Blockchain is coming to the front office
Now that Blockchain is separating from its initial disaster with cryptocurrencies, its future as a front office tool is bright and multiple vendors are announcing their adoption. Salesforce is the most recent.
Blockchain technology is emerging from its disastrous debut as the handmaid of cryptocurrency to offer real business value. Not to pick a fight, but crypto’s big flaw was also supposed to be its selling point. It was not the currency of any nation-state and so it was not subject to vicissitudes of nations and their fiat currencies. Crypto made fiat a bad word but it was also inaccurate since modern currencies, though not backed by precious metal, are backed by the full faith and credit of their nations whose governments have the ability to tax and manage the value of their currencies. This store of value makes them far from the caprice of any national leader.
Crypto lacked a central banking feature that could regulate money supply and do the things that central banks do when a recession hits. Consequently, cryptos have experienced high volatility and thus have come to resemble stocks or junk bonds in a rocky market rather than the store of value that is job-one for any currency.
Regardless, from the still smoldering ashes of crypto arose the distributed ledger system that Blockchain embodies and the uses of this technology can be myriad. Blockchain appears to be a natural for inclusion as a component of any trading system in which trust has to ride shotgun on the entity being traded.
Need to verify the provenance of goods in your supply chain? Blockchain is good for that. It can be used to eradicate counterfeiting and substitution of inferior parts far better than any costly scheme that attempts to inspect one’s way to quality and honesty. With Blockchain you always know what you’re getting, theoretically. But we’ll need some real-world proof that even the Russians and Chinese can’t hack it.
First things first though. Many a vendor such as Oracle, Microsoft and SAP and many others have announced or introduced Blockchain products and the fall technology shows ought to offer a lot on the subject.
At its recent TrailheaDX show in San Francisco, Salesforce announced its entry into the Blockchain derby and sensibly decided to highlight a next generation aspect of any disruptive innovation, ease of use and trust. The product has an interesting backstory. According to CEO Marc Benioff a couple years ago he wandered into the wrong meeting at Davos. He stayed and heard a talk about Blockchain and when he went home asked his technical staff to look into it.
Early applications of Blockchain
As an independent technology that can ensure the veracity of long transactional handoffs between business partners, the value of Blockchain is only growing. And as the Internet of Things (IoT) assumes a greater role in business so will Blockchain because it provides the machine-readable equivalent of trust, verification.
Salesforce used technology from Hyperledger Sawtooth and customized it to serve its customers and platform. Working with a small group of customers like ASU to define the offering, Salesforce has taken some important steps toward demystifying Blockchain for its customers. For instance, as is true of most things Salesforce they’re introducing a Builder tool that focuses on building Blockchain apps with clicks and low code rather than long form programming.
From MVP to mainstream
Making Blockchain easy has been one of the motivating factors of Salesforce’s development project and it makes sense. The first phase of any technology, call it the 1.0 phase, is just getting a minimally viable product (MVP) out the door. After that the effort turns to features and functions and, especially, ease of use.
For most software companies the first era of Blockchain was largely contained by cryptocurrency so to reach the broadest audience now, vendors like Salesforce are focusing on ease of use. This likely means that unlike other product introductions, the first experience many people will have with Blockchain will not be challenging.
Additionally, Salesforce is ensuring that their Blockchain product is well integrated with the rest of the platform so that users can envision Blockchain apps for myriad business processes and workflows. When the solution set is fully articulated in 2020 look for it to enable users in multiple industries to develop apps for new needs that are only hazily visible today.
The proof of concept apps mentioned in the press release such as managing collation of college transcripts from a variety of sources, or managing approvals in finance for new accounts, seems rather superficial. But that’s mostly because more intricate use cases have not evolved. It’s a chicken and egg situation and until there’s good product available use cases will probably lag.
By open-sourcing its Web Components Salesforce is continuing the commoditization of enterprise software — one way to look at cloud computing is as the commoditization of IT. With it we’ve seen tremendous success for spreading the benefits of technology to the point that today it is ubiquitous and serves an array of needs that could not be envisioned back in the mainframe era. But unlike the mainframe era, software is becoming less and less profitable, especially at the low end of the market such as the cell phone.
My two bits
Four years ago, Salesforce began diversifying its show schedule with TrailheaDX enabling it to reach tens of thousands of customers it would not have reached otherwise. Moreover, Trailhead customers are developers, one of the most important constituencies because they build apps and therefore create demand for seats.
The Trailhead effort has been strategic for Salesforce helping enterprises and SMBs to better manage their implementations and to develop new apps from scratch that look and behave like Salesforce thus delivering consistent user experiences.
During that time Salesforce has also dedicated significant effort to supporting women in technology. A big part of Trailhead’s agenda is to empower administrators, a job that includes many women, to continue on a learning path as developers if they wish. From their ranks a significant number of developers and architects have emerged further breaking down career barriers to people who want to be developers.
There’s talk about over 3 million Salesforce jobs being created in broader economy in the next few years and of Salesforce’s influence on GDP worldwide. All of this comes back to producing people who have the knowledge to build and run Salesforce solutions. That’s the value of Trailhead to Salesforce.
Multiple vendors in the CRM market are investing in Blockchain and this week Salesforce revealed its work and put a marker down working with customers like Arizona State University and with plans to deliver Blockchain support in 2020.