Enhancing Gift Cards Value Proposition (Blockchain for Gift Cards – Part II)

Last week, I published a blog post titled “Blockchain Boosting Customer Loyalty Programmes”. In continuation of views on Blockchain relevance, highlighting the following 4 aspects of gift cards industry that encompasses open & closed loop cards, new age innovative cards such as gift cards for stock, lottery retail gift card, donation gift cards etc.

1) Transaction fees

2) Seamless redemption

3) Consumer wallet spends

4) Fraudulence

1) Transaction fees: Gift cards market in the USA alone is estimated >$170 billion and growing at ~20% CAGR internationally across channels of stores, web, mobile, incentives, employee engagement etc. As per GiftCardsdotcom, processing fees on various types of gift cards range from 1.4% to 3.94% and lower the value of card higher the fees even touching double digits. This as a result of cumulative effect of various stakeholders in the value chain including the issuer, distributor, reseller, buyer, & receiver. Can we bring them on DLT to checkout fees?

2) Seamless redemption: Gift card industry is set up to hide identities of unspent balances on gift cards called “breakage”, which accounts to ~20% total spend i.e. $34 billion. Combining gifts, rewards, loyalty and coupon credits in one place/platform, making them available for immediate use can be one solution to this. Such platform as well can enable auctioning, trading, regifting and donating to charity features creating value for unwanted cards that expire. Can blockchain technology be leveraged for generating net new revenues from seamless card redemption?

3) Consumer wallet spends: Lack of single source of truth and shopping data has been limiting the scope of consumer wallet spend expansion. Overspend dynamic is really an upside, and analysis shows that when consumers shop using gift cards they spend an average of 30% to 40% more than the face value of the card credit. How about combining AI+Blockchain+Cryptocurrency (ABC) to increase the effectiveness of advertising by retailers to increase consumer wallet spend?

4) Fraudulence: “Return fraud – thieves simply walk into Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s or another big-name retailer, steal an item, return it at a different store without a receipt and receive a gift card in return, which they can then turn around and sell to a pawn shop or secondary store for a lower price” (dangerous than cyber fund) is a new form of fraud in Gift Cards environment. Retail return losses total of $9 to $15 billion per year, 2017 survey by the National Retail Federation. >50% of companies reported fraudulent gift cards or store credit in one or more locations. How about applying blockchain technology enabling people who don’t trust one another share valuable gift card data in a secure, tamperproof way making it extremely difficult for attackers to manipulate?

Blockchain technology precisely addresses these factors and fuels the growth of gift cards industry leapfrogging customer loyalty experience and enhancing gift cards value proposition.

Refer to Part I @

https://akshinthalakk.com/2018/06/23/blockchain-boosting-customer-loyalty-programmes/

 

Boosting Customer Loyalty Programmes (Blockchain for Gift Cards – Part I)

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Getting little bit into history, reward programs spans over a century (~120 years) with S&H Green Stamps in late 1800’s, the launch of modern programs by the airlines ~35 years ago, and to the recent coalition programs like Plenti’s initial marketing partners that include Macy’s, AT&T, Exxon Mobil and Rite Aid.

According to the 2017 Colloquy Loyalty Census, there are 3.8 billion individual loyalty memberships in the United States increasing from 2.6 billion in 2012. Every day we come across some sort of customer loyalty and reward programs in our daily lives while consuming products and services across industries that represent the spread of memberships in retail – 42%, travel & hospitality – 29%, financial – 17%, media & content, the cross-section of these industries and as well as others representing remaining 12%.

With that being said, loyalty and reward programs are facing the underpinning threats as well as bundled with few opportunities as described below. In view of this, Providers of loyalty programs should focus on their long-term sustenance and growth strategies. The following metrics are compiled from Kobie and Colloquy reports.

Threats:

  • Only 46% of loyalty memberships in the USA are active leaving behind more than half of all memberships inactive
  • Over 70% of consumers in the age group of 20 to 34 years old said they would change where they shopped to get more loyalty rewards

Opportunities:

  • 34% of USA consumer say they are loyal to a brand because of its loyalty program
  • Loyalty/reward programs with integrated sustainability, contribution to the environment and quality of life are scoring more than the rest

In the above context, Blockchain technology can play a significant role allowing the providers to integrate store locators, payment vehicles, loyalty programs, even games, in a platform that enables information always to be at the consumer’s fingertips. The blockchain based platform can offer convenience, rewards, ease of use and customer experience combine to build consumer loyalty, engagement, and advocacy.

