Developer Showcase Series: Arka Roychowdhury, Infosys

By April 5, 2018 Blog, Hyperledger Fabric

Our Developer Showcase blog series serves to highlight the work and motivations of developers, users and researchers collaborating on Hyperledger’s incubated projects. Next up is Arka Roychowdhury, a Principal Consultant focusing on Blockchain at InfoSys. Let’s see what he has to say!

What advice would you offer other technologists or developers interested in getting started working on blockchain?

People often ask me, “Arka, I know that you have been working on Blockchain for some time now, can you advise me on how to get started with it [Blockchain]”? Typically, I have less than one minute to answer, because that’s the amount of time they have before the elevator door opens and they have to get down.

The most important thing to get started is to get started; start with the internet; there is no dearth of rich content that can get you started in no time. Google Blockchain, and also visit MooCs such as Edx and Coursera.

But since I am writing a blog, let me be more detailed: The MooC from the Linux foundation on Blockchain for Business is a good one to start with; the Hyperledger website also has links to detailed contents (github pages, videos) on Hyperledger frameworks and tools, that can help you get started quickly.

I must mention that there are several independent youtube videos and github pages that do a superb job at explaining micro topics. However let me warn you that there are also articles and contents which talk about Blockchain and cryptocurrencies at a very high level- throwing words such as consensus, trust and immutability casually, and describe the technology very vaguely (if not incorrectly); you can spend a lot of time skimming those contents and still not be able to appreciate the technology or understand the real benefits.

You don’t need to be a developer to appreciate Blockchain, but there are nitty-gritties that you should understand thoroughly if you honestly want to get started with Blockchain. There are books in the market that you can easily find from Amazon. I recommend that you read the sample chapters and the reviews before making your purchase decision.

If you are a developer, or have a technical inclination, it helps, but again I find no reason, why anyone with any background can’t get started on Blockchain and find a niche area to contribute. You can be from a non-computer background such as Finance, Economics, Supply chain, and still be able to contribute significantly [if not more at times].

Be open to learn and explore, don’t limit yourself to just one framework or one tool. Concepts of Blockchain remain similar whether you are using Hyperledger frameworks, Ethereum, Corda or something else. Concepts that you learn in one project can often be applied to another. There are very good learning material (tutorials) and/or whitepapers in the official websites of Ethereum, Corda, R3 Corda and Cardano (third generation Blockchain) etc. Do visit them, even if you are solely working on Hyperledger; sometimes, subtle technical differences will clear your fundamental concepts better. There are no structured ways of exploring; you don’t need to have a definite goal to start with, it will come to you sooner than you think.

The important thing is to realize whether you really want to get started.

Arka Roychowdhury, Principal Consultant focusing on Blockchain at Infosys

What do you think is most important for Hyperledger to focus on in the next year?

A Blockchain enthusiast, may often overlook any drawback of Blockchain, and fail to acknowledge the challenges of putting together a production ready Enterprise Blockchain solution.

I think Hyperledger should come up with tools and frameworks that the business can use to clearly understand and articulate a, the business benefits and associated costs in quantitative terms b. impact on existing processes if they decide to undertake a Blockchain project, and c. how much time and involvement is required from their side. [I call it (jokingly) a MIR framework- Money, Involvement and Risk. You may also add potential new Business Opportunities and call it a BRIM framework. ]

Hyperledger images may be used for free, but there are obviously other costs: Storage cost, application development and maintenance cost etc. Any organization deciding to invest in Blockchain would definitely want to know the cost structure in detailed granularity.

We might be tempted to say that current processes will remain un-impacted only the underlying technology will change, but you should have some credible explanation backed by some demo or a proof of concept.

A Business stakeholder once made a very curious remark after seeing my presentation, where I demonstrated how an asset can be tracked across the value chain; he said (I am paraphrasing), “Blockchain would work only when all parties, the Customs officials, the Logistic partners, ground handlers, the Internal departments, all work together. What are the chances of that happening?[rhetorically] So if we take the whole onus upon us to build the Blockchain solution, are you (Arka)suggesting that we then go door to door to asking everyone in the Business Network to use our solution? And if a Blockchain network benefits everyone, why should only we pay to build one?”

Perhaps Hyperledger should also focus on open projects, in collaboration with partners and individuals to develop implementation frameworks, methodologies and best practices that can be used by System Integrators and IT houses to implement Blockchain in a production environment.

