "did this have to use a distributed ledger?" If there isn't a convincing answer, he'll have a point. Though in the Walmart-IBM alliance, it's "traceability and transparency" that justify the tech. Note: I get into live projects and outlook in my chat with Hyperledger's Director in Is blockchain enterprise-ready? A Hyperledger gut check with Executive Director Brian Behlendorf.

Honorable mention 

Whiffs

Overworked businessman
If you get held up exiting your plane, you can always exit via the wing. But keep in mind you will be arrested, as this RyanAir passenger was. And just a heads up, if a rat scurries aboard your plane, your flight is gonna be cancelled.

Apple continues to put foot in PR mouth regarding its ill-advised approach to slowing older iPhones to (supposedly) preserve battery life.

I tweeted an offer to swap email inboxes for a couple of days after the holidays - and got a taker from Hyoun Park, who offered to swap out his 3,500(!) emails. But when I tossed in a Slack channel to even things out, Park thought better of it:

Oh, and the middleman behind the "Nigerian Prince" email scam turned out to be more of a pr!$k than a prince, and he lives in Louisiana. On a serious note, a YouTube debutant pushed boundaries to bolster phony fame:

Josh Greenbaum speaks to the consequences:

Clive thinks Congress should get "whiff of the year" regarding the Amtrak crash in Seattle, and the neglect of autonomous speed control measures that were never enacted. Clive writes:

Positive train control is an enterprise AI to brake trains traveling too fast. In 2008 Congress mandated PTC be installed by the end of 2015. After lobbying by the railroad industry, Republicans and Democrats extended the deadline to install the system until the end of 2018. Now 3 more dead. 60 injured, including Adron a top software engineer and friend.

I hear ya Clive.

On a lighter note, it looks like blockchain finally found a use case after all: The Hooters Cryptocurrency Rewards Program. "Naked Wings, Honey BBQ of course - and a little Ethereum on the side." See you next time...

If you find an #ensw piece that qualifies for hits and misses - in a good or bad way - let me know in the comments as Clive (almost) always does.

Most Enterprise hits and misses articles are selected from my curated @jonerpnewsfeed. 'myPOV' is borrowed with reluctant permission from the ubiquitous Ray Wang.

Image credit - Cheerful Chubby Man © RA Studio, Happy Children © Anna Omelchenko, Waiter Suggesting Bottle © Minerva Studiom, Overworked Businessman © Bloomua. Winter Sports © lassedesignen - all from Fotolia.com.

Disclosure - SAP, Oracle, Workday and Salesforce are diginomica premier partners as of this writing.