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Now comes the hard part

March 30, 2017

So it appears that HKMA has come up with a proof-of-concept blockchain to do trade finance

http://www.scmp.com/tech/innovation/article/2083536/hong-kongs-monetary-authority-unveils-trade-finance-platform-based

Now comes the hard part.  It breaks my heart to go to ASTRI, because you have incredibly brilliant people that are working on absolutely stunning projects that somehow never see the light of day.  The basic issue is that their KPI appear to revolve around number of patents filed, and contracts with large banks and enterprise companies and that doesn’t encourage open information sharing.  The other issue is that there is this massive, massive disconnect between ASTRI and the SME community here in HK.  I’ve asked ASTRI how they plan to promote their technology among SME’s, and they aren’t set  up for that.

The same thing happens with the big banks.  Most of the big banks are sitting on some absolutely amazing technology, that was decades ahead of anything that you had anywhere else.

The problem with technology is sociological.  Once you have the tech, the incentive is to try to use the technology to get some sort of licensing fee or proprietary advantage.  The trouble is that if you do that, you don’t have an external community around the technology so today’s cutting edge technology, very, very quickly becomes tomorrow’s legacy system.  To give two examples that are well known in the industry, Goldman-Sachs trading system is based on an internal language SLang and an internal database SecDB.  They had that tech about a decade before anyone else, but since it was an internal language, it’s been superseded by Python and things like mongodb that now have much wider scale.

There’s also an issue of speed.  There are likely to be several competing technologies in blockchain that basically do the same thing.  It’s very bad, if you have built your tech stack on a technology that doesn’t win, because at that point you have the very painful task of supporting an enterprise legacy system, which gets you back into the mess that most enterprises currently are in.

Speaking of trade finance, the reason I’d like this system in place as quickly as possible is that I’ve ended up connecting a coffee supplier in Kenya/Tanzania with a distributor in Hong Kong.

As with anything new, you end up with new problems that you never thought would be a problem.  So here is a fun problem with a possible blockchain solution.  The distributor in Hong Kong wants promotional pictures of coffee farmers in Kenya/Tanzania with an emphasis on women farmers.  It’s trivial to get a lot of promotional pictures.  But then you end up with an IP problem.  Suppose I take a picture of a Kenyan coffee farmer, and her story becomes used to sell coffee all around the world.  The tricky part is how does Ms. Kenyan Coffee get paid if her image goes viral.  It’s an interesting problem, and it’s an example of how things are connected.  People who do trade finance don’t normally think of issues involving privacy and digital rights management, but we have a situation where we are likely not only having to trade coffee, but the digital images around that coffee.

So this is why I’m interested to see what HKMA, ASTRI, or anyone else comes up with.  I’m absolutely certain that when they designed their trade finance blockchain, they weren’t thinking about tracking releases for promotional literature, and connecting that with the coffee shipment.  I didn’t realize that this was an issue until about two hours ago.  Whether, they have a workable solution or not depends on whether they can just plug this use case in with minimal fuss or whether it turns out to be impossible to integrate this sort of data with the trade information.

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