pokemonUnless you’ve been living under a Geodude for the past few months you’ll be familiar with Pokémon GO, arguably the world’s first successful alternate reality game. In this game you work to catch and power up a set of virtual monsters while walking around the real world. I work in IBM Hursley Park in the UK and the building in which I am located (Hursley House) has been designated a gym in this game; we regularly see groups of people gathering outside our windows trying to use their pokémon to wrestle control of it. It’s quite amusing to watch, and as a fellow Pokémon trainer, a convenient way of improving my Pokécoin balance.

It is quite rare for something like this to capture the public imagination in this way. In computing circles, the similarly fashionable technology du jour is probably blockchain; this too is capturing imaginations, from end-users who see cryptocurrencies as a means of (pseudo-) anonymously and cheaply transferring funds, to businesses who are exploring the potential of permissioned ledgers as a means of transforming the way they operate.

The Gartner Hype cycle currently places blockchain towards the top of the peak of inflated expectations, and just as the initial flurry of Pokémon GO activity descends (for some) into a disappointment of repetition and grind, we’re bracing ourselves in the blockchain community for the inevitable trough of disillusionment.

This trough may come more quickly for blockchain than most technologies. Investors of venture capital that has been funding many blockchain startups will start demanding returns on investment, yet blockchain technology is still very much in its infancy. While early adopters are pushing forward with first projects, Forrester Research has predicted that mainstream deployment for entire processes will not be for another ten years.

So just as Niantic (the developers of Pokémon GO) are looking at new features to keep the player-base engaged, the trick that the blockchain community needs to pull off is in demonstrating real immediate value in the technology while simultaneously developing, maturing and standardising the fabric.

Luckily there is a huge amount of goodwill in the world of business blockchain. The use-cases are so diverse and the potential for disruption so large that businesses are willing to overlook the immaturity of the technology as they explore the opportunities in their industry. Like Pokémon GO, the word of blockchain is primarily being spread through word of mouth, and the value is greatest when players (or in the case of blockchain, business networks) collaborate.

Of course, there is a flip side too: the risk of businesses being rendered irrelevant if the blockchain delivers on its promises and causes a significant market optimisation. To stretch the analogy a little further – if you don’t buy into the Pokémon canon, don’t be surprised if you start feeling like an outsider during a lunchtime discussion over the merits of a Vaporeon versus a Jolteon!

Part of my role at IBM involves helping clients on their blockchain exploration journey. Just as there was a brief flurry of excitement that accompanied a wild Snorlax sighting here the other day, I’d like to think that spotting wild blockchain opportunities is a similarly fulfilling endeavour, but will hopefully provide longer lasting value!

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