Blockchain

The Blockchain Evolution: A short survey on the top-management’s perception

The Blockchain, the whole mechanism around the distributed public-ledger as introduced in Bitcoin architecture is an undeniably ingenious invention. Since its introduction, it has evolved rapidly and has been considered to be applied in many different industries including cross-border payments, regulation/compliance, digital identities, passports, digital voting, healthcare, asset management, insurance, governmental applications and many others.

At the Cyprus International Institute of Management (CIIM), we have conducted a survey in order to collect information and understand the perspective of Executives, members of top management board and IT Decision Makers, from around the globe, regarding their perception towards Blockchain technology, as well as what are their thoughts regarding challenges and adoption of this new technology.

As a preliminary survey, we have interviewed in total 42 people from the above mentioned groups and below we present a short summary of a small subset of our findings. Note that an extensive and detailed overview of our research will be submitted to an academic business journal in the coming months, as well as the disclosure of the datasets for further research.

Short Summary of Findings

Regarding the question, in which technologies does your organization plan to invest in the future, Blockchain appeared first with a 74% percentage, followed by the data-science related technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (45%), data mining (33%) and predictive analytics (33%). This is possibly due to the fact that data science technologies are already very mature and have been more extensively applied within the enterprises rather than Blockchain technology which is more at speculator/research stage.

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Next, we have asked them about what are the expected benefits of Blockchain applications for the organization. They have responded that high quality data, durability-reliability-longevity, lower transactions costs, dis-intermediation, empowered end points are all equally important.

Regarding, the challenges they expect to face while trying to implement a Blockchain project, the greater majority expressed that issues of scalability (42.5%) and lack of support and documentation (40.0%) are the top issues that an organization needs to solve while implementing a Blockchain solution. Surprisingly, a high enough percentage of the order of 35% expressed their concerns about the security and as expected a high percentage expressed their concerns on the cost of consensus mechanisms.

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According to our survey, the most popular Blockchain framework seems to be Ethereum (35% declaring themselves very familiar with this framework), followed by Hyperledger and IBM Open Blockchain Initiative. Lastly, most of our responders expect that Blockchain technology will start making a serious impact after the 2019-2020 period.

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Initial Coin Offering (ICO): Advices to Minimise Failure

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Initial Coin Offering, or commonly known as ICO, is a form of crowdfunding or fund-raising activity based either on established cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin (BTC) and Ether (ETH) or fiat currencies. Startups that are incorporating coins into their product’s design, are using ICO as a method for capital raising since it is easier and more efficient, bypassing in this way the rigorous, time-consuming and regulated processes required by venture capitalists and banks. An advantage of this method is that it allows a team to focus more on their product rather than marketing and pitching to investors, which usually takes a high percentage of time.

What-is-An-Initial-Coin-Offering-Fundraising

ICO campaigns extend over a period of a week or more, in which potential investors are allowed to purchase company’s coin (analogous to shares). During the campaign, investors buy the company’s coins and this purchase is executed as a form of smart-contract, that is equivalent to shares’ acquisition agreement. If the company does not raise the minimum funds required, the money should be returned to the backers, while if it is successful the money is transferred to the company for carrying on with product’s development. This is encoded and secured via a smart contract and the data should be publicly available for transparency.

As of May 2017, it is claimed that over than $380M have been invested into ICOs. It worths to mention that cryptocurrency ecosystem is experiencing a tremendous rise, with Bitcoin market capitalisation growing from $11B to $47B in one year. Many startups follow the ICO direction for fund raising by advertising mainly a whitepaper and a coin dependent on a small (initially) network of nodes running the underlying infrastructure of their Blockchain.

Below we summarise some key points that startups planning to go through ICO should pay some attention.

Technicalities:

  1. Whitepaper: Aim to develop a whitepaper that is clear, consistent, of well-explained content and clearly explains the technical details of the product. Don’t leave room for disputing the underlying technology and make sure have the answers to the majority of the expected questions.
  2. Ensure that the incorporation of a coin into your product follows naturally. If you just plug in the idea of a coin in order to go through the ICO way, it is wiser to seek for traditional fund-raising ways.
  3. Ensure that your technology is correctly chosen and implementable, in terms of which Blockchain framework to select. Address all issues of scalability, fault-tolerance, security, efficiency, latency and transparency for your proposed architecture.
  4. Ensure that you are in a position to answer in fully requests regarding where the assets are going to be stored, if they are going to be secured and how they will be secured.