Traditionally most rewards programs use a proprietary “points system”. Customers can accumulate points for purchases at a rate that was set by the issuer and finally uses the points to purchase merchandise at a redemption ratio set by the issuer which is somewhat regulated. 3rd party fulfillment usually handles the redemption hosting the user redemption via an online web framework, maintain and keep the catalog of rewards, administer point balances, manage promotions, ship rewards, and deduct the points in a systematic manner. As you can realize by now the multi-party loyalty systems are somewhat circumvented and that leads an opportunity for disintermediation. The recent developments with blockchain technology seemingly offers an effective alternative to run loyalty programs.

As depicted in the diagram above, the entire ecosystems of loyalty & rewards programs including providers, channel distributors, customers, incentives & payments firms can be seamlessly integrated onto a blockchain core to enhance the overall value proposition. Blockchain can enable a ledger of transactions to be shared across a network of participants. When a loyalty point is issued, redeemed, or exchanged, the blockchain’s AI algorithm-generated unique token could be created and assigned to that transaction and distributed across the loyalty network, updating every ledger simultaneously. Loyalty participants can validate the new transaction and link them to older transactions, creating a strong, secure, and verifiable record of all transactions, without the need for intermediaries or centralized databases. However, for security and privacy of loyalty programs, it may be logical to design a closed-loop rewards program, where only those parties involved in the loyalty program, issuers and merchants, would be allowed, which resembles a private or a permissioned blockchain.

If you can visualize, in loyalty platform backed by blockchain, the points associated with the rewards systems can be deposited by the issuer in a customer crypto wallet that would be available to immediately spend at any of the merchants that accept that cryptocurrency and participate in that closed blockchain. The issuer would no longer need to carry the liability for all unused points on its books, which is estimated at ~10% leakage of rewards that expire and can be written off with no redemption costs. To compensate this blockchain based systems can deliver cost savings in redemption by eliminating the third-party fulfillment function, along with the associated fees for those services. The cardholder would no longer need to log in to the fulfillment website to redeem points for merchandise or travel. Instead, the rewards currency could be used to purchase from any merchant, e-tailer, travel site or brick and mortar that accepts that rewards currency. Presumably, this would be a closed loop of possibilities, to avoid the problems that merchant consortiums such as Plenti had to deal with. Each merchant would then need to balance their prices, in the rewards cryptocurrency, in order to increase the potential for the cardholder to spend with them, but still maximize profitability. The inefficiencies arising from the issuer paying fees to a third party could be put back towards the issuer’s reward program, the payback for giving up the “breakage”. This, in turn, would allow the issuer to increase its rewards.

One would think now about how to handle a sporadic crypto price fluctuations? One way to address this is by keeping the rewards currency, not as a tradeable token on exchanges making the blockchain a permissioned network allowing only issuers who participate in the program, and merchants who are willing to redeem could be nodes keeping the expense and time delay of each transaction to reasonable costs and near-real-time. The participating nodes can be designed to perform a proof-of-cooperation calculation to maintain the integrity of the transaction.

To sum it up, leveraging customer loyalty blockchain platform,  the issuer no longer sets redemption ratios in the future-generation model of card rewards & redemption, removing any ambiguity as to what each reward point is worth. This allows merchants to price their goods at market rate to encourage purchase, removing hidden markups and resulting in loyalty truly becoming a currency.

Refer to Part II @

https://akshinthalakk.com/2018/06/30/enhancing-gift-crads-value-proposition-blockchain-for-gift-cards-part-ii/

 

Can Blockchain Technology fail?

1Technologists, entrepreneurs, innovators, public and governments are having a different point of views on practical limitation on adopting blockchain technology, even the existence of bitcoin and thereby relative performance of cryptocurrencies. Blockchain implementation is like implementing a 360-degree performance review where the managers appraise the teams and vice versa, practicality impeding into power balances as is the context of centralized vs decentralized phenomenon of Blockchain. We assess in this blog on whether a new technology called blockchain distributed ledger technology is capturing enough attention or on a path to failure?

