Can Blockchain Finally Allow SMBs to Compete with Industry Giants? | Hacker Noon

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@sadie-williamsonSadie Williamson

Developing blockchain solutions since before it was cool and I’m in Auckland, NZ

While the hype cycles of cryptocurrency investments have calmed down considerably since their heyday three years ago, blockchain’s use in the business setting continues to evolve. Some technology solutions built with decentralized ledgers are even made to be accessible to small businesses. 

At the peak of the crypto hype in 2017, people were saying that blockchain was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Thousands of startups tried to incorporate it into all sorts of products and services ranging from payments, to marketplaces, and even to video games. But when the bubble burst in 2018, majority of these efforts folded and the technology was suddenly dismissed as just a flash in the pan.

However, it now seems that the concept of enterprise blockchain is starting to find its feet once again. Large enterprises and various consortia have also progressed in their respective projects helping to cement the technology in segments where it gained early traction. For instance, the Tradelens logisitics platform pioneered by shipping giant Maersk has now been in operation for two years and has successfully tracked 30 million shipments.

It continues to onboard new terminals and partners, which further increase its value. Developments such as this have helped validate blockchain’s feasibility, giving hope to its advocates that the time for the technology has yet to come. 

Blockchain has also been figuring its way back into mainstream discussions recently. Perhaps the most prominent example is in helping to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The recent successes in COVID-19 vaccinations are the first step in mammoth task – distributing billions of vaccines, that must be stored securely under particular temperature, to every corner of the globe.

The World Economic Forum points to how blockchain-based supply chain applications can help to meet this demand, by providing tamper-proof evidence of storage conditions. 

Playing Catch Up 

As things stand now, it’s the large enterprises that are most actively benefiting from blockchain solutions. The list of projects using Hyperledger to build blockchain products are headlined by top companies like Accenture, IBM, and PWC. Many of the use cases are focused on large-scale enterprise applications such as digital identity, governance, and supply chains.

Considering how far along large enterprises are in their use of blockchain, SMBs will have to play catch up. The challenge is two-pronged for these organizations. First, SMBs have to get up to speed using the technology. They must build expertise in the technology whether they adopt existing solutions or build their own platform to use. Second, also have to find ways to leverage blockchain in use cases where they can provide value for their stakeholders.

While tough, these challenges should inspire the more daring SMBs. Besides, there are advantages associated with being second-wave adopters, especially if you’re an agile organization. 

Thanks to these initial efforts by big businesses, blockchain tools and platforms have matured enough so that they have solved many of the issues that stymied ventures from a few years back. Blockchain platforms are now speedy and scalable. There are also plenty of vendors, developer tools, and support available. 

SMBs can now simply focus on using these solutions rather than worry about dealing with its initial issues and flaws.

Finding Ways to Innovate

No matter what industry they operate in, for SMBs to succeed on the global stage, finding a truly unique value proposition is pivotal. The advantage that small businesses have over large enterprises is that they’re more agile and able to innovate, experiment and adapt. This advantage applies to adoption of blockchain use cases as well.

SMBs can take a cue from how their bigger counterparts use blockchain and apply it to their own situations. Building on the supply chain use case, Kedeon is a supply chain platform developed in Latvia that helps businesses effectively manage their last-mile deliveries. It uses IoT sensors to monitor conditions including temperature, syncing with the cloud via LTE mobile connectivity. It’s been adopted by local small enterprises, including a local fish supplier and a grocery delivery service. 

Kedeon’s platform allows its partners to deliver goods to their customers in the best condition possible while keeping costs down, resulting in satisfied customers and stronger bottom lines. However, it wasn’t a coincidence that brought them together.

The firms participated in a partnership project called Blockstart.eu that aims to bring together innovators in distributed ledger technologies with startups willing to adopt new solutions. Participants have the opportunity to receive EU-funded equity-free cash grants in an attempt to further technological innovation in the bloc. 

Perhaps the greater reward, however, is in innovation and disruption. At its core, blockchain looks to democratize activities through transparent and immutable record-keeping using decentralized infrastructure. Any of these key features can be used as springboards for new business initiatives. 

Shifting the Balance

There is true potential for SMBs to use blockchain as a way to compete with larger enterprises. But before they commit, they must first understand the nature of the technology and invest in learning how to effectively use it. They must also figure out how it can deliver real value given the needs of the niches in which they operate.

Thankfully, many of today’s blockchain companies are less concerned about selling coins and more focused on developing useful products than they were back in 2017. SMBs now have a range of “blockchain-as-a-service” platforms open to them. These include the offerings from heavyweights such as Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft Azure. However, there are also more boutique BaaS providers that can support implementation, such as CryptoWerk, Jelurida, or BlockApps.  

It’s also possible to take a more conservative route. Some markets and consumers may still be associating negative stigma to blockchain since the bubble isn’t exactly ancient history. To avoid dealing with an ideological shift, SMBs can obscure the technology layer by offering a seamless experience that users get to enjoy. Most consumers don’t really worry about the nuts and bolts as long as their needs get addressed and enjoy a satisfying experience in the process. 

If smaller operations can provide real value to their stakeholders using blockchain, shifting the balance to their favor no matter how big their competitors are is surely possible.

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