Beyond the potential of blockchain

Blockchain

When speaking to Innovation Evangelist B.Lee Jones, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the ‘B’ stands for ‘Blockchain’. Such is his enthusiasm for distributed ledgers. Jones spoke to Pulse Q&A on his role at the upcoming Blockchain Expo in Santa Clara and why it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing blockchain-as-a-service.

Pulse Q&A: B.Lee Jones has previously previously been a CIO 100 winner and today we’re going to talk almost exclusively about blockchain. We’re going to get an education today.

B.Lee Jones: Well, I hope so.

Pulse Q&A: I wondered if we could kick off with a question that’s been on our forum quite recently about blockchain. I’m curious as to what you think are some hurdles for companies adopting blockchain today.

Jones: I’m going to be the chairman for the track on Blockchain for Business at the Blockchain Expo in Santa Clara. So I’ll be doing the keynote address and part of the introduction is the roadblocks to blockchain. Basically, a lot of studies have been done and it turns out that the biggest roadblock is getting approval from your board of directors. 

B. Lee Jones 李琼斯 , MBA
B. Lee Jones

Building the case, talking about how it’s either going to benefit your business, what the cost effectiveness is: why should we do it? What are the potentials? There’s a lot of concern around security. Is blockchain really going to be as secure as everyone led us to believe?

I’m a mathematician. One of the things that I’ve been concerned about, particularly with my CIO background, is the scalability. Blockchain has historically been fairly slow. A lot of things have been done to try and optimize the blockchain performance. One of the things that’s a big consideration though is how much it’s going to cost because blockchain takes a lot of storage, it’s going to take a lot of processing power. 

I’m also concerned that blockchain will lose its effectiveness for being a distributed architecture as people see the cost and then tend to centralize it more.

[O]ne thing I think that’s going to help, particularly with blockchain, is a lot of companies now are looking at doing blockchain-as-a-service.

Pulse Q&A: That’s interesting. We would have expected you to tell me that the biggest hurdle was technological. But you’re telling me that it’s the humans we have to convince?

Jones: Being a Silicon Valley CIO, I’ve talked about that role a lot of times. I always talk about the three things that as Silicon Valley CIO, and for that matter any CIO has to manage. First is technology. Turns out technology is actually the easy part. 

Second, managing people and projects. That’s a little bit harder than the technology. But the third thing, and the thing that’s most difficult is expectations. That’s expectations from your management, from the Board of Directors, shareholders, investors in a company, if you’re a small company doing a startup, setting the expectations for how you’re going to adapt to  this technology.

Pulse Q&A: How do you go about exceeding those expectations? 

Jones: I always got good grades because I read the books and did my homework. That’s what you have to do with blockchain. Just as you would do with any other technology; especially a new technology. 

I have an old cartoon from Playboy that shows two cavemen where one caveman has just finished this giant block wheel. The caption underneath is “How do you explain something to someone that never existed before?” That’s one of the challenges because blockchain is different. Things are sometimes evolutionary. Sometimes they’re revolutionary. And some things really can be what I call a foundation for the infrastructure and blockchain is definitely one of those. 

When TCP/IP came along, you could communicate and interact with a lot of different locations. Everything was the foundation protocol that enabled that communication. That’s what blockchain is. It’s not just adding another application. It’s not an evolutionary process because it hasn’t existed before. Its revolutionary. 

Pulse Q&A: You mentioned that when you go to the people making the decisions that their biggest concern is about security. 

Jones: Blockchain is highly ‘hack resistant’. Until it’s been out there for a while. One of the problems with security is making sure that you do the right things internally to maintain that security. You know about your overall security because you have lots of weak spots. I remain cautiously optimistic. You know that blockchain will be able give us that higher level of security. But I’m also wary that if people start adopting it large scale, the hackers are going to be attacking that as well. There’s always that possibility that even a blockchain security can be hacked.

Speaking the board’s language

Pulse Q&A: How do you see that problem of computational power being solved over the next five years?

Jones: What’s been demonstrated with quantum computers and their computing ability is mind blowing. Google just did a test for testing whether a number was a prime number. The most powerful supercomputer we have now would take about 10,000 years to do this computation. Google’s quantum computer did it in three hours and 20 minutes. That’s phenomenal, this improvement in processing power. 

I’m an applications guy. I want to see what it takes to actually get this thing in, get it working and have it do the job.

That’s not saying that everybody is going to have quantum computers. But one thing I think that’s going to help, particularly with blockchain, is a lot of companies now are looking at doing blockchain-as-a-service. Instead of having to do your own localized implementation for blockchain, if you have a Google provider that’s doing blockchain-as-a-service, they have access to the resources of a quantum computer to help with processing power. That helps a lot. It’s gonna cost a lot. But eventually, as it gets competitive, it’ll cost less.

Pulse Q&A: Could tell us a little bit more about what you’re going to talk about at your keynote address at The Blockchain Expo?

Jones: They’re having this track for Blockchain for Business. Because for the past couple years I’ve been talking about blockchain as a lecturer and it’s all been more about explaining what blockchain from a theoretical perspective. I’m an applications guy. I want to see what it takes to actually get this thing in, get it working and have it do the job. So that’s why I was excited that we’re going to have a whole day of having experts in different aspects of blockchain and hearing about people who were going to be providing blockchain services. The first slide that I’m going to present is actually a slide with Dilbert explaining to his pointy haired boss what blockchain is. I’ll send that to you.

Pulse Q&A: Send it to us along with the Playboy cartoon as well.

Jones: I will do that.

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