Blockchain, heralded as revolutionary, is trying to convince in business. Too high expectations or irrelevant technology? Try to answer.
Blockchain was on everyone’s lips a few months ago. All the companies went there with their project using this technology from “blocks” and decentralization, known mainly through cryptocurrencies, but whose potential was announced as exceptional. It was sometimes difficult to sort out between the fad, the buzzword and the genuine interest in the companies. Today, many hastily started projects have failed, and apart from a few use cases, adoption seems slow. Worse, the relevance of using this technology in business is regularly questioned. 13 years after the birth of blockchain and its status as a revolutionary technology, has it found its place in companies?
Before you look at where the companies are, it’s necessary to remind yourself a little. Blockchain is the technology that makes this possible store and transfer information securely, transparently and without a central control authority. In the financial world, this means removing the middleman, such as banks. Blockchain can be compared to a huge database in which the history of all exchanges between users is stored of the block chain since its creation. Blockchain can be public or private, and at this stage it is used to transfer and hold assets such as cryptocurrencies, to ensure product traceability or to automatically execute smart contracts. The most important concept to remember in relation to blockchain is decentralization. This means that the famous database is not hosted by a single trusted third party, but by some or all users of the blockchain, and that any participant can access it at any time.
After the preliminary matches, let’s move on to training. Promising on paper with its notions of decentralization, transparency and untouchability, blockchain has convinced companies to jump into itand last but not least, also with us.
You are shopping and want to know the history of the product before you buy it. Where did it come from, was it processed, was the cold chain respected? In theory, blockchain technology makes it possible to list this information in a secure manner and make it available to consumers. An option that convinced the Carrefour group to embark onit has blockchain version traceability. Carrefour digitized the entire journey of the product, the Carrefour Quality Line pork line from years past, and used blockchain technology to ensure data reliability. In cooperation with a Belgian start-up, Vinçotte then developed a web application for Carrefour that allows reading the QR code stuck on the product packaging. All the user needs to do is scan with their smartphone. The project, which started in France in 2018 in a test phase on chicken from Auvergne, was renewed in 2019 in Belgium with the aim of extending it to other references.
“It’s not so bad that there are projects that have collapsed, it shows the limits and lowers expectations. I see projects where blockchain is relevant and others where it’s just a buzzword.”
Two years later, the retail brand says that it is happy with the initiative, even if it does not intend to expand it to thousands of references tomorrow, justifying the choice of blockchain: “We have a very complete several hundred pages that contain this place, animal feed and the whole chain that the product followed before it arrived at the store. We condensed this information. Blockchain allows us to guarantee the truth of the information to the consumer. information that is verified by an external control body. The usefulness for us lies in the credibility that this technology brings to the information provided”, Carrefour tells us, remaining more discreet about the use of this initiative by its customers.
Madness too fast
Traceability appears to be one aspect of blockchain where companies find their mark. At AB Inbev, we approached SettleMint, a Belgian company specializing in the implementation of blockchain projects, and Fujitsu. ensure transparency and traceability of the barley supply chain and its production processes, from consumer to farm. It works, but let’s face it, it’s more of a gimmick than a paradigm shift. Especially since there aren’t many examples.
Harold Kinet, CEO of Walloon network initiative Be Blockchain, Walchain, is a keen observer and player in a sector that is, after all, still very young and in the making. slow penetration of technology compared to notification effects who predicted a tidal wave. “We still have a long way to go. At the time, there was too much frenzy. The use cases are trickling in. It started with everything related to production chains with big companies like Coca-Cola using technology to track its production, it was then seized by the luxury sector, such as LVMH, which uses it to certify and track some of these products to prevent counterfeiting.
“There is a big cognitive barrier. It takes time to integrate into companies, because first you have to train, understand what it is for, to try to apply it in your own business.”
