Announcing the Blockchain Innovation Accelerator

We were excited to announce yesterday the release of two new innovation programs related to blockchain technologies. The two releases include the Blockchain Innovation Accelerator as well as an internal, employee-focused crypto marketplace built on blockchain technologies.

The Blockchain Innovation Accelerator is focused on accelerating customer projects related to understanding and applying blockchain technologies in market today. Focused on a loyalty points scenario in which a sample airline utilizes blockchain to allow customers and vendors to redeem and exchange airline frequent flyer miles (or “tokens”) using smart contract technology, the accelerator offers reference architecture and sample code to create a more approachable scenario as well as accelerate development efforts. The Blockchain Innovation Accelerator is built on Microsoft Azure using the Ethereum blockchain and implements the ERC20 Token Interface with custom smart contract modifications to restrict the flow of tokens between and among whitelisted participants. This is the second Innovation Accelerator released by Valence, coming after the most recent release of the HoloLens Innovation Accelerator this past May. Built by the Valence Innovation Team, the Innovation Accelerator program strives to provide a specific — and often vertical, industry-oriented — framework to help “jumpstart” real-life solutions.

“At Valence we focus exclusively on digital transformation technologies and how they work together to deliver real business results for customers,” said Jim Darrin, Managing Director of Valence. “We believe blockchain will change the nature of distributed systems, and so we have assembled a set of software components and reference architectures to accelerate the ability to both build integrated loyalty points solutions as well as make blockchain more approachable generally for enterprise customers everywhere.”

Additionally, the company today announced the release of their internal, employee-focused crypto marketplace. Built on Hyperledger Sawtooth blockchain technologies, this internal marketplace enables the issuing and redemption of Valence cryptocurrency called Valence Electrons (symbol: VLE). When joining Valence, new employees get a fixed number of VLE which they can spend on the internal Valence marketplace to purchase unique goods and services. Each step of the transaction is recorded on the blockchain and over time, VLE will have increasing value correlated with the growth of the company. Additionally, the company expects to enable employees to post their own offerings and create a barter environment to increase the number of unique goods and services available.

“I am incredibly excited to release this internal marketplace based on the core concepts of blockchain,” said Matthew Carlisle, Technology Director at Valence. “We strive to make all our digital transformation technologies approachable to employees, and we believe this idea of creating our own internal token system for redemption of goods and services will be a great way for employees to experience blockchain and token technologies firsthand. And we’re thrilled to be able to share our experience with the rest of the world as well.”

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Marketplaces, Blockchains, Smart Contracts, Oh My!

In this post, we talk about how to use blockchain technology to improve the employee experience with a cryptocurrency marketplace.

At several previous companies I’ve been given jackets, t-shirts, mugs and other nice employee perks — the simple stuff. While these have always been well-meaning by company leadership, it’s usually been the case that these perks were not entirely to my own personal taste. After all, it is pretty hard to imagine a scenario where you are able to accommodate the tastes and interests of all employees. But what if there was a way to customize employee merchandise to what each employee really wants?

At Kopius we like to use the digital transformation technologies we evangelize to our customers to advance our own business. You certainly have heard this before — the old “eating your own dog food” program. But for us we not only learn how these technologies work but also helps us (1) create a learning environment for all our employees and (2) have real-life experience we can share with our customers. To that end — and to tackle the issue of employee preference — we developed our own merchandise cryptocurrency marketplace using Hyperledger Sawtooth, one of the most popular blockchain technologies available today.

The user experience is simple: when joining Kopius our employees get a fixed number of Valence Level Electrons (symbol: VLE), and we have an internal cryptocurrency marketplace website where employees can spend the VLE for various Valence-branded items you might not normally find: wireless headphones, beer growlers, and more. More VLE is given to employees over time as and when performance and situations allow.

If you’re saying to yourself right now, “um, folks… in 2017 we just called this a ‘website’”, then I’d say you are both right and wrong. Right in that — yes, it’s a website! But wrong in that the sense that the underpinnings of our marketplace use blockchain technologies. And this underpinning allows us to think about a few new things that would not be easily possible with just a “website”: (1) a level of integrity and transaction auditing, and more importantly (2) the ability to easily open this up more broadly to other vendors. After all, why couldn’t other companies in the local area start accepting VLE as a currency for the exchange of goods and services? It is both possible and totally reasonable.