The first limitation of the technology is its scalability and speed of processing transactions to apply to the real world scenarios. These limitations allude to the processing times whether it is time taken to post a transaction in the block or the time taken to reach consensus in approving the transaction. Lightening Network for Bitcoin and Plasma & Raiden Network for Ethereum are developing scenarios. Leaving the success to the best of the of cryptocurrency brains, we are about to attain the reality of off-chains to speed up and reduce transaction costs to scale up the technology adoption.

What are the other constraints limiting the blockchain technology success?  Next limitation is whether blockchain scales to enough network size pressing the necessity to regularize the underlying currencies and technology promoting common man/woman adoption. Blockchains tend to become less resistant to bad actors as responding to attacks and grow stronger. Obviously, this requires a large network of users . If a blockchain is not a robust network with a widely distributed grid of nodes, it becomes more difficult to reap the full benefit. The blockchain community has to respond overcoming such flaws of both in permissioned and permissionless blockchain projects. But the network is growing and unstoppable to expanding beyond critical masses.

Another misnomer is blockchain technology readiness for production or a real use case. It is true that few enterprises are marketing blockchain as a mature technology, while bitcoin and ethereum platforms are starting to showcase expected kind of scale. With over the 70+ different blockchain platform technologies available, most blockchain platforms to be candid are immature as of date. We need continuation on multi-ledger experimentation and PoCs based on “test and prove” outcomes.

In the true spirit of a propaganda of a good or bad, the real world of blockchain has an anomaly to the early days of the Internet. During the early nineties, in fact, there were warnings about the stability of fast-growing world wide web. As the end truth led us to taste the financial incentives, encouraged believers to maintain the stability and security of the underlying systems.

Ecosystem readiness is the following topic of blockchain survival. As the consortiums and public developer focus garner, Blockchain continues to lack the maturity and standards to reasonably promising interoperability among competing ledgers and platforms. What we as a blockchain community should prepare is lead from the front on integration challenges between blockchain technologies and legacy environments to demonstrate incremental success and power of distributed technology.

Lastly, I would sum up emphasizing the technical limitations and way forward for Blockchain, referring to Emin Gün Sirer, PhD, an associate professor at Cornell University quote Failures will happen, as long as you have thought it through, you’re okay.” Dr. Gün Sirer shared his research on how blockchain can fail at the Business of Blockchain conference during 2017. Blockchain technology is roughly 30,000 lines of code, leaving ample room for error, according to Dr. Gün Sirer. This consideration is serious, he said, since most blockchain clients run on the same code – meaning one error can inhibit an entire system. “It’s amazing that we haven’t found as many mission-critical bugs as one would expect, and in fact, that’s a testament to people who have worked behind the scenes on it,” Dr. Gün Sirer said, according to MIT Technology Review. Although developers should keep these issues top-of-mind, Dr. Gün Sirer also stressed the potential for failure should not discourage them.

Watch video on What Could Go Wrong? When Blockchains Fail.

 

Combating Counterfeiting with Blockchain Technology

UntitledLet’s visualize, you walk into a jewelry store and see a very aesthetic diamond necklace you were dreaming to buy to your fiancé on Valentine Day. What if you have a technology at hand that make sure the jewelry is authentic. Self-authentication is seemingly the need for many consumers buying various products before making a purchase to avoid fake in a world of counterfeiting. As per OECD estimates, global trade-related counterfeiting accounts for 2.5% of world trade, or 461 billion USD in 2016.

Going back to the diamond necklace purchase scenario, let us visualize that you have an application on your phone and scan the necklace. The application tells you if necklace is real or not. Further to that application (a DApp on a Blockchain) displays a video of the designer explaining why you should select that precious necklace. You may find out that the necklace you like is a very limited edition and only 50 persons on the globe can have such a necklace. You can’t resist anymore and you just buy the necklace. After buying it, you ask the seller to transfer the ownership to you. They show you a QR-code, for instance, on their phone, you flash it with the app and declaring to everybody in the Blockchain that this necklace, one of few of the limited edition, only 50 pieces in the world, belongs to You.

