The ethereum blockchain featured strongly at a Microsoft demo day in New York this week, as cutting-edge firms working with the computing giant on a range of technological solutions showcased their projects.
In total, three high-profile companies – Bank of America, tech firm Mojix and digital travel firm Webjet – demoed products built using ethereum to streamline various aspects of their industries and usher in new levels of transparency.
But it wasn’t the solutions in their own right that most excited Marley Gray, Microsoft’s principal architect in change of Azure blockchain engineering. Rather, it was the potential that each of these diverse industries might one day use blockchain to interoperate with one another.
Gray told CoinDesk:
“Once you approach that tipping point, that blockchain that’s using a smart contract, that’s tracking the supply chain, we can have the financing tied to that and have the smart contracts interoperate to create benefits for early payment or early delivery, or whatever…”
In total, about 100 technologists, analysts and purchasers, as well as 30 reporters, attended the invitation-only Digital Difference event, designed to show how Microsoft’s customers have partnered with the software provider to improve their products.
Of course, it wasn’t all about blockchain, and other demos included a way to standardize sports data, a video game and a snake-like robot.
Ethereum on show
Upon entering the room, Ann McCormack, Bank of America’s director of trade and supply chain finance, presented an updated version of the ethereum letter of credit first revealed last September at Sibos in Switzerland.
This app is being built to help further digitize the still-antiquated trade finance process, with Microsoft Treasury as one of its first testers.
Representing radio frequency identification hardware and data analytics firm Mojix, the firm’s president and CEO, Dan Doles, presented the progress made on his firm’s RFID scanner integrated with a private version of the ethereum blockchain.
First revealed to CoinDesk in January, Mojix’s blockchain app for connecting Internet of Things devices is part of a larger effort Microsoft calls Project Manifest, which we were told has been contacted by as many as 13 firms interested in participating.
Finally, the managing director of Australian digital travel firm Webjet Limited, John Guscic, demoed his company’s ethereum pilot – designed to cut down on the time it takes to reconcile hotel room availability around the world.
Webjet positioned the improvement to the wholesale B2B hotel-booking process as a way to reduce customer reservation errors.
An additional ethereum application in the advanced stages of development was also discussed in an off-the-record conversation with CoinDesk, with details of the project to be made public in the following weeks.
It should perhaps come as no surprise that the demos on display focused on ethereum applications, with Microsoft having launched a multi-platform blockchain-as-a-service sandbox within its cloud service Azure in 2015.
But the event featured broader buy-in, kicking off with a discussion between senior Microsoft executives and panelists including Ibrahim Goksen, chief digital officer of Maersk, a Danish global shipping company.
Maersk demoed non-blockchain applications at the event, but it also has a blockchain tool currently being developed on Hyperledger’s open-source Fabric blockchain – not ethereum.
While on stage, Goksen spoke of an underlying principle that tied together the blockchain work on display and the data management issues likely experienced by every enterprise in the room.
“If you don’t bring all that data together, if you don’t have the container data, the port data, it’s going to be tough for us to make the right decision.”
Images via Michael del Castillo for CoinDesk