[it is beginning to come true with Project working groups in the Hyperledger community.]

It is my personal view that, the real challenge [deterrents] to Blockchain’s wide spread enterprise adoption wouldn’t be technology, scalability, price, complexity or risk but the inability to develop a practical Business plan for a Blockchain network and to convince or incentivize stakeholders to join that network.

What’s the one issue or problem you hope Blockchain can solve?

In my conversations with business folks, I tell them not to think of Blockchain as a new piece of technology, but as a new paradigm of doing business. I truly hope that Blockchain will help businesses re-think benefits from the perspective of the entire value chain in which they operate. If I may say so naively, I hope that Blockchain would enable every business [industry] to operate in Nash equilibrium, making each business and society as a whole, better off.

With trusted and transparent visibility of data, companies will be able to leverage analytics to unlock new opportunities for sensible innovations, and stimulate the global economy.

These are the early days of Blockchain, rife with experimentations and PoCs. We will start seeing truly transformative value creation in every industry as more and more participants collaborate and promote “coopetition”.

If there is one issue I could solve, it would be to facilitate global trade and commerce such that companies/countries could produce and exchange goods and services without artificial barriers and friction.

What project in Hyperledger are you working on? Any new developments to share? Can you sum up your experience with Hyperledger?

I am [was] trying to explore a Blockchain solution in sourcing and procurement domain to free up a company’s working capital and reduce its cash conversion cycle. [I must add, it was more of an experiment and evaluation- trying to understand the technology and evaluate how to tackle a business scenario with this new paradigm] With Hyperledger Fabric and a robust business process underneath, we can ensure that regulatory and contractual obligations for a trade are satisfied and delays in order fulfillment (caused by frictions/complexities/incomplete information) are reduced. I am however, not sure whether we can use Hyperledger to design a sensible system for payment and hedging risk.

Another interesting development I am [was] doing- was to communicate with Hyperledger Fabric using non-traditional applications such as a Chatbot and voice. Processes that require human intervention, such as clicking buttons, checking boxes or filling up forms, are error prone and can be easily enhanced using such cognitive services. Since I have a background in analytics, I am [was] also interested in exploring new models to answer pertinent business questions; for instance I used graph analytics (node Centrality concepts) on the historian data to strategize, which supplier to incentivize or improve relationship with, in-order to reduce potential procurement disruption. [Of course many of these endeavors are/were personal in nature- pet projects using free available resources for learning purpose only. But learning shouldn’t be taken lightly. I think most of us (industry professionals, academics and Hyperledger community itself) are still learning. These learnings will allow us to usher new generations of Blockchain technology without the technical limitations of today.]

I am sometimes often confounded by the question, “why do I need a Blockchain for this? can’t the same can be done with a more traditional design.” The question is not easy to answer and you can’t always convince prospective project sponsors by throwing words such as “decentralized” and “trusted” at every problem. You must have a proper qualification criteria for selecting a use-case.

Your Blockchain project stakeholders/sponsors will always want to know the costs and benefits in quantitative terms. You may get Hyperledger for free, but there are plethora of other associated costs. Perform your due diligence before you reach out with a project proposal. You will never have all the answers beforehand, but you should have some rough implementation plan and should be able to give a rough estimate of time, effort and money that they have to invest and indicate potential risks. [I guess it is true for any new technology; but for Blockchain the complexity is multiplied by the number stakeholders you have and their disparate incentives and inhibitions.]

It has become very clear to me, that in order to make a Hyperledger PoC to scale up to Enterprise-grade, it must integrate with the existing IT landscape. This is again, not an easy task, especially if the current landscape is already rife with incompatible IT applications; but at the same time it is doable because Hyperledger Fabric is very easy to interact with using APIs; legacy apps and UIs can easily integrate Blockchcain using these APIs, without much disruption to Business-as-usual. The new solution can work parallel to the existing business application without causing any disruption (at least that’s what I would like to believe).

The benefits of Blockchain might be very clear to you and you may not find any reason why anyone shouldn’t implement it, but you still need to convince people and validate your own belief with a good business case. You will need all the help from the project sponsors, process Owners, architects, Ddvelopers and end users; you will be amazed to find so many of them actually want you to succeed.