How Ready Are Enterprises For Open Banking, Blockchain And Digital Currencies?
Chief technology officer at Unit4, overseeing the development of intelligent software for service organizations.
While dealing with regulations and ever-present concerns over security, the global financial services ecosystem is in the mood for innovation. Traditional banks, fintech firms and investment platforms are finding ways to reinvent services and satisfy consumer aspirations quickly, whether this involves open banking, blockchain or digital currencies.
This raises a question for enterprises in other sectors, especially those in B2B markets: Can company leaders afford to ignore these developments? Let’s take a closer look.
1. Open Banking: Watch Closely
With open banking, customers can choose to share their personal and financial data with third parties they trust, such as tech startups and online financial services providers. Banks open up their APIs, which creates opportunities for these non-banks to offer apps that provide fast payments, helpful account information and other services.
Currently, the major business opportunity is with consumers, who are attracted to financial services that are more visible, simpler to use and easier to track. In the U.K., over 26 million open banking payments had been made by the end of 2021, an increase of more than 500% in 12 months.
The B2B world has yet to take the plunge in a big way, but open banking offers great promise. Currently, ERP vendors spend a lot of energy creating specific integrations for their enterprise customers to help them deal with different formats, security measures and certificates for each bank. None of these are standardized—but they could be with open banking and readily available APIs. This would free up significant resources for ERP vendors to create more value for their customers.
With open banking, enterprises could achieve greater agility through faster payments, as well as more timely account information, managing cash receivables and payables directly through their ERP. Right now, some exciting proof-of-concept work is underway in this area at my own company, Unit4. Opportunities are also being discussed publicly by the likes of JPMorgan and the global financial group BBVA.
However, it’s not yet clear how the financial model could work out for banks and businesses. Watch this space.
2. Digital Currencies: Do They Fit B2B Needs?
Even if you’re wary of this space, the sheer numbers involved demand attention. According to figures reported by Money.com, the crypto market’s value soared from $965 billion to $2.6 trillion in just one year (2021). The quantity of currencies is growing fast, too.
The pocketful of digital coins that existed in 2013 has increased to over 10,000 different currencies this year, according to Statista, though it’s believed the top 20 make up nearly 90% of the total market.
From a technical standpoint, modern ERP systems are essentially “crypto ready” as long as a digital currency is supported by a bank. Systems can simply treat cryptos as just another currency with an exchange rate.
But why would companies want to use digital currencies? Speculative investment probably isn’t for them. However, a shift could come when a significant customer wants to pay in a digital currency. At that moment, accepting cryptocurrencies could start to become a business priority.
3. Blockchain: The Best Is Yet To Come
Acting as a digital ledger, blockchain underpins digital currencies, making it difficult or impossible to change or cheat the system. Networks link up data blocks that form a record sequence—and if one block gets changed, it becomes invalid. This year Gartner predicted that successful cryptocurrency thefts and ransomware payments will drop by 30% by 2024 because of criminals’ inability to move and spend funds off blockchain networks.
But the blockchain concept is far wider than its application with digital currencies. It could be a ledger for all types of highly secure transactions where integrity is key, from the sharing of healthcare data to settlement across supply chains. That said, one of the challenges is the sheer compute power required to keep data distributed across entire networks of systems.
Blockchain technology could be applied locally, though. For example, it might enable a secure communications channel between two firms without the need for two-factor authentication. Already, MIT has an intriguing story on how blockchain tech could provide secure communications for robot teams—even if some robots are hacked.
My instinct is that blockchain has much to offer. It’s an amazing technology, but its best use cases are probably yet to come. Certainly, it’s an area that ERP vendors will be watching with interest.
Leaders Can’t Afford To Switch Off
With any new technology, there are the dual dangers of becoming swept up with the hype and pulled off course or getting caught on the back foot if change arrives suddenly.
With these three technologies, B2B leaders need to sit somewhere in the middle. Read everything that seems credible, discuss innovative concepts with your colleagues and talk to your ERP vendor about their ideas. Even if these technologies sit outside the B2B mainstream today, you need to be sure that any systems you purchase will be open to innovation tomorrow.
Keep An Open Mind
New technologies are always arriving. Often, the problem they initially aim to fix isn’t the one that ultimately defines them. They take on a life of their own, and, over time, they solve a completely different need.
This has been true for many famous inventions, such as bubble wrap (originally intended as 3-D wallpaper), the Slinky toy (it stabilized naval equipment) and the chainsaw (designed for surgery).
Sooner or later, something unusual might happen with the emerging technologies we’ve explored. It’s part of the job of CTOs and other innovators to dissect them, take the pieces and maybe fashion them into something truly remarkable that solves a compelling business need. The end result might surprise us all.
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