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Building with blockchain on Azure

Posted on September 24, 2018

General Manager, Microsoft Azure

Today my team is in Orlando, meeting with technical and business decision makers interested in how blockchain can transform the way they do business and wondering just how to get started with Azure.

As Satya mentioned in his keynote this morning, we’ve seen tremendous progress from businesses building with blockchain on Azure. The feedback from early adopters has been consistent on two fronts, blockchain has the potential to extend digital transformation outside their four walls and into the processes they share with suppliers, partners, and customers, but building these new shared applications is a challenge and they’re looking for trusted partners to help. Businesses across industries are increasingly turning to Microsoft and its partners as they begin this journey.

Over the past few years, the power of Azure has enabled companies to break out of data silos. Scalable data platforms like Azure Databricks and analytics tools like PowerBI let companies collaborate on heterogeneous data sets across departments, and extract insights through Machine Learning and AI. Blockchain empowers the next step enabling not only a single authentic data set, but also shared business logic across multiple companies or individuals.

The emergence of blockchain networks

Recently, we’ve seen our customers shift from experimentation to a clear focus on the establishment and growth of shared industry-specific utilities where multiple organizations come together to leverage immutable, shared data and business logic sets to more effectively manage processes that cross company boundaries.

  • In Europe, Maersk and its partners are using blockchain and IoT to trace the movement of valuable cargo across oceans and provide attestable insight into both its real-time risk and the degree to which shippers are adhering to contractual terms. Sharing this information, immutably, on the ledger allows Maersk’s insurers to reduce premiums in light of new information. This frees up capital for Maersk, while also relieving the burdensome post-delivery reconciliations for insurers.
  • In Australia, Webjet introduced Rezchain, a shared platform for its travel partners to coordinate bookings that involve multiple parties, reducing lost reservations, double bookings for customers, while eliminating costly and time-consuming dispute resolution costs for its constellation of partners.
  • And here in Redmond, our Xbox team is working with EY and Ubisoft to simplify the royalty payments process, which spans game developers, publishers, console providers, and advertisers. Using smart contracts to codify the agreements that govern over eight million transactions a day, we not only reduced manual and error-prone reconciliations, but also enabled near real-time visibility into past and future income. While large publishers like Ubisoft will use the platform to more accurately manage cash flows, an immutable accounts receivable from existing games could empower indie developers to secure a loan to develop their next title.

In each of these examples, multiple companies have come together to build shared, cloud-native blockchain applications on Azure. Building these apps requires a set of capabilities to quickly develop a prototype, translate workflows into code, and integrate with tools outside of blockchain like identity, compute, and data.

Accelerating development with Workbench

In the spring we introduced Azure Blockchain Workbench to help businesses take their first steps towards building these new apps. This week we proudly share the stage with three companies that are using Workbench to build new blockchain businesses on Azure.

This morning, Satya shared some exciting new work from Bühler, whose machines process the grain that makes up over 65 percent of the world’s food supply. Bühler has augmented their physical machines with an AI-enabled platform that guarantees the safety of the grains they process. With blockchain, Bühler is extending that safety guarantee across the custodial chain, tracking crops as they move from granaries and millers to the shippers and food manufacturers, between them and their common retail customers. They’re not only building a new service offering and revenue stream, but also creating a shared food-safety utility for the Ag industry that could guarantee crop safety from farm to fork.

This afternoon we’ll hear from Arun Ghosh, who leads KPMG’s blockchain business in the US. Like IoT and ERP before it, these new applications and networks are complex to set up, organize, and govern. But once established they have the potential to reshape value chains and create entirely new industries. Partners like KPMG play a crucial role building and managing these consortium networks and guiding customers like Singapore Airlines on their digital transformation.

Finally, we’ll hear from Eghosa Ojo, the Head of Innovation at Interswitch who is pioneering a Supply Chain Financing platform for the African continent. Nigeria’s financing system has always served banks, corporate borrowers, and large capital projects. But as mobility and other digital technologies transform Africa, a new, independent, small-entrepreneur economy is emerging in Nigeria. To bridge the gap between the existing corporate-based financing infrastructure and these new small enterprises, Interswitch set out to build a new utility on Azure that extends the reach of the banking system to non-traditional players. Supply chain financing involves multiple counterparties, many of whom lack end-to-end visibility, which can create opportunities for misunderstandings or subjectivity regarding contract performance. This lack of transparency can expose lenders to higher risk, delay financing, threaten project timelines and budgets, and even jeopardize the success of emerging businesses. With the Interswitch blockchain-based Supply Chain Financing service, lenders, suppliers, and borrowers of all sizes can manage their supply-chain financing under objective terms and complete transparency.

For each of these businesses, Workbench dramatically reduced development costs and accelerated time to value from months to weeks, by allowing developers to reduce the time spent on infrastructure scaffolding and integration and instead focus their efforts on their workflows and smart contract logic.

The best platform for blockchain development

Whether you’re building a consortium application in financial services or supply chain, a new economy company, or a decentralized product offering, Azure is the best platform for these new applications. We offer a cloud where consortiums can build and operate blockchain networks at scale, using the blockchain that most fits their needs.

Azure offers not only the network infrastructure, but also the deep integration with the identity, key management, messaging and off-chain data services developers need to build these new utilities and connect them to existing business apps, infrastructure and talent.

We’re humbled by the bold ideas and projects our customers, partners, and open blockchain communities have started in the space, and we are committed to making this technology more useful to our enterprise customers.

To get started building your blockchain network on Azure, check out Workbench on the Azure Marketplace today.