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Deloitte launches 'Blockchain in a Box' hands-on demonstrator

Consultancy Deloitte this week unveiled a mobile, self-contained computing platform that can be used to host a blockchain network on a small-scale so companies can test its capabilities.

Called "Blockchain in a Box" (BIAB), the platform consists of four, small-form-factor compute nodes, three video displays and networking components that can be connected to external services such as cloud providers.

Various SD cards can be slotted into the nodes to demonstrate different blockchain distributed applications or Dapps, how they can be shared and how they can be tailored to specific application requirements, Deloitte said in a statement.

"Deloitte custom built this solution based on client interest in understanding blockchain capabilities in live interactions," said Linda Pawczuk, a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP and its U.S. blockchain leader.

"What's often misunderstood about blockchain is that it is an entirety of a technology solution - when in reality, it's a technology component that enables larger business applications and approaches," Pawczuk continued. "Our mobile demonstration is practical, tactical and most importantly, tangible to clients."

The consultanting firm said it has already shown off its modular blockchain demonstrator to several clients and the reaction has been curiosity and excitement. In the end, BIAB leaves clients with a deeper understanding of blockchain and how it can be used in the enterprise.

"It helps to demystify blockchain and is a refreshing and well-grounded approach versus traditional slideware-based demonstrations," Chih-Wei Yi, a Deloitte principal, said.

Earlier this year, Deloitte released its annual Global Blockchain Survey, the results of which painted a picture of surging blockchain investment as "new, practical business applications" gain traction and business leaders begin to see beyond the "hype cycle."

According to the survey, 83% of the 2019 survey respondents said their organizations see compelling use cases for blockchain, and more than half (53%) reported that blockchain technology has become a critical priority for their organization this year - a 10% increase over last year.

Surveys by other research firms point to a much slower adoption curve. For example, Gartner's 2018 blockchain adoption survey showed only 1% of responding CIOs indicated any kind of blockchain adoption and only 8% of them are in short-term planning and pilot execution.

The survey also revealed that CIOs from the telecom, insurance and financial services industries tend to lead other verticals in blockchain planning and experimentation.

Martha Bennett, a vice president at Forrester Research, said she won't question Deloitte's rosy survey results, but noted that the questions it asked tended to be around use cases and priorities - not about production or production-ready systems.

Wider blockchain adoption is being hampered by a number of factors, including the fact that many organizations are risk averse and don't want to be the first to leap into the unknown. "We've seen a number of promising projects go no further for that reason," Bennett said via email.

There are also a lot of unrealistic expectations regarding what a blockchain-based solution actually can deliver; many of the problems would-be users hope blockchain will solve are actually process and market structure issues that no technology can fix, Bennett said.

And misconceptions prevail around intrinsic blockchain characteristics. For example, blockchains aren't inherently more secure than traditional electronic ledgers, such as databases, and while blockchains can help preserve data integrity, they rely on being fed clean and valid data.

In other words, some of what's driving adoption is at the same time holding things back as projects fail to get operationalized, according to Bennett.

Even so, Bennett said she is seeing "a lot more projects proceed beyond pilot stage" than did last year. Blockchain adoption is also being driven by a new understanding of the strategic potential it has in its ability to support multi-party processes in new ways.

"That goes hand in hand with the understanding that this can't be achieved overnight, and that a step-by-step approach is likely to be a better recipe for success than aiming for overnight revolution," Bennett said. "Something like the Deloitte offering could also help people come up with new ideas and concepts they might not have thought about otherwise."

Deloitte's blockchain demonstrator will be a useful tool for enterprises interested in gaining a true grasp of the technology's capabilities, she argued.

"You can prove out very quickly whether a use case has merit or not. Deloitte's service may be unique in its specifics, but the concept isn't new. Several of the main cloud providers make it easy for techies to spin up a demo network," Bennett said.

For example, Fujitsu launched an offering last year called "Blockchain Proof of Business" that helps companies prove out, with a minimum viable product, whether their proposed use case has merit.

Even so, for companies considering blockchain pilots or proofs of concept (PoCs), rapid experimentation capabilities like the latest one from Deloitte's isn't enough, Bennett said - particularly "if you conclude that your use case is of merit and you want to proceed to the next stage.

"The blockchain piece is only one part of the complete solution, and the gap between a PoC or pilot project and an operational system is huge," Bennett said. "Tech challenges aside (and the tech is still immature), they're not actually the main issue: as I keep repeating, blockchains are 80% business. Data and process definitions, agreeing on what to share, designing the governance model, regulatory compliance, legal frameworks, etc. And as early adopters are confirming, it's hard."

This story, "Deloitte launches 'Blockchain in a Box' hands-on demonstrator" was originally published by Computerworld.