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By Michael Reh and Dominik Heere

Wirsol-Rhein-Neckar-Arena in Sinsheim, Germany was at the center of attention, being the hosting avenue for the 2017 SAP Alumni event. Many familiar faces, both new and old were at the scene discussing topics such as digital transformation, technology trends, corporate and social responsibility. Following the initial networking session and great keynotes from Dietmar Hopp and Luka Mucic, the event proceeded to round table discussions on several innovative topics: Future Cities, Future of Mobility, Blockchain, Machine Learning, Industry 4.0 and Robotics, Revolution in Health. I had the distinct pleasure of hosting the Blockchain discussion session, and am delighted to share my impressions from our conversations.

Blockchain Fundamentals

Blockchain is currently a topic of great importance among industry professionals and market analysts. It is a cryptographically secure system of sharing and recording data in a distributed database, which allows for verification and confirmation of transactions without the need for a central counterparty to administer the system. It enables mutually unacquainted parties to engage in a transaction, whether it be information or money exchange. Thus, parties avoid high legal and transaction cost that are usually incurred in such situations.

It is rapidly becoming a decisive technology within the business world, with Gartner analysts envisioning the futuristic expression "Programmable Economy". Within SAP, there is a very strong request for the Innovation Center Network to explore this innovative technology and promote the impact it could have on our business and that of our customers. Blockchain is considered one potential technology that enables new types of collaborative business processes leading to transformative business models.

Blockchain vs. Bitcoin

It was important to distinguish between blockchain and Bitcoin, as some colleagues noted that blockchain has a relatively negative connotation due to its relation to the cryptocurrency. It was made clear that blockchain is a protocol, and bitcoin is the application for a distributed currency exchange system. However, because blockchain properties have been evaluated mostly through bitcoin, it is an important benchmark for blockchain readiness and capabilities.

Cross-Industry Relevance

Most of the round table participants come from different industries ranging from Retail, Industrials, to Financial Services, which contributed towards the overall depth of conversation and quality of responses. There was a consensus in terms of the need to fully understand the implications of the technology and educate customers on the relevance to their respected business scenarios. Furthermore, participants expressed concerns for the stagnation of their industries, particularly Retail, in terms of the rate of digitization, and how it affects both consumers and producers. Additionally, the roles of Banking institutions were thoroughly discussed in the wake of the rapid development blockchain and distributed ledger technology. Questioning the future role of custody banks and other intermediary institutions is legitimate, and keeping the conversation active is an important step towards embracing the disruption.