Remember when the narrative around blockchain was confined solely to bitcoin and not a lot else? This particular cryptocurrency was its most visible proponent, leveraging the technology’s near-real-time data storage capabilities to exchange and validate data across supply chains, while bringing the concept of the smart contract into mainstream parlance.
While the impact was big, the initial scope of application and, in turn, range of blockchain platforms available was much more modest; a scenario that has changed considerably, thanks to the continually moving goalposts of today’s digital world.
As blockchain’s potential outgrew its early limitations, and more diverse opportunities for its deployment emerge beyond the staple domain of finance, it is apparent that the technology can revolutionise the way we exchange and manage large volumes of transactions in fields as diverse as healthcare, manufacturing, government and media distribution.
It’s a traction that has not only cemented the protocol’s role as a core component of the wider digital transformation platform, but also given rise to the proliferation of blockchain platforms, which now come thick and fast in many guises. From public or private, to the industry-supported or more rarefied and niche iterations, the upshot – perhaps not surprisingly – is a heightened complexity over selecting the ‘right’ blockchain solutions through which to store and execute smart contracts. This in turn, has put the development and execution of blockchain protocols and the particulars of the software development life cycle under much greater scrutiny.
If there is one overriding message of the digital transformation story, it is the value of choice and software agility. We know that flexibility and interoperability must underpin every facet of the digital enterprise, and blockchain technology is no exception. Homing in on one specific blockchain solution with built-in capabilities and its own specific language inevitably means shoehorning all performance expectations into the one package. This ‘all eggs in one basket’ approach is simply not conducive to today’s fast-paced operating environment that demands scalability and real-time responses and adaptations.
When this approach inevitably falls short, the development process will need to start all over again – a substantial task when we consider the complexity involved. Indeed, realising the full value of blockchain is highly dependent on getting the middleware right; a number of elements must be implemented, correlated and integrated in real time, with many other applications for successful outcomes – not an easy task to keep recreating from scratch.
Furthermore, it’s a complexity exacerbated by two additional factors, starting with the lack of standardisation, best practice and tools that characterise what is still a relatively young field and work in progress. As a result, the subsequent inconsistencies that prevail can create vulnerabilities around the code used in the platforms, as well as bringing limitations that come with solutions based upon proprietary languages and vendor lock in. The second factor is that with the growing size and usage of blockchain, we are starting to see some fall out around scalability challenges. More computation power is needed to accommodate the rising volumes of crypto-transactions and growing demands around storage and validation, which drives up the costs and slows down the actual transaction processes.
Addressing all of the above clearly demands a response that drives greater formalisation and efficiency into to the development method, heralding the rise of a more agnostic solution that enables the user to pursue a multi-blockchain approach to smart contract development. Rather than being tied to one option, this gives deployment teams the flexibility to choose their own option depending on evolving needs, which in turn helps to bridge the gap between blockchain and the enterprise by simplifying the entire process.
Central to making this a reality, is applying a model-driven framework to the development. One that brings greater structure and consistency, in essence, more automation and less manual programming. Here, graphical interfaces and templates can be harnessed to create easily written, visualised, tested and audited smart contracts, while low level code negates the requirement for a deep programming knowledge.
An abstraction layer that can be overlaid onto new and existing protocols to boost performance characteristics and ease integration and interoperability with other block-chain based systems is the final piece of the puzzle. Bringing more intuition and insight to this complex and abstract concept is key to extracting the full value posed by this technology, whose full game-changing potential is still to come to fruition.