Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) is popping up in everything from healthcare to supply-chain management. Though tech giants such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon initially steered clear of DLT, they are now investing enough time and resources to indicate DLT usage is growing, and that its applications are becoming more wisely used.
The reasons Big Tech shied away from DLT — a secure online ledger that in its guise as blockchain is used for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin — is that at first pass cryptocurrencies and blockchain are difficult for even the most tech savvy to understand. The technology also has performance issues. Additionally, when the cryptocurrency bubble burst, the combined value of all the currencies declined 85 percent.
Despite the fact that the banking industry hasn’t been disrupted as predicted at the height of the cryptocurrency boom, most big tech companies are still investing in DLT and many have launched major DLT projects. These companies don’t want to be left behind knowing that DLT has many potential uses, including elections, because it is very difficult to hack; and that the technology may still prove valuable to the online banking industry.
IBM, arguably the largest player in the space, now has 1,500 employees working on DLT and has contributed HyperLedger Fabric, an open-source collaboration hosted by the Linux Foundation. HyperLedger can be used to set up a network where users can share information and is positioned to become one of the industry standards for enterprise blockchain frameworks. IBM also has its own blockchain-as-a-service (BaaS) called IBM Blockchain, which allows users to build their own blockchain network, as well as a DLT platform aimed at banks. At present, IBM has secured the most patents related to blockchain.
Microsoft also has a BaaS, an Ethereum-based network on Azure, that will enable developers to build applications. Azure’s most well-known blockchain application is Blockchain Workbench, which simplifies app development. The company is also working to develop a framework that will improve throughput as well as a blockchain-based identity prototype that uses Azure and could help the 1.2 billion people worldwide without formal identities as part of the ID2020 Alliance.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) said in 2017 that blockchain wasn’t on the agenda for product development, then recently launched two products and stated AWS has the largest global platform for building end-to-end blockchain platforms. AWS Blockchain Templates allow the faster launch of networks and AWS’s BaaS could allow for testing international payments.
Google has been more vocally supportive of using DLT technology from the beginning, investing in Ripple and LedgerX. The company announced in 2018 it would partner with Digital Asset and BlockApps, two DLT start-ups, to allow customers to figure out ways they can use DLT on the Google Cloud Platform. In February, Google announced it is making Bitcoin blockchain data available to encourage transparency.
Facebook was interested in digital currency even before Bitcoin, and Mark Zuckerberg publicly said he was looking into the technology in 2018. He placed high-profile executives on a DLT team and there has been much speculation about Facebook’s blockchain intentions. It has even been said that Facebook may be developing its own currency to be used through Facebook or WhatsApp.
DLT is still in the early stages of evolution, and its usage is held back by throughput and cost. However, it is evident that the tech giants remain open to its possibilities and continue to invest time and resources. Forbes even recently released a list of “blockchain’s billion dollar babies” — 50 companies actively implementing DLT.
Another recent study done by KPMG states 41 percent of tech companies will implement DLT over the next three years.
Irrespective of where the big tech companies fall on the growing list of DLT advocates and champions, make no mistake that DLT is here to stay. As it becomes better understood — and fully appreciated for its empowering functionality and resulting benefits and advantages — it is my belief that DLT will ultimately improve efficiencies in virtually every industry on the planet in some way, shape or form. Mark my words.