Why User Buy-in is the Key to Blockchain Success
Blockchain use is growing across many industries, especially government. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is looking into security challenges that come with adopting the technology to prepare to take these challenges head on as more agenices put it in use. As blockchain becomes a common term across government, finance, energy and commercial industries, how can the emerging use cases within each of these industries be put into action? How can you take a use case from proof of concept to viable solution? As the need for information and the opportunity for implementation increases in government, the answer lies within the organization and its people.
Blockchain, a distributed digital ledger, should not be viewed as only an application, database, back-end solution, or background architectural piece. It is a foundational technology, meaning it's not a "program" you install on your computer or device that, by itself, solves all organizational issues. Blockchain offers the ability to connect disparate systems within organizational IT infrastructure, using technologies like artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and machine learning to solve a concrete business problem. Blockchain not only expands the realm of solutions, but shifts the paradigm of what solutions are possible.
However, none of this can be achieved without one critical factor: internal user adoption.
An organization can't solve any business challenge or begin to put a blockchain vision in motion unless employees understand and buy into the impact it will have on them, the entire organization and its business processes. This requires a strategy around how to create the best design centered around the users themselves so that they may adopt the system and solve a business challenge.
Working for users
Often, whether it's in the media, at industry events or other outlets, blockchain is presented as a "magic pill." It's talked about like an operating system that you can install on your computer with one click of the mouse or tap on the screen. In reality, the technology and its true value is much deeper and more connected with fundamental business process engineering and/or design.
Of course, on the surface blockchain can be deceivingly simple. One could even create a blockchain in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. But creating something truly transformative to solve organizational, unique business challenges requires much more than a simple ledger.
To reach its desired potential, users must comprehend the blockchain solution that is being planned. To do that, they need to experience it as it's being created. Based on our practical blockchain implementations, we outlined the following as a high-level guideline to collaborate with end users:
- Identify a business problem. Engage with potential blockchain users to uncover their current bottlenecks or extremely manual processes, using human-centered design. Users are good at feeling their issues, but they may not have the clear solutions in their heads. Human-centered design offers insights into how the future-state solution should be designed to address pressing challenges -- not to recreate the existing process, but to perform a deep business and digital transformation. To give an example, think about how Uber created a business transformation model as opposed to an auxiliary taxicab application trying to mimic an existing business process.
- Begin with a simple and intuitive interface designed with ease-of-use at the forefront and the user at the center.
- Utilize rapid prototyping to ensure the right design is in place to support what process or business changes blockchain can bring for users. The users don't care what is running under the hood (e.g., Ethereum, Hyperledger, Ripple); they want to see and clearly understand new possibilities that are now open to them. This will also help accelerate adoption.
- Account for culture change. Blockchain is best built using incremental development and basic agile/DevOps principles. Blockchain will enable users to adjust their business processes and provide the opportunity to shift away from those time-consuming manual tasks.
In our work with the U.S. government specific to the public procurement process (the first public or private project worldwide to operationalize blockchain for procurement), we quickly saw how users' eyes opened when they understood and began to see the possibilities of blockchain.
For example, one of the most critical procurement documents, the pre-negotiation memo, was once a labor-intensive process that required officers to verify, cut, paste, and format content from over 10 different sources into a single location. Now, the system can automatically pull the needed content from various sources to generate the pre-negotiation memorandum without employee intervention.
Users at the center of implementation
Blockchain implementation challenges ultimately fall into three areas when it comes to users: front-end design, user buy-in, and organizational impact. From a front-end perspective, blockchain is not typically a visible technology for people. If agencies or companies do not integrate blockchain into their business processes, and if users do not understand it, the implementation may feel like rebuilding an existing system by repainting its color from red to blue.
Similarly, employees must also buy into the change as well. Change management could be a significant obstacle as roles will need to change with enhancements to prior business processes. Ultimately, blockchain's impact across the organization, including user understanding, will determine its effectiveness as a technology that transforms the way government interacts with its citizens, companies with their customers, or organizations with other organizations and third parties.
Blockchain's architecture inherently points to open source and can bring together many different standards, systems and users. As you begin to use it, maintain this flexibility instead of using complex or other proprietary data sets that may minimize blockchain's user adoption, effectiveness and value from a cost perspective.
Bottom line, users cannot be with you for the landing if they were not with you during takeoff. They are an integral part of the success, and blockchain should be understood as not merely a back-end project, but rather as a tool for transformation and business process paradigm shift.