Blockchain: beyond the hype

Blockchain: beyond the hype

Few things have been more hyped in the past year than blockchain. In the past 12 months alone, it has gathered just over 3,000 mentions in the UK media, a whopping 300% increase compared to the same time-period in the previous year.

Businesses, both small and large, across music streaming, arts, healthcare and in tracking sustainable fish are getting involved. Even countries have started to take notice.

Beyond the flashy headlines, what really is blockchain?

A handy article by the BBC describes it as “a method of recording data and anything that needs to be independently recorded and verified as having happened.” These records could be distributed across thousands of computers around the world. The idea is to remove one central authority and distribute control to everyone within the network for the sake of greater transparency.

But as for every new technology in its infancy, there comes an inevitable moment where unquestioning hype turns to closer scrutiny.


 Emerging Technology

We are already seeing this in the currency space, which is arguably well ahead of other areas in implementing the technology.

Blockchain-driven currencies like Bitcoin and Litecoin have been the early pioneers. By some estimates, the cryptocurrency business could be worth $5tn by 2022.

Yet, in the last month alone, there has been unprecedented volatility in the crypto market caused by developments in regulatory framework and disagreements among the crypto community.

Indeed, cryptocurrencies using blockchain infrastructure are increasingly making headlines. Today the media has been working up a frenzy over when Bitcoin is going to reach a hard fork and split into two – adding Bitcoin Cash to the ever growing quota of new cryptocurrencies.

Against the backdrop of regulatory debate and questions over the outlook for cryptocurrencies, scary news stories have started to surface about individuals and companies losing millions of dollars to hackers taking advantage of weaknesses in this emerging technology.

With the technology agenda developing at the speed of light, large institutions, particularly in financial services, increasingly feel the pressure to be seen to have a grip on disruptive technology.

Wanting to sound credible on innovation is all well and good, but it requires investment and the willingness to partner with others.

For blockchain, Bank of England is a good example of combining consistent messaging and real-life collaborations, working with both fintech specialists like Ripple, as well as more traditional businesses such as BT and PwC.

For anyone in communications unsure about whether joining the latest tech debate is a good idea, there are a few basic considerations to bear in mind:

  • Don’t underestimate research – Properly familiarise yourself with the emerging issues your business wants to be known for.
  • Choose quality over quantity – Exercising some caution is good. Purely chasing volume of coverage may land you in sticky situations that are difficult to reverse.
  • Add value – Establish how you can add clear value to the debate – or risk looking like another company joining the fintech choir for the sake of it.

Jumping on the obvious trend bandwagon might work out as a short-term PR stunt but getting behind a relatively nascent technology without proper consideration and the necessary expertise can be equally harmful once cracks start to appear.