The use case explained above is very much coming into reality with Blockchain enabled ant-counterfeiting platforms. Startups like Everledger, veChain, Chronicled, BlockVerify, Digmus etc. are offering Blockchain solutions for anti-counterfeiting. In today’s world counterfeiting plagues supply chains affecting consumers and businesses in many ways including the product under your possession can be a counterfeit or a products on the go can get diverted to a new destination or products gets stolen or products tied to fraudulent transactions / money laundering. Counterfeiting is widely present across industries ranging from luxury goods, diamonds, pharmaceuticals, wines/whisky, electronics, semiconductors, many retail products.

Why Blockchain Technology is promising in anti-counterfeiting?

Counterfeiting is basically a double-spend problem – the very problem the initial bitcoin blockchain was designed to solve. Blockchain offers a transparent environment where it is impossible to duplicate products. Enterprises can create registries of their products and monitor supply chains leveraging cryptographically secure mechanisms for anonymously transferring the identity of products as they move through multiparty supply chains.

Anti-Counterfeiting Blockchain Platform (ACBP) primarily has two key constituents. One is a Blockchain that acts as the storage of unique products identifiers and history of product transfer between parties. Blockchain technology can check the brand authenticity, issue crypto certificates and stores product information and additional data to verify authenticity. The second constituent is offering better UX to end user with a DApp which will be used to verify the product and provide verification for additional authenticity. With the advent of core technology and UX, ACBP identifies the product as it moves through the supply chain and alert the blockchain network if a duplicate shows up to the existence and location of a counterfeit.

Challenges of Blockchain anti-counterfeiting platforms and future focus areas:

Enterprises and blockchain communities have t aim overcoming the following potential challenges to deploy Blockchain Technology for anti-counterfeiting solutions.

  • High volumes and underlying transaction fees: Blockchain comes very handy for very high value goods with low volumes without above said problem. But for Anti-counterfeiting blockchain platform to scale up to serialization in overcoming counterfeiting, it has to provide individual tracking of high-volume items with relative low value may not be viable. A potential solution to this is moving certain types of transactions into off-chains where they are processed, freeing up the blockchain for its primary role as a distributed ledger. The popular off chain solutions being piloted recently are
    • Lightening Network for Bitcoin
    • Plasma & Raiden Network for Ethereum
  • Public vs private blockchain for anti-counterfeiting: As decried above limitations of public blockchain like Bitcoin Blockchain is lack of handling high volume (consider a manufacturer producing a millions of products per day) at speed and underlying fees for these transactions would be several hundred thousand USD per day. However, going with private Blockchain has its downside: it give an opportunity to fiddle with data in some scenarios. To get the best of both worlds – performance and low cost of private Blockchain, and trust of public Blockchain, is a hybrid blockchain. Data is kept in a private Blockchain, but on regular intervals the control checksums of private Blockchain are persisted in a public network, which makes it is impossible to corrupt or modify existing records.
  • Data Privacy: Anti-counterfeit systems need to find a balance between privacy and transparency. Blockchain was designed having transparency and anonymity in mind, while leaving enough freedom for developers to decide on the level of anonymity and transparency Blockchain-based solution should have. Finding the right balance is one of the toughest challenges, as increase in transparency kills anonymity and vice versa. One way to handle data privacy is separating public data that is necessary to validate product from sensitive data. Sensitive data is then encrypted and securely stored off-chain. This way only users who possess eligible identity, such as representatives of governments or controlling organizations, are allowed to read protected data.

To summarize, Blockchain enabled distributed ledger technology can provide a way for large groups of unrelated companies to jointly keep a secure and reliable record of their products and transactions.Reducing costs and time by eliminating the need for third parties that administer ledgers and clear transactions has business benefits that can improve the profitability of blockchain adopters for anti-counterfeiting. The promising features of blockchain is undoubtedly positioning this new technology a means for anti-counterfeiting.

Pragmatic Approaches to Blockchain Adoption

Adoption

As Blockchain Technology is gaining a broader acceptance, one of the lingering problem is on mainstream adoption of new technology. Blockchain as a technology can be used as an exchange network to complete transactions, move value and assets amongst peers on the network without the need for any 3rd party intermediary to validate or maintain these movements, and presumably at a lower underlying fees.

