The word blockchain reminds us of Bitcoin and Ethereum. This is not surprising; cryptocurrencies get a lot of media attention. It’s very convenient to hook the reader by attaching a price tag in the millions of dollars to an article about virtual currency theft. Enterprise blockchain platforms, by contrast, have mostly stayed out of the news. Nonetheless, corporations have invested a lot of resources into developing these platforms, mostly for solving noncryptocurrency challenges at scale. IDC estimates that investment in enterprise blockchain platforms in 2019 will be nearly $3 billion.
There are many different public blockchains, such as cryptocurrencies. Every day a new initial coin offering (ICO) captures the market with a seemingly novel idea. But the enterprise blockchain scene is dominated by only three major platforms: Hyperledger, Quorum, and R3. Companies from a wide array of disciplines are building on these platforms. Technology companies are usually at the forefront, but other industries, such as finance, auto, accounting, healthcare, and logistics, are active participants in these ecosystems. The senior leadership of these companies has decided enterprise blockchain is a useful technology that helps them streamline their information processing and data-sharing operations.
A Gartner article published in March 2018 reports a total of 396 enterprise blockchain engagements in 2018, compared to 115 for 2017. Out of these 400 programs, 14 were in production with limited functionality, and 17 were in the implementation phase. In a few years, this technology will be part of the critical infrastructure of our society.
In our paper, we analyze the promises of blockchain platforms, including immutability (once data is written to the blockchain, it can’t be modified) and programmability (rules of the blockchain are codified in smart contracts). But in reality, blockchain faces several challenges, some even stemming from its strengths. Owing to blockchain’s promise of immutability, for instance, fraudulent transactions and sensitive information can’t be removed from the blockchain once written, which leads also to privacy concerns.