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VOL. 133 | NO. 29 | Thursday, February 8, 2018

Nasdaq Vice President Talks Up Blockchain in Memphis

By Andy Meek

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The guest speaker at this month’s Economic Club of Memphis luncheon discussed blockchain technology, a subject that has filtered into the mainstream conversation. Presenting the topic to a roomful of bankers and business leaders also gave it additional prominence at a time when blockchain-related news has been multiplying.

The industry publication FreightWaves, for example, in recent days reported that FedEx Corp. has joined the Blockchain in Transport Alliance. FedEx is part of the alliance’s standards board and has launched a pilot program using blockchain for data storage related to resolving disputes.

That’s according to FedEx vice president of strategic planning and analysis Dale Chrystie, who told the publication that the Memphis-based shipping giant is interested in working on blockchain pilot programs in addition to having some already underway.

Fredrik Voss, vice president for blockchain innovation at Nasdaq, was the guest speaker at this week’s Economic Club of Memphis luncheon. He talked about the technology and its uses, and its relation to bitcoin and other digital currencies, among other things.

Fredrik Voss

Part of the reason the topic is gaining prominence, he said, is that organizations like his simply owe it to themselves to dive into new technologies and innovations as they arise and see if there’s something there that’s useful and can be applied to their enterprise.

“We’ve had similar tracks (at Nasdaq) for machine learning, for Internet of Things, the use of cloud … we have people following what’s going on on the quantum-computing side, and we think blockchain has the potential to be relevant for many other industries,” Voss said. “If we don’t look at this, our competitors will.”

The financial website Investopedia defines blockchain as a “digitized, decentralized, public ledger” of cryptocurrency transactions. While blockchains were originally developed as an accounting method for bitcoin, the technology has a variety of commercial uses today.

In Memphis, for example, the commodities trading and agribusiness software provider The Seam said in early 2017 that it would be working with IBM and cotton industry leaders to create a blockchain-based ecosystem for global trading and field-to-fabric supply chain innovations.

The Seam was founded by leading global agribusiness companies and specializes in commodity trading and management systems.

In December 2000, it began operating the world’s first completely online, anonymous exchange for cotton trading.

The FedEx Institute of Technology has also hosted at least one training course on blockchain technology, part of a broader push to position itself at the center of innovation in the city.

Part of the motivation in bringing Voss to Memphis is that the technology can’t exist in a vacuum. It needs as many people as possible using it. Which is why companies like his, like FedEx, and others are in the early stages of at least learning about the technology.

“The value proposition of this technology is that it’s used by a collective,” Voss said. “You almost need a network effect to make it more valuable. You need a group of users together to deploy a solution based on this technology. And that’s hard.

“The financial industry is pretty good at it – we collaborate on a lot of things. On exchanges, clearing houses, on swaps infrastructures. But these are long processes. It takes a long time for a group to agree on governance. On how exactly we want it to work. Going from vision to design and implementation is a challenge.”

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