The core principles of blockchain sound great promising the blockchain technology’s viability across many fields with an opportunity to serve part of $3 Trillion global markets as follows,

  • Address part of global remittances which are of the magnitude of $444B annually (2017 world economic forum data),
  • Online/ecommerce payments of $2.1+ Trillion (based on latest data compilation from Invesp),
  • Global micro transactions of magnitude $500B+
  • Think of transactions of 2B+ unbanked people as per World Bank statistics.

While blockchain technology has potential in shaping the various markets and industries, let us dive deeper into finding pragmatic approach to adopting this new technology, key areas of concerns and evolving solutions in an attempt to sustain the innovative edge.

Blockchain adoption approaches:

The anomalies and contraries of public vis-à-vis private blockchain plays an important role in evaluating adoption approaches. The optimal adoption approach of blockchain depends on the nuances within the context of a company or group of companies or industries. The top two characteristics that drive the adoption is utility and speculation. While utility is to do with means of enabling transaction of buying or selling products and services, speculation comes from the investment eye of user/investor in terms of returns expected from adoption of technology. We drive deeper on these characteristics in determining the pragmatic approaches in adopting blockchains.  Refer to my blog page to brush up on basics of private vs public blockchain @ https://akshinthalakk.com/blockchain/

Public blockchain:

“Public Blockchain” offers an ability in maintaining both anonymity and transactional transparency. Most popular public blockchain like Bitcoin blockchain facilitates Monet-over-Internet-Protocol (MoIP) with progressive track record of use cases in B2B payments, remittances, online payments etc. Cryptocurrencies or “Coins” such as bitcoin are just value exchange applications built on top of blockchain technology. Cryptocurrencies were instrumental in demonstrating the power of blockchains and the many applications that blockchains will support and power. Due to technical limitations of Bitcoin blockchain like lack of coding Loops that limits proliferation of distributed applications on Bitcoin and complexities of UTXOx (Unspent Transaction Outputs) that makes implementation of smart contracts tougher, led to other popular public blockchains like Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum enables ease of creation of smart contracts and democratize application on top of underlying blockchain. Similarly the race for privacy has led to other public blockchains like Monero, ZCASH and DASH.  All the above public blockchains underpins both utility and speculation. Utility by virtue of completing transactions and moving assets paying premium for utility with localized cryptocurrencies bitcoin, ether, litecoin, monero etc. and drive speculation with sheer value appreciation of cryptocurrencies over time. Collectively there are close to 900 “Coins” are available to steer the public blockchain adoption by incentivizing the utility and as well as fueling the speculation.

“Blockchain Platform” is another means of driving the public blockchain momentum. Platform allows development of various applications (a.k.a dApps) serving numerous use cases. Any of the above public blockchains can offer Platforms for the development of dApps, but the technical limitations of Bitcoin as narrated above allowing Ethereum to drive the momentum of public blockchain adoption with robust community building applications on the Ethereum platform. Alongside Ethereum, there are a variety blockchain platforms came into brining decentralized ledger technology (DLT) one step closer to the reality. As per the Coinmarketcap.com data, there are more than a dozen blockchain platforms like Counterparty, NEM, NEO, Omni, Waves etc. exists today for the user and business to choose from based on their specific needs of privacy, security, scalability and gas requirements. When adopting to these Platforms, blockchain community got another flexibility in terms of “Tokens”. Tokens differ from cryptocurrencies.  Instead of developing application leveraging native cryptocurrency based public blockchain platforms, nonnative currencies known as tokens can be used to incentivize the utility of the Platform. Such tokens are EOS, TRON which are used as an alternative to “ether” currency on Ethereum platform. Collectively there are nearly 540 tokens available across 13 Platforms as of Jan 2018 that could potentially expedite the adoption of public blockchain. By embracing the full power of tokenization and platforms lead communities to deliver on the full promise of blockchain technology and ultimately, the allure of the public network.

Let us look at potential real life use cases of public blockchains. What if a vending machine that can monitor and report its own stock, and accept bids from distributors and make payments automatically via micro transactions for delivery of new SKUs? Bitcoin acceptance for online payments at many mainstream businesses such as Microsoft, Dell, OpenBazar and Overstock are few real life examples. This is how public blockchain may drive value convergence in future endeavors.

