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“The Digital Account Books Can Close a Gap”

Prof. Wolfgang Prinz, Fraunhofer FIT, about Blockchain Technology in Industry

Is blockchain technology the next big thing? Or is it much ado about nothing? As so often, opinions on this matter vary enormously. One of the experts, who believes that blockchain technology has huge potential, particularly for use in networked production, is Prof. Wolfgang Prinz, Vice Chair of the Institute at the Fraunhofer FIT in St. Augustin. He believes that blockchains are ideally suited for optimizing processes and generating new business models too. He will focus his remarks on the opportunities for using this technology in industry and relevant use cases during the German MTM Conference in Stuttgart on 25 October 2018. MTMaktuell took this as an opportunity to discuss matters with him.

Prof. Prinz, what is a blockchain, so that our readers can understand what we are talking about?
A blockchain is a digital accounts book where all the transactions between corporations or persons are stored, continuously documented and managed. This makes things more forgery-proof than any other system at the moment.

What makes blockchains so secure?
Data is not stored and managed centrally at one place if you are using blockchain technology, but is available for all the participants in a complete network. All these persons or corporations check the data in real time, as it were, and can immediately register any change in the data pool. As a result, any attempts to manipulate the figures are futile. Another major benefit of blockchains is that all the participants in the network always have the same information available. That is to say, even if problems occur at one point or at several points within the network, the system still has hundreds or thousands of copies of the blockchain available.

In which context would you classify the topic of blockchains in terms of their content?
We assume that blockchains are a type of cooperation technology – similar to social media, augmented reality or mobility systems. We’re currently conducting research into the potential of this cooperation technology at the Blockchain Lab at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology. It’s our goal to make the technology comprehensible for corporations and use it in specific solutions or applications.

You’ll also be talking about the opportunities for using blockchains in industry at the German MTM Conference in October. Why should enterprises devote any time to this topic?
The digitalization of production automatically involves the automation and digitalization of many other processes within corporations. Blockchains with their huge potential for automation can close a gap here. So-called smart contracts or “self-implementing contracts” are the focus here – they’re a new tool, for example, for optimizing customer/supplier relations. Deliveries and payments can be directly connected by using the blockchain technology. Other fields of application alongside the optimization of supply chain processes include operating process networks securely or product or quality management within corporations.

Blockchain technology has arrived – and everybody is getting involved? What would be an indication that blockchain technology should be used?
The new technology is certainly not suitable for each corporation. The first step must therefore involve analyzing processes within the enterprise to see whether they are relevant for blockchains. That is to say, do I have a network? Which rights or assets should be transferred or stored? Where is there any potential for automation? Does my machine have an identity that can automatically record how it has been used and even negotiate with suppliers? The Blockchain Lab can make available a relevant checklist.

Automation, blockchains, smart contracts – do we still need human beings at all, Prof. Prinz?
Definitely. Smart contracts, for example, are no replacement for legally watertight agreements that two partners sign. And a blockchain or a relevant node in the network needs to be operated – and human beings are then immediately involved again as designers and users of IT!

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