Blockchain: 5 Things The Channel Needs To Know

Opportunities abound for solution providers to get involved with bringing blockchain to customers, including by using smart contracts to enable predictive maintenance of IT systems.


The blockchain revolution is coming, but it's up to IT solution providers to drive the technology forward to greater adoption in the business world.

That was the message from Ian Khan, founder of the Futuracy Institute, who screened his documentary "Blockchain City" on Tuesday for attendees at the NexGen 2019 Conference and Expo in Anaheim, Calif., an event hosted by The Channel Company, which publishes CRN.

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Khan also took questions on blockchain, the distributed ledger technology that powers cryptocurrencies, but has far wider applicability thanks to its ability to ensure transparency, speed, trust and cost savings in many types of scenarios.

In particular, Khan addressed how solution providers can apply the powerful blockchain technology to their work for customers.

What follows are five key things the channel needs to know about blockchain.

Widely Applicable

The impact of blockchain will be widely felt, with implications likely for industries including manufacturing, logistics, transportation, health care and real estate, Khan said.

"Every industry is set to undergo a radical shift in the next few years, potentially because of the blockchain," he said as part of the documentary.

Research firm Gartner has estimated that blockchain's business value-add will reach about $176 billion by 2025, before surging past $3.1 trillion as of 2030.

Part of the wide applicability of blockchain is that the technology is about much more than just financial transactions, according to Khan. All transactions can be recorded in an unalterable, permanent record using blockchain, making the technology a tremendous tool for accountability, he said.

Become The Advocate

For solution providers, "they need to be ahead of the curve" on blockchain, Khan said. "They need to be the ones who are advocating what to do for customers ... I think this community needs to become the advocate."

Identity management could be a major use of blockchain in the channel--whether that is managing the identity of individuals or the identity associated with a certain product. Khan gave the example of using blockchain to manage patient identities within a hospital to improve care and efficiency, as well as using blockchain to track beef products in order to eliminate fraud.

"Identity is pivotal. When it comes to patient identity for a hospital, user identity for any organization, deployment of software, managing licensing, managing software keys--all of that can be on blockchain. And it can be very efficient to have it on blockchain," Khan said. "There's literally so many different use cases that we can start and kick off through this community."

Applications For Solution Providers

The key for many blockchain opportunities is the concept of smart contracts, which are agreements--in the form of computer code--that run on the blockchain. Smart contracts are stored on public databases and can be sent automatically without a need for third parties.

An IT maintenance issue, for instance, could trigger a smart contract, Khan said.

"Things such as computer maintenance, server maintenance, server downtime--customers don't have to wait to see if something is broken down. These things can be automatically initiated by the system. Your guys can be on site without the customer knowing" there's a problem, he said. "That predictive maintenance is part of that smart contract."

Ultimately, Khan contended, solution providers should be looking to find blockchain vendors "that you can partner up with and say, 'We really want to enable smart contracts for our customers. We want to experiment, we want to do a pilot. What is it going to cost?'"

"It's going to be an investment that is that is going to be worth it, because it's going to position you so far ahead," Khan said. "And I think that's the biggest value proposition--that smart contracts will create a lot of efficiency, will save you time, and will help you enhance that relationship with your customers."

Early Adopters

Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based Network Solutions Provider has been an early adopter in bringing blockchain to customers, by partnering with blockchain solution Orbs. Network Solutions Provider is currently using the blockchain solution with six customers, for applications such as smart contracts and disaster recovery, said Phillip Walker, CEO of the solution provider.

"It's a two-step approach--education and an application. So we're coming in and spending two days with the CIO and talking about their business environment--what they do, how they're doing it. And what are the things that are easy pickings for blockchain," Walker said. "Then we're going through the development cycle with them, and then working on executing a blockchain strategy for them--because there are no policies, procedures or outline for that."

Lead With Smart Contracts

Bacem Moussa, CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based solution provider TSP, said that he believes the key to spreading blockchain among businesses will be focusing on smart contracts applications--and not getting too distracted early on by advanced uses that have been touted, such as applying artificial intelligence to blockchain.

"I think the biggest impact will be in people adopting these smart contracts. I think the added benefits will follow," Moussa said. "There's kind of a switch that gets triggered in people's minds when they [learn about] smart contracts, and I think that's the most important piece. Once that switch is triggered, then the additional benefits start making sense.”