Private blockchain:

“Private Blockchain” becomes relevant if anonymity in transactions is not the top priority for companies or group of companies. Private blockchain can be secured by the familiar model of user rights and secrets that organizations are comfortable with over a longtime while still maintaining many kinds of partial guarantees of authenticity and decentralization that blockchains provide. Another use of private blockchain is for testing and experiment purposes. Private blockchain mainly focus on utility with or in most cases without any incentives and without aiding speculation as there need not to be an underlying “Coin or Token”.

Private blockchain can be started as a first step in blockchain adoption. Enterprises with a private blockchains start operating like distributed databases and notary services, often with very specialized objectives, such as tracking product origin and status. Private blockchain ca reduce transaction costs and data redundancies and replaces legacy systems, simplifying document handling and getting rid of semi manual compliance mechanisms. While private blockchain can be a useful start, but not a permanent solution as at maximum it offers hacker-proof database, where the software replaces a central bank as the intermediary of choice. Another downside is with write permissions being kept centralized to one organization and read permissions may be public or restricted to an arbitrary extent, the owner with a master key defeats the purpose of having a blockchain database in the first place. In a way private blockchain can be compared to an intranet with private LANs or WANs instead of using the public Internet and not leveraging full potential of blockchain technology. Private blockchains typically start with a single application and progressively extended to building interfaces across multiple applications and then extending to bigger ecosystem of cross-company landscape. That being said let us examine some private blockchain examples.

MultiChain is an off-the-shelf platform for the creation and deployment of private blockchains, either within or between organizations. It aims to overcome a key obstacle to the deployment of blockchain technology in the institutional financial sector, by providing the privacy and control required in an easy-to-use package. The other one is MONAX open platform private blockchains.

Federated Blockchains or Consortium Blockchains:

A mid path to public and private blockchain is a federated Blockchain that operate under the leadership of a group or Consortium. As opposed to public Blockchains, they don’t allow any person with access to the Internet to participate in the process of verifying transactions. Federated Blockchains are faster (higher scalability) and provide more transaction privacy. Consortium blockchains are mostly used in the banking sector. The consensus process is controlled by a pre-selected set of nodes; for example, one might imagine a consortium of 15 financial institutions, each of which operates a node and of which 10 must sign every block in order for the block to be valid. The right to read the blockchain may be public, or restricted to the participants. Examples of consortium blockchains include, R3 for Banks, EWF from Energy, B3i for Insurance, Corda etc.

Vitalik Buterin, co-founder/creator of Ethereum said as follows on private/consortium blockchains:

“The consortium or company running a private blockchain can easily, if desired, change the rules of a blockchain, revert transactions, modify balances, etc. In some cases, e.g. national land registries, this functionality is necessary; there is no way a system would be allowed to exist where Dread Pirate Roberts can have legal ownership rights over a plainly visible piece of land, and so an attempt to create a government-uncontrollable land registry would in practice quickly devolve into one that is not recognized by the government itself….

Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS):

While blockchain adoption approaches of public vs private vs federated is an ongoing debate, leading technology providers has started offering blockchain as a service construct in setting up an environment to test and research blockchain adoption approaches leveraging their cloud offerings. Microsoft has partnered with ConsenSys to offer Ethereum Blockchain as a Service (EBaaS) on Microsoft Azure. IBM(BueMix) has partnered with Hyperledger to offer BaaS to its customers. Amazon announced they would be offering the service in collaboration with the Digital Currency Group

In summary..

As enterprises mulls on pragmatic approaches to blockchain adoption, from the above description one can draw few primary approaches to blockchain adoption as described below.

  1. Jump start with ready-to-go public blockchains”. Start developing blockchain using the tools provided by the Ethereum, Bitcoin, Ripple etc. Serves the need of trust less, anonymous, transparent system with low transaction fees.
  2. Leverage ready-to-develop private blockchain platforms”. Get on to blockchain bandwagon leveraging open development tools of MultiChain and MONAX overcoming a key obstacle to the deployment of blockchain technology in the institutional financial sector, supply chain management, asset origination & servicing, claims management etc. by providing the privacy and control required in an easy-to-use package.
  3. Adopt industry specific consortiums in building blockchains”. Leverage the vertical solutions offered by industry specific consortiums like R3 for Banks, Clearmatics for building out financial market applications to streamline payments and clearing and settlement processes etc.
  4. Build-on-demand blockchains with BaaS”. Take advantage of as-a-service models of ConsenSys to try out various scenarios and use cases to evolve the right path of adoption of blockchain technology.

