As we consider the complexity and vastness of the journey we’ve been on with blockchain, it’s become evident there’s still more work to be done at the ecosystem level. Cisco is a big believer in strategic partnerships in the blockchain space — that’s why we’re co-founding members of the Trusted IoT Alliance and Hyperledger.  Additionally, that’s why we have joined three more initiatives.

Blockchain is but a tool in a big tool chest of technologies, but it’s an especially important one because it can be a binding factor to drive transformational change. We’ve recently joined three more blockchain initiatives to help further advance research in a number of areas:

Blockchain Research Institute

It was only a matter of time until Cisco joined the Blockchain Research Institute. Founded by Don and Alex Tapscott, the co-authors of the book Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World, the Blockchain Research Institute (BRI) is a global think tank that helps organizations realize the promise of the digital economy by researching the strategic implications of blockchain technology and producing practical insights to guide its members in achieving success.

I’ve long found the research BRI has been doing across all sectors quite compelling. Now Cisco will help contribute to that research and gain access to others’ work as well. It’s so valuable to share knowledge and insight across industries to strengthen the whole blockchain ecosystem. And this will also help hasten adaptation among our customers and partners, helping them understand what blockchain is (and isn’t) and realize its business value.

Blockchain in Transport Alliance

Many of blockchain’s opportunities are being developed within the transportation space. Whether you’re moving goods by truck, rail, ship or air — or trying to take care of the last mile — there’s a lot of sophistication and complexity in these movements. We saw an opportunity to drive down cost and risk in these industries by joining the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA). There’s a lot of value to be unlocked in transportation, and we’ve been avidly watching BiTA optimize in real time across an entire ecosystem.

We have seen that the levels of tech maturity and digitization are quite varied across the transport space. Some companies have complete digital implementation with real-time telemetry. But others are still sending faxes to get orders processed. The biggest goal is to achieve a minimum viable ecosystem awareness and capability so we can create a center of gravity around digital transformation. That’s a big challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity. We want to be involved in those conversations and closely follow the common standards and use cases BiTA members create.

The Sovrin Foundation

And the organization we’ve recently joined is perhaps tackling the biggest challenge of all: What does it mean to have a digital identity today? It’s a major issue for individuals, but it’s also an issue for industry as we still struggle with representing identity in a highly secure and flexible fashion.

The work The Sovrin Foundation is doing is highly relevant to our own initiatives regarding blockchain and identity, a sophisticated and complex challenge. Looking through the lens of Cisco, there are multiple facets to an identity — for example, your identity at home vs. at work, or the identities of individual devices or applications. We have ideas of what identity means for Cisco, but, especially at the intersection with blockchain, it’s an area where we need industry-level initiatives and perspective.

A self-sovereign digital identity system would be integral to everything, but it’s a difficult challenge for many reasons. First of all, people have become quite comfortable with someone else managing their identity — you probably have used Facebook or Google to sign into other websites and apps. One’s identity can be discovered through the devices that they own. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? We are still struggling with these kinds of questions.

So when we’ve effectively given up control of our identities, what does it mean to take it back? It’s hard but we believe a self-sovereign digital identity system is going to become critical not only to people but to devices and applications as well. Devices’ identities are attached to people’s identities, as we saw when data from wearable devices was shared publicly via a social network app for athletes, revealing the locations of secret military bases.

A self-sovereign identity system would also be helpful in disaster situations. As people fled Syria, their identities were sometimes unverifiable and credentials were just lost. Nonprofits set up mobile education centers for children making their way through central Europe to try to reach safety, but it’s difficult to work across borders. If there were a shared knowledgebase across all regions and governments regarding identity, it would provide the possibility for continuity for these kids to continue learning.

Are there any other blockchain initiatives you think Cisco should be a part of? Let us know in the comments or by dropping us an email to blockchain-inquiry@cisco.com.