Article By Lawrence Wintermeyer
On November 8, 2018, Shell announced the world’s first oil product derivatives trade using blockchain technology developed with Applied Blockchain. The technology is currently being used within Shell, allowing the company’s various businesses to trade by seeing real-time prices from its trading teams.
Founded in 2015, Applied Blockchain develops blockchain technology solutions for some of the world’s largest organizations, and most promising start-ups, and was one of the first companies to recognize the potential of blockchain technology for enterprise.
The company grew very quickly, focusing on smart contract applications, and more recently zero knowledge proofs, as a way to transfer data, assets, and payments more securely and efficiently.
Applied Blockchain’s client and industry focus includes financial services, energy, trading, supply chains, aviation, automotive, and shipping – industries with high-value assets and complex multi-party processes.
The big play here is by adding assurance and shared asset provenance, as well as the potential for future integrated payment and settlement, risk is reduced and this paves the way for tremendous efficiency gains.
Founder and CEO Adi Ben-Ari has a computer science background and over 20 years’ experience in enterprise software architecture and development in telecoms and financial services.
Adi has been a prominent voice in the blockchain technology community and was invited by the U.K. Parliament and House of Lords to represent the industry at various forums. He is also a contributor to community projects such as Global Digital Finance, the not-for-profit dedicated to developing industry codes of conduct for the crypto and digital asset community, in which I am involved.
I asked Adi about the Shell project and what benefits using blockchain technologies offer in the trading and settlement area.
Lawrence Wintermeyer: Adi, can you tell us about this milestone release and what job it does for Shell?
Adi Ben-Ari : Applied Blockchain worked closely with Shell to develop and deploy one of the first production-grade enterprise blockchain solutions. This is a relatively complex solution used to optimize a core business activity at Shell. Deploying blockchain technology into a full production environment at one of the world’s largest organizations is a major milestone.
The goal of the platform is for anyone on the system to be able to look at a particular energy product at any time and understand where it is being traded and at what price.
Wintermeyer: What pain point(s) does it solve?
Ben-Ari : The solution allows trades to be executed more quickly and efficiently to manage the business needs and exposures as required.
Wintermeyer: How does using blockchain technology fundamentally improve this type of solution?
Ben-Ari : Blockchain technology provides a cryptographically hardened foundation of priced trade agreements. This crystallizes the priced trade agreement providing further assurance, simplified consolidation, and a reduced uncertainty and reconciliation effort across the trading parties.
Wintermeyer: What were some of the bigger challenges in developing the solution?
Ben-Ari : We solved identity, data privacy, and transaction anonymity in a shared ledger in a way that would work across any blockchain platform. Applied Blockchain wanted to future-proof the solution and keep the technology options truly open. This was achieved using our Mantle toolkit.
Of course, there are also major differences between building a proof-of-concept and deploying a fully “productionized” system using a new technology for the first time. We had to consider performance, scalability, availability, security, user experience, and a whole host of non-functional enterprise requirements.
Wintermeyer: How might we see blockchain and this type of solution develop in other areas of securities trading and settlement?
Ben-Ari : The cryptographically hardened layer of certainty captured in a blockchain provides a strong basis for trading and settlement, and there already a number of initiatives progressing in this space across numerous asset types.
The multi-party assurance provided by the cryptographic proofs enables a faster, more efficient trading and settlement workflow. Instead of each party maintaining its own version of events, trust is delegated to a permissioned, shared view that the parties together control. This is a breakthrough in a space where parties today work to reconcile their own views.
As pockets of activity emerge, the next challenge that Applied Blockchain is addressing is how different trading and settlement solutions and consortia will interoperate in the future. This is not as simple as it sounds. Emerging enterprise blockchain platforms offer very different, incompatible technical approaches. Bridging is not as simple as it seems, as the bridges themselves often need to be trusted, or could act as points of failure, and data, and cryptographic proofs need to be standardized, so that they are recognized and accepted by the parties.
Wintermeyer: Can you give us an insight into the new products on the Applied Blockchain roadmap?
Ben-Ari : Our vision is for open, interoperable technology standards in blockchain, especially in enterprise. We’ve always championed an approach that assumes open, standard, connected blockchains.
Zero knowledge proofs is a new technology that allows us to prove asset ownership, and provenance (as well as other aspects), without revealing details of the parties involved in those activities.
Up until now, the problem of data privacy and transaction anonymity in smart contracts has been solved using proprietary solutions tied to specific enterprise platforms. Zero knowledge proofs allow us to create open, cross platform solutions, without compromising the security or data privacy aspects.
We’re now extending Mantle using zero knowledge proofs to create a platform-agnostic solution for trading and supply chains.