There are several examples in large companies. But when the size of the company is reduced, blockchain does not seem to convince many people, he didn’t even find his place. “There is a big cognitive barrier. It takes time to integrate into companies, because first you have to train yourself, understand what it is for, to try to apply it to your own business”, continues Harold Kinet. “Blockchain in business is currently being developed mainly using Web3.” Web3 is what is heralded as the future of the Internet. It takes over from version 1.0 and 2.0. Its applications and tools are based on blockchain technology, which ensures the decentralization of power for users and is no longer shared between several large platforms, as is the case today. Anyway, that’s the promise.
In terms of promise, blockchain has been strong and is struggling to recover from the exaggerated expectations placed on it. Although the word has become common, technology remains young and seeks maturity. “We are still in the learning phase,” confirms Denys Bornauw, Senior Business Group Leader at Agoria, the technology sector federation. “We need to be able to educate companies not to think of blockchain as a buzzword. We need to see in different industries how this technology can contribute to solving certain problems. It’s not fast enough for a transactional example. But if it has to have traceability or security, then yes, it can to think about it.”
As is often the case with technological revolutions, announcements are not followed by effects, or at least not necessarily the expected ones. Add to this an economic context that is not very favorable to risky investments, and you have part of the explanation. “The problem is that it is still an experimental technology. Very few companies can take the risk of testing concepts related to this technology,” says Denys Bornauw. Because In addition to the financial risk of implementing a blockchain project, there is also a legal risk. The legal framework surrounding the use of blockchain is still very vague at this stage and represents a major barrier to mass adoption.
Technology reserved for adults?
The complexity of the technology, and therefore its difficulty in understanding for the business world, did not help its popularization. “Companies come to us asking us to use blockchain for such and such a project. And in general, they don’t really need blockchain. This technology is very interesting when it stimulates collaboration within the sector,” said Harold Kinet.
We understood that if most of the current use cases are in large companies, it is mainly because they manage their production chains from A to Z and they can afford it. Small SMEs, on the other hand, are more isolated. Blockchain can be interesting if they start in consortium with other companies in their field, according to several of our partners. “Blockchain makes sense to deal with their logistics, IT, data processing or trust. They can connect and create a shared ledger between them and there.”
“Blockchain is fundamentally inefficient. An Excel spreadsheet will do the job just as well, if not better.”
For some, even in these special cases, the blockchain is irrelevant. “An Excel spreadsheet will do the job just as well, if not better,” says Edouard Jacquin, a data manager in the public sector who has been passionate about and studied this issue. According to him, blockchain leads to limitations instead of making life easier for companies: “Blockchain is fundamentally inefficient. Working in a decentralized way means being less efficient, because we will duplicate our database several times. is a duplicate Excel from which no rows can be removed And every change must be confirmed by all .” Inefficiency that brings certainty, recognizes this specialist in data and its use. The most worrying thing, he says, is that “solutions already exist and are just as or more relevant. They’re just not trendy like blockchain.”
A cash discourse that is spreading more and more because started projects are stopped due to lack of relevance. According to Denys Bornauw, this is also a good thing: “It’s not so bad that there are projects that have collapsed, it shows the limits and lowers expectations. I see projects where blockchain is relevant and others where it’s just a buzzword. You have to create an analysis grid to decide if it’s the right choice of technology depending on the project.”
Therefore, after 13 years of existence, blockchain technology is slowly persuading outside the world of cryptocurrencies and art. In society, it is clear that it still has the label of an innovative project that is searching for its relevance. Another observation is that companies active in the implementation of blockchain projects in Belgium are still developing, raising funds and finding customers. Proof that technology still attractsalthough what was announced as a social revolution did not happen apparently it has not yet fulfilled the promises made in it. Now that the expectations are lowered, she might be able to find a place in some companies with a little less pressure.
- 13 years after its first inception, blockchain technology is still trying to convince companies.
- It seems to be reserved for those who have the luxury of attempting a project that might fail and who are in control of their production chain.
- Some question the very foundations of the technology, which would be ineffective for the world of commerce.