esentri at Hyperledger Global Forum 2018

Last week I attended the first Hyperledger Global Forum at Basel, Switzerland. Besides lots of interesting sessions and great workshops, it was most notably the amazing audience that made this trip worthwhile. In this blog post I want to share my impressions of the first Blockchain conference, hosted by the Hyperledger team of Linux Foundation.

First of all, these guys know how to run a conference. Everything was super smooth and the staff was very friendly and helpful. It was a great experience and the community is just amazing. But obviously that wasn’t the primary reason for me to hit the train and head down to Basel.

Taking DLT seriously

As you might have guessed from our previous posts, we at esentri are excited about Blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) in general. However, just after passing the peak of inflated expectations on Gartner’s Hype Cycle, the DLT space is still overcrowded with „crypto traders“, „ICOs“, „blockchain enthusiasts“ and lots of sciolism. This, and the fact that way too many people still think that blockchain is a synonym for Bitcoin, make it terribly difficult to find people that are actually interested in taking DLT seriously. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that everything out there in crypto space is scam or useless. But the appearance of quick money at no cost still draws a lot of people into DLT space that really don’t care about further developing the technology.

So, heading to Basel I was hoping to find many likeminded people that see DLT as a chance to take software systems to the next level. But that are also aware of its shortcomings. And I hit a pay dirt.

Few Production Deployments, a lot of Inquiring Minds

It even exceeded my expectations. In his opening keynote, Brian Behlendorf, Executive Director of Hyperledger, stated that DLT is still in early stages. Most PoCs never make it to production. But that’s ok. Because we are right in the middle of exploring the technology and identifying it’s limitations. However, that doesn’t mean there are no systems in production. An example is MonetaGo. These guys successfully run one of the first Hyperledger Fabric implementations in production. And the results are great: less silos and more collaboration in the Indian financial market.

There were many great sessions where the speakers shared their personal experience in developing DLT applications. What all of them had in common was a very inspiring passion for their project and the technology in general. What also stood out was the overwhelming amount of sessions on self-sovereign identity management. Owning and controlling your digital identity and personal data. That’s the vision shared by these projects. Very ambitious but the results are already surprisingly mature. As demonstrated by Sovrin and the Hyperledger Indy project.

Technology Deep Dive and DLT Education

Hyperledger Global Forum offered two session tracks. A business track and a technical one. This made up a great content mix. The sessions on the business track were primarily focused on educating the attendees on DLT and on the impact it can have on different industries. Of course, finance was the most dominant one. However, what stood out was the vast amount of people showing demos and PoCs. That’s because most of the time you get to talk to people about their „blockchain PoCs“ it’s all about beautifully designed PowerPoint slides.

In contrast, the technical track offered everything a DLT nerd’s heart could wish for. The sessions ranged from chaincode development best practices over discussing different consensus models to applications of zero knowledge proofs in DLT systems. Another session on security modeling in Hyperledger felt like a throwback to one of my cryptography classes at university. Glad to see Alice and Bob are still doing good, although being continuously annoyed by Mallory and Eve.

Another highlight was the Thursday morning keynote by cryptography luminary Bruce Schneier on „Security, Trust and Blockchain“. My key takeaway was that trust is multilayered. And if we want to change the way modern software systems are built, we have to rethink what these layers mean to us and to the system to be built. Because always remember: only a tiny fraction of people doesn’t break into your house because the door is locked. There is no such thing like a „fully trusted“ system. Or to say it with the words of a consultant: „it always depends“.

DLT is a Team Sport

This brings me to an important observation that was once more confirmed at Basel: DLT is a team sport. Neither is it about quick and easy money, nor is it about replacing governments and registering your property on a decentralized ledger. And it definitely is not about a specific product or cryptocurrency. There are few problems in IT, if any, that can’t be solved with conventional technology and therefore demand the use of DLT.

It is the values and norms, often defined by Taylorism and embossed during Industrialization that are responsible for friction in today’s business. Because our ever changing world continues to become more complex, many of these values and norms cannot subsist. In my opinion, DLT is a powerful vehicle that can help us to overcome that friction and to rethink and redefine the ways our businesses work today. This is because it requires companies to collaborate instead of working against each other. DLT requires sharing and collaboration instead of information hiding and predatory behaviour.

This is also what I found at Basel: people that are keen to collaborate and to build a community. And people that are willing to push the boundaries of this new technology. Having their own visions but without inflated expectations.

Thanks to all the great people I met for the valuable conversations. Hope to see you again, at Hyperledger Global Forum 2019.

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