Blockchain is bringing Intelligent Technologies to Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises

Chatbots

As Blockchain technology is getting into the mainstream of large enterprises, I have been contemplating on how micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME aka SMBs) can benefit from Blockchain. Let me explain what I mean by this.

I looked into the data on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in the United States at International Finance Corporation (World Bank Group) website (http://www.ifc.org ). As per IFC consideration, Microenterprise has <10 employees, the small enterprise has 10 to 100 employees and medium enterprise has 100 to 500 employees. The latest data from IFC totals to more than 6 million MSMEs in the United States. Based on the scale and size, the technology adoption in MSMEs is driven by three factors – lower costs, ease of usability of technology and more importantly demand and advantage from new-age technology to their consumers/users. I would like to describe few scenarios before landing on to Blockchain advantage for MSMEs.

  • Scenario I: Blockchain can offer a substantial value by easing and expediting SME Lending process. Blockchain (i.e. Distributed Ledger) technology based SME lending Platforms could address information asymmetries and collateral shortage in aninnovative way and is applicable to any SME digital asset transaction performed online bypassing the need of any middle-man or the risk (and cost) of enforcement.
  • Scenario II: Chatbots have made a progression to successful use cases at large enterprises. Look at examples of  Allstate Business Insurance Expert (ABIe), Capital One Financial’s Eno, Domino’s pizza chatbot, a real estate bot like Apartment Ocean and list goes on. But I never come across a chatbot in interacting with a local restaurant, a childcare center, a mom and pop shops to state few examples from MSMEs. The reason being an initial capital cost and annual maintenance costs difficult to break-even with MSME financial models. Adding new-age advancements in AI, NLP and Machine Learning further enriches the power of chatbots. There exists a real opportunity in bringing the efficiency of chatbot to MSMEs by taking over tasks for which humans are not essential
  • Scenario III: Mobile Apps and monetization opportunities. Both Google’s Android and Apple’s mobile apps got exploded in recent times (7+ Million total apps as Aug 2017). According to the Small Business Mobile Apps: 2017 Survey by Clutch, 85% of micro-enterprises with fewer than 10 employees do not have a mobile app and whereas for SMEs in the lower fifties. There exists a significant business opportunity enabling MSMEs access to mobile apps.
  • Scenarios IV, V, & VI: SMS/USSD messaging, e-commerce/direct-to-consumer websites and instant messengers are other scenarios that would enhance MSMEs capability in addressing gig economy consumers. The technology is available to MSMEs in these scenarios, but development & customization needs, and costs are slowing down the adaptability.

Blockchain backed Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) offer real opportunities enabling multiple channels like chatbots, mobile apps, SMS/USSD messaging, e-commerce/direct-to-consumer websites, and instant messaging to MSMEs and as well enable Omni channel capabilities. Blockchain decentralized autonomous platform (BDAP) can connect MSMEs, technology providers, developers, marketers, crypto ecosystem, and marketplace offering minimal transaction fees, competitive prices in the open and transparent marketplace, ensuring secure transactions, easing the channel access and simultaneously create the Omni-channel customer experience.

  • First, Blockchain (BDAP) platform takes-out the initial capital investments to access new-age technologies enabling multi-channel capabilities, establish a distributed ledger technology offering peer-to-peer financial system, smart contract to execute secure transactions and an exchange for MSME tokens, and platform that enhances exceptional customer experience.
  • There is an opportunity for sellers (tech providers/developers/marketing firms/startups) to play Business Integrator role creating MSME tokens and made available in the marketplace for MSMEs, Developers, Marketing & Content Firms, and Technology Providers.
  • MSMEs buy tokens for fiat and cryptocurrency. Developers, Marketing & Content Firms, and Technology Platforms decide the price of channels and determine token equivalents. This gives an opportunity for sellers to form a partner syndicate for creating Omni-channel AI Agent experience as an additional value-add.
  • Once tokens are received sellers of various forms (developers, marketers, media firms, technology partners etc.), MSME channels (chatbots, mobile apps, e-commerce/direct-to-consumer websites, instant messengers etc.) gets launched per purchased token volumes.