For larger companies this starts to make a lot of sense. It allows them to give employees more choice and, in theory, spend less on perks as there would be less waste. Plus, it allows employees more choice because blockchain technologies allow for very simple integration, so they can accept VLE instead of the good old U.S. dollar (USD). In order to enable this, we would need to create a reimbursement flow as well assign a starting VLE to USD exchange rate. But note that this can all be done in a trustless environment. In other words, in order to add a vendor that accepts VLE, we don’t need to trust that company and they don’t need to trust us. Smart contracts running on the blockchain enforce the rules that govern our business relationship. Each party can do what they want as long as they follow the rules.

There are many companies out there that issue loyalty points, with airlines certainly one of the largest. As their users start to accumulate large amounts of points this creates several problems: first, customers accumulate too many points and thus may switch airlines, and second — and in many cases a bigger issue — it creates an outstanding financial liability for the company. As a reaction, airlines try to create innovative ways to solve these problems. In fact, recently I saw a glass of fancy champagne available to buy with my Delta Airline SkyMiles. And yes, I can already exchange my SkyMiles for a few other things but honestly the selection is really limited — and there is a reason for that: you can only imagine the IT integration headaches to onboard a vendor into the Delta Airline IT systems so that they could access the user’s SkyMiles balance in order to redeem points for goods or services.

Realizing this scenario is one that many customers might struggle with, we built and released today our Blockchain Innovation Accelerator focused on loyalty points systems. Built on Microsoft Azure and Ethereum, this Innovation Accelerator provides a reference architecture and sample code to make these technologies more approachable. In general, moving loyalty points — or scenarios similar to this — to blockchain technologies offers the potential to create a much larger market for those points by solving issues associated with the current system.

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Blockchain: Is it More than Hype?

The term “blockchain” has turned into the latest catchphrase rather than the latest technology.

There’s no one universal definition that everybody agrees on. In fact, blockchain technology has inspired so much hype and interest that it seems like everyone is claiming to be developing blockchain platforms or piloting new blockchain use cases.

Note that cryptocurrency like Bitcoin is the most famous example of blockchain technology, but blockchain and cryptocurrency are not interchangeable. Cryptocurrency was built using blockchain technology.

At its core, blockchain is a technology that enables digital transactions to be conducted securely in a decentralized peer-to-peer network of records duplicated across a web of participants. Because the records are replicated across all nodes on the blockchain and need to be validated before they can be added in a “block,” blockchain is thought to be resistant to fraud and abuse.

Blockchain networks can be public or private. The rules that govern how transactions are validated vary. Modern general purpose blockchains, like Ethereum and Hyperledger, have rules attached to each action, so the platform can execute a smart contract.

The potential of blockchain is a big deal, and it holds a lot of promise. The ability to get rid of centralized systems and facilitate peer-to-peer payment systems or to handle land title, currency exchange, or energy markets in an accurate, secure, unalterable digital environment is remarkable. The potential to save billions down the entire supply chain or manage patient health data holds incredible promise.

That’s undoubtedly why there were no fewer than 134 blockchain startups with initial coin offerings of at least $500K between 2014 and 2017. And that’s why Gartner predicts that blockchain tech spending will reach $9.7B over the next three years (up from $945M spent in 2017).

But the truth is blockchain technology is fairly new. It was actually a 1976 paper called “New Directions in Cryptography” that marked the initial discovery that led to the creation of Bitcoin in 2009. So far, most of the uses of blockchain outside of cryptocurrency exchanges have been tests or pilots by major companies and organizations around the globe, including Mastercard, Walmart, IBM, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Analysts predict that 2018 will be the year that large-scale uses of blockchain will put the technology through its paces. And in fact, IBM and Maersk just launched an open blockchain shipping platform that they hope the entire ocean-going market will adopt, from ports to transit companies to customs authorities to shippers.

But until we have a few more years under our belt, it’s safe to say that blockchain holds tremendous promise, but it is complex and needs to be deployed in smart ways to meet specific business needs.

That’s where Valence comes in. We’ve been living and breathing blockchain since its inception, studying both its strengths and its pitfalls. We know what works and what doesn’t. We are experts at adapting existing platforms (like Ethereum and Hyperledger). Plus we have deep expertise in creating new use cases across different industries. Want to know more about how blockchain can help your business? Contact us, and we’ll help you separate the hype from the reality.

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