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Blockchain integration turns ERP into a collaboration platform

Lucas Mearian | June 12, 2017
The combo yields a trusted system of records that can be shared between disparate partner companies.

The Ethereum platform was originally used for verifying online payments, but its capabilities grew under the Swiss nonprofit Ethereum Foundation.

"There are a number of others emerging as well, though they don't yet have the same level of developer support," said Paul Brody, Global Innovation Leader for Blockchain at EY (formerly Ernst & Young). "Both are open source and while companies like IBM and SAP as well as EY are working closely with the governing foundations for these platforms, they are not controlled by a major vendor."

The Linux Foundation announced a new software project under its Hyperledger open consortium aimed at creating a collaboration tool for building blockchain business networks -- or smart contracts -- and their deployment across a distributed ledger.

The new project, called Hyperledger Composer, is a modeling language based on JavaScript and with REST API support, that allows non-developers and developers to model their business network. The language also supports modeling of relationships and data validation rules.

For example, all blockchain business networks share certain elements, such as assets, participants, identities, transactions and registries. With existing distributed ledger technologies, it can be difficult for organizations to take a blockchain business use case and map the concepts into running code.

Like the internet itself, blockchain's capabilities are continually evolving with new features or add-on applications. Since it is not regulated by a single control center as there might be with a system administration, there's no single point of failure. In an enterprise, theoretically, there would be no need for an IT professional to monitor security on a blockchain database.

There are several general uses for blockchain platforms. Public blockchains allow anyone to see or send transactions as long as they're part of the consensus process; private blockchains have only a pre-selected number of nodes authorized to use the distributed ledger.

For companies wary of being locked into a single platform or vendor, the open-source nature of the technology should boost adoption, Brody said. "Additionally, open-source platforms with strong developer communities will mature more quickly and have higher security than closed-source competition. At EY, we have made it a priority to focus on open-source platforms," Brody said.

ERP pilots are ongoing

As marketplaces struggle with how best to deploy the technology, IT vendors are beginning to test it in their products -- in some cases, as a reaction to customer inquiries rather than a proactive move.

"It's a very hot topic right now," said Zulfikar Ramzan, CTO of RSA Security, a subsidiary of the Dell EMC Infrastructure Solutions Group. "We are definitely getting a lot of inbound inquiries around blockchain and its implication within enterprise environments. I think it's driven largely by the fact that when there's a new technology out there, to some degree people want to be buzzword compliant with the latest and greatest."


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