What MSMEs get out of BDAP is an asynchronous participation of ecosystem players offering a decentralized platform to access channel capabilities otherwise tied to higher capital and ongoing costs. Another key advantage to MSMEs from Blockchain enabled decentralized ledger is while MSMEs ensures their product quality building a trust/brand evaluation system, BDAP helps MSMEs scale to reputation evaluation system leveraging the platform.

You can reach me @ kishor.akshinthala@gmail.com for a deeper mindshare on this topic.

 

 

 

Monetizing Online Engagement & Services with Blockchain

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As Blockchain technology is getting closer to reality, the adoption across industries is gaining popularity. In this blog, I am presenting another Blockchain use case that is being experimented in monetizing online engagement and services covering the ecosystem of publishers, advertisers and consumers. In hyper-connected world leading to heavy consumerization, brands and publishers are creating/publishing events, polls, debates, insights, quizzes, interactive charts aiming to gain higher consumer engagement that leads to services monetization. With latest advancements in creating better user experience with state of the art user interface, artificially intelligent systems collecting data and analyzing patterns, publishers and brands are in search of a platform for payments that could engage consumers offering cost efficient and secure transactions creating next-level value in “engagement services” domain.

As we follow the development in this space, Blockchain is sailing through a wave of pilots, with introduction of crypto-currencies/tokens for events, advertising, engagement etc., The Blockchain enabled platform can establish a new type of relationship, where key players including Consumers, Publishers, and Advertisers gets motivated with proper incentives. Distributed Ledger Technology with Blockchain ecosystem can offer a platform enabling business models to authenticate users with various services offered via smart contracts and underpinning commissions for such services. Blockchain platform can deepen engagement easing online user experience that consumer’s want and enabling publishers to serve as much advertising as possible to make their business model work.

Let us visualize an online engagement and services monetization framework with Blockchain Decentralized Autonomous Organization (BDAO). A schematic is provided below for ease of understanding.

  1. Blockchain (BADO) platform can establish a backbone for online engagement and services offering tokens to facilitate transactions, a distributed ledger technology offering peer-to-peer financial system, smart contract to execute secure transaction and an exchange for token exchange and incentives/points redemptions.
  2. As a central player, publishers creates the engagement & services tokens in conjunction with a crypto player and/or online advertising platform provider. These tokens are made available in the marketplace
  3. Clients (brand, agency or an individual) can buy tokens for fiat and crypto currency. Tokens could be also earned via engagements. Publishers decide the price of services and determine token equivalents.
  4. Publishers captures the clients request the engagement / services in collaboration with advertisers. Advertisers offer forte of engagement models and services that could include ads, campaigns, surveys, user conversion widgets, events, paid insights, proximity marketing etc.
  5. Advertisers gets paid for their services as aggregated and presented by the publishers. Leveraging the BDAO platform, publisher make clients pay tokens for engagement & services in accordance with the current exchange rate of the token in a typical peer-to-peer distributed network
  6. Once tokens are received, services (ex: campaign/surveys) gets launched per purchased volume of impressions and targeting, all driven by platform and its campaign/survey management system. The individuals who start their engagement anonymously as they decide to register in order to earn tokens and, at some point, to redeem them.
  7. Upon completion of service, in this scenario after a campaign/survey completion, an automatic report can be generated and delivered to the client.
  8. Similarly incentives and points can be calculated and converted to token equivalents such that the receiving player gain them in the lifecycle as appropriate. Tokenization can make the point system more materialistic and leverage advanced gamification based on engagement and contributions.

In summary Blockchain platform connects services, such as advertising and hyper-tagging to audiences and is essentially serving as a backbone to facilitate many marketplaces and many competing offerings coming from these marketplaces. Using Smart Contracts for such operations makes the platform operation robust and transparent and therefore putting it on the public decentralized ledger is the best approach to grow the business. With a fast growing set of Blockchain-based services, applications, and technologies, it makes a lot of business sense to have it utilized not only for the immediate monetization opportunities, but also for future online engagement and services use cases.

I am available at kishor.akshinthala@gmail.com for further discussions.