Blockchain and IBM are doing well, especially in France

IBM’s blockchain activities, just an empty shell? False, demonstrates to the blockchain director of Big Blue in France and in Europe, Luca Comparini. The dynamics of the projects are there, as is the level of maturity of the companies.

At IBM, nothing is going on the blockchain anymore. This is in essence what a CoinDesk article published earlier this month suggested. This one caused a lot of ink to flow. It must be said that Big Blue is undeniably the benchmark player in business blockchain.

But the subject has also generated a lot of frustration internally, as Luca Comparini, director of IBM’s Blockchain activity for France and Europe, tells us. Why ? Because the article does not in any way reflect the performance of the firm in this sector or the dynamics of its adoption.

The crisis creates new opportunities for the blockchain

To demonstrate this, the expert recalls that IBM’s blockchain operations are developing in three main areas. First, the platforms and protocols, to which the giant contributes via its developers. It is thus code poured in open source to Hyperledger Fabric.

But IBM is also developing consulting (its main source of income in the blockchain) and solutions. Its manager cites three major ones: IBM Food Trust in food traceability, TradeLens for the supply chain, or even Digital Health Pass. This initiative aims in particular to build health passports through decentralized identities.

If, for political reasons, France is reluctant with regard to such passports, in particular to identify those vaccinated against Covid, other States are developing these projects. And the blockchain holds an important place there. For IBM, this is therefore the opportunity for new sources of income.

Because the customers are there. Luca Comparini specifies that IBM Food Trust now has 300 members around the world, that is to say customers. At the last count, they were 175 for TradeLens. In addition, 600 ports operate the blockchain solution, like the main shipping carriers.

“IBM is also quite present in applications in the supply chain, whether in food, cosmetics, luxury goods, automotive. But blockchain topics also concern decentralized identities and digital currency, ”lists the blockchain director.

Ever more strategic projects for IBM

And the latter concedes flaws in IBM’s communication to highlight the firm’s investment in the blockchain. What explains the doubts about the commercial performance of the American group? Maybe that’s part of the explanation.

“However, we are at the center of all platform topics with a blockchain underlying,” adds Luca Comparini. In addition, for strategic reasons, many blockchain projects are not the subject of any communication. A “good part” is even confidential, ensures the IBM executive.

And the reason is simple. These projects involve entire ecosystems and touch on strategic operations. Today’s initiatives are clearly different from those of the early days of blockchain, in 2015 in France. The period was characterized mainly by experiments, PoCs.

“The maturity phase is now totally different. We are much more anchored in platform, data and decentralized subjects, and ecosystem. And if the projects are confidential, it is because of their strategic nature for our clients. They often involve market platforms around which several players in the sector intervene, ”said the spokesperson.

Renault is developing a blockchain data platform

A good illustration is Renault’s XCEED project aimed at ensuring the traceability of regulatory compliance for the thousands of spare parts that make up its vehicles. XCEED involves multiple vendors, including IBM, integrator of the permissible Hyperledger Fabric solution.

And the health crisis did not come to slow down these blockchain approaches, even if it could “slow down some discussions”. PoCs have now practically disappeared. Technological exploration is giving way to “strategic explorations”. But in addition, the Covid has created new opportunities for the blockchain, especially in the fields of health.

The pandemic is indeed a lever for accelerating the digital transformation of organizations. And IBM considers itself to be at the forefront. And this in no way constitutes a questioning of the strategic priorities of its management, focused on artificial intelligence and hybrid cloud. On the contrary, assures Luca Comparini, by nature, blockchain projects are hybrid.

“The blockchain is a native hybrid cloud. 100% of the projects are, and you check it with Renault. It is quite normal that all the players around the table do not agree on the same supplier of IT architecture. Blockhain is thus naturally aligned with IBM’s strategic direction, ”he explains.

Hybrid cloud and blockchain, a natural duo

Clearly, IBM is not withdrawing from the blockchain in favor of other technological applications. And besides, French companies are said to be very active in this sector. “The performance of IBM’s business in France is quite superior to what it is on average in other European countries,” assures its leader.

As for the private or licensed blockchain, a term preferred by Luca Comparini, it is by no means eclipsed today by its public counterpart in the B2B field. The framework does not want to oppose them. “The world of large companies will be hybrid,” he considers.

Technologically, he readily salutes the strengths of public blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum. ” Bitcoin is a magnificent example. Its protocol is fascinating, as is the problem solved, namely to bring trust on a zero trust network. ”

No religion therefore, but the choice of a technology that best meets the needs of companies, especially in terms of performance and confidentiality, but also their use cases.

“Between licensed and public blockchain, the use cases are very different. And to be completely transparent, I do not see the need for a public blockchain in the B2B projects that we are dealing with today ”, concludes the blockchain director of IBM in France.

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