Introducing the Blockchain Business Network Playbook

October 04, 2018

Introducing the Blockchain Business Network Playbook

It’s not just about the technology

During a blockchain panel discussion a couple years ago the moderator posed this question to each panelist, “what is your hope for blockchain in the next five years?” The answer drawing the biggest applause was “that we stop talking about blockchain and just use it.” Yes!

There continues to be way too much attention on the technology, not enough on the broader commercial application of it. What many of us desire is to use blockchain technology to facilitate more effective and trust-worthy digital commerce. Its usefulness in enterprise is to enable parties who don’t fully trust each other to form and maintain consensus about the existence, status and evolution of a set of shared agreements. Let’s get on with it!

What’s missing? What’s the next step? Over the past few years there have been numerous blockchain POCs with a great deal of exploration that validates the enterprise usefulness as described above. The next logical step is to establish a commercial network. Not surprisingly, people are finding this to be the hard part. We at R3 are here to help! Introducing the Business Network Playbook. More on that a little later. First, for context, let’s chat a little about business networks.

It’s about the networks

The idea of commercial networks isn’t novel. World commerce works because of them and their operators. Think Bolero for global trade, DTCC for post financial trade transaction processing, or SWIFT for the financial communications network as a few of many examples. Also, consider the various standards bodies that establish the common language used to improve business communications such as ISO, ISDA, OGF, and so on. Such organizations grew out of a common need among business partners, and sometime competitors, seeking to overcome challenging aspects of their business operations around which they collectively benefit from a solution. Cooperatives or consortia formed with member-led governing bodies operating within the rules they established providing a business environment where they could individually and collectively improve their ability to succeed.

So where does blockchain fit in the world of commerce? In many cases, it’s an evolution of how many commercial networks already run, but it’s useful to recognize that individual commercial networks intersect, and interoperate, they must! It will be crucial for blockchain-based networks to achieve the same. Consider an example of an auto manufacturer in Japan that imports sheet metal from India in order to build vehicles that it ships for sale in the United States. In this scenario there are likely several overlapping business networks involved, e.g., capital markets, commercial paper, supply chain management, trade finance, bills of lading, and insurance. All of these are well-known blockchain use case opportunities by themselves, yet collectively they facilitate the life of a vehicle built in Japan and sold in the USA, and that’s the important bit.

In using blockchain, network participants may minimize reconciliations, failed matches, and reduce the risk of errors in both the recording and exchanging of shared data. It may also free enterprises to innovate new ways to do business or devise new markets. We believe that in order to emulate true commerce, blockchain-based business networks will overlap as needed to facilitate the business process orchestration within and across networks, sharing documents and agreements not only among parties within a particular business domain, but also between domains, because that’s how commerce works today. Richard Gendal Brown touches on this in his blog, “Universal Interoperability: Why Enterprise Blockchain Applications Should be Deployed to Shared Networks

How to get started?

Still there is the need to start with an individual network in a particular business domain involving known parties interacting over discrete business processes. So, how to start a business network based on blockchain? As we begin seeing evidence of commercially viable blockchain solutions, people are recognizing that the hard pa
rt in building them is actually in uniting a “network” of parties under common governance with agreed upon, and legally enforceable business orchestration rules. To address this R3 have prepared a Business Network Playbook.

Introducing the Business Network Playbook

The Business Network Playbook steps through key considerations in the formulation of a blockchain-based business network. Our approach in preparing it was that initially it is more important to ask the right questions. Each business network team agrees to their own appropriate answers, although we do expect there to be common patterns across some business domains. The key considerations are largely platform agnostic, though as we drill down into details the information will be more Corda specific.

The Business Network Playbook guides readers through planning, governance, and operational considerations of deploying a network that can coexist and interoperate with other business networks that its participants will inevitably also be part of. Using it should result in an action plan, and a list of assigned roles and responsibilities to execute that plan. Over time we will offer samples on governance models, possibly including templates; guidance on business process orchestration across enterprises; help in architecting Corda solutions with CorDapp development tips; as well Corda solution deployment and operations assistance.

Who should use it?

Who should use the Business Network Playbook? Anyone in any role involved in establishing a blockchain-based business network. It recognizes that the starting point for evolving a network varies. A network may start among business-oriented individuals who frame out their idea in narrative and graphics; or the idea for a network may reveal itself among developers who complete a blockchain MVP. Either way, the Business Network Playbook should prove helpful.

We invite you to explore and take full advantage of the Business Network Playbook.