Community and Advisors’ feedback:

  1. Aim to receive sufficient feedback from experts within the community before you publish the whitepaper. Such feedback can be obtained by publishing posts and ideas in various channels/forums such as Reddit, Bitcoin Talk Forums, Bitcointalk or even social media such Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
  2. Form an Advisory Board and bring in people from both Industry and Academia that have experience in Blockchain technologies and Cryptocurrencies. Ensure that this team can advise you on technical, business development and marketing/sales issues.
  3. Attend conferences and workshops such as Consensus, Blockchain Expo, Blockchain and Smart Contract in order to have direct access to experts’ opinions.

Legal Issues & Transparency:

  1. Be as transparent as possible with your intentions, stages, milestones and coins/funds allocation, especially for the founding team.
  2. Ensure that the legal framework is fully defined and leaves no room for disputing. Hire (or partner with) a lawyer if possible in order to make sure you don’t break the law.
  3. Use the funds in an efficient way and explain step-by-step how you plan to spend them for product development.
  4. Be open and transparent to community’s requests.
  5. Protect your investors. Keep investors’ terms very clear and ensure that there is a process in place for returning the funds to the investors in case the ICO is not successful. A de facto requirement has become the collection of all funds in a multi-signature escrow wallet with all the names/key-holders announced to the public. Some of this keys are held by people uninvolved in the project so that any conflicts of interest are minimised.
  6. Keep transparent the ICO framework as many investors are cautioned to be wary with ICOs as some of them might be fraudulent due to lack of regulation by financial authorities.

Professionalism and Planning:

  1. Define the vision/goals of your product/idea and clearly communicate it to the community and potential investors. Never overpromise, over-plan or oversell your idea.
  2. Meet the deadlines and milestones as listed in the initial project plan or whitepaper. This will show that you are trustworthy and you have seriously planned the project idea from the very beginning.
  3. Ensure that there is a market need for your product and that you really solve a real-world problem. Never create new or more problems.
  4. Ensure you understand technical, business development and marketing related details of your product.

* Dr Theodosis Mourouzis is a Program Director of MSc in Business Intelligence and Data Analytics at Cyprus International Institute of Management (CIIM), Research Fellow at UCL Centre of Blockchain Technologies (London,UK) and Advisor at BitJob (Tel Aviv, Israel).

Blockchain technology for Algorithmic Regulation And Compliance (BARAC) project receives funding from the UK Research Council

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The Blockchain technology for Algorithmic Regulation And Compliance (BARAC) project, received a funding of 600,000 GBP from the UK Research Council, in order to investigate the feasibility of using Blockchain technology for automating regulation and compliance by producing a proof-of-concept platform and operating knowledge transfer by means of a bottom-up cross-disciplinary approach developed together with industry and regulators.

Blockchain is considered as a disruptive innovation for regulation and has attracted an increasing interest from the financial industry. This technology has potential to improve efficiency, augment security, simplify compliance and increase settlement speed, transparency and verifiability while preserving privacy and anonymity. Blockchain is widely used in areas such as smart contracts and it is considered to be applied to many other areas such as digital voting,  identity use cases and many others.

The Cyprus International Institute of Management (CIIM) and the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission (CySec) participate in the research consortium of BARAC project that consists of other well-known universities such as University College London (UCL), the UK Regulators (Bank of England, HM Treasury, Financial Conduct Authority), players from the Financial Industry (Barclays Bank, RBS, HSBC, R3 Consortium), players from the technology sector (British Telecom, ATS) and several law firms.

The role of CIIM would be to facilitate the transfer of knowledge of Blockchain technology to several stakeholders, as well as, working closely with the CySec in order to demonstrate that Blockchain technology can be used to acquire and record financial activity data and to securely retrieve them for regulation and compliance purposes. CIIM will participate to the project with a team consisting of Dr Theodosis Mourouzis, Dr George Theocharides and Dr Kyriacos Pavlou.