IBM Launches Industry Platforms Unit to Focus on Blockchain

IBM has launched a new business unit, which it calls the Industry Platforms unit, to focus on delivering blockchain technology to customers—a growing segment.

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IBM this week launched its Industry Platforms business unit, a group focused on delivering blockchain solutions to enterprise customers.

Bridget van Kralingen, a fast-tracked IBM executive who was head of IBM Global Business Services, will be in charge of the unit that will target financial services organizations as well as other enterprise entities where blockchain technology will fit. The Industry Platforms unit will focus on Watson for financial services, blockchain and strategic partnerships, IBM said.

"Bridget van Kralingen is an excellent choice to run the new unit," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "She's held a variety of roles at IBM since joining the company in 2004, including leading its Global Business Services (GBS) organization. She also led the partnership effort between IBM and Apple, established IBM Interactive Experience and launched the company's first cognitive consulting practice."

Blockchain is a permissionless distributed database based on the Bitcoin protocol that maintains a continuously growing list of data records hardened against tampering and revision, even by its operators. The initial and most widely known application of blockchain technology is the public ledger of transactions for Bitcoin.

In a memo to IBM employees, IBM CEO Ginni Rommetty said, "The Industry Platforms business will bring clients radically optimized processes and marketplaces that leverage Watson, IBM Cloud, IBM Systems, blockchain, deep domain expertise and ecosystems of partners and developers."

As Kralingen moves over to the Industry Platforms unit, her position at Global Business Services will be assumed by Mark Foster, a former executive at Accenture.

"The new unit steps up IBM's commitment to blockchain and also underscores how firmly the company believes the technology will enhance its commercial interests," King said. "That makes perfect sense given the value blockchain can bring to a wide variety of business, financial and industry processes which are virtually all right up IBM's alley."

IBM has invested heavily in blockchain, launching blockchain services for financial services, government and health care. The company also is an investor in blockchain startup Digital Asset Holdings and is a member of the Linux Foundation's Hyperledger Project. As part of that effort, IBM has delivered more than 44,000 lines of code to help developers easily build secure distributed ledgers that can be used to exchange most anything of value.

At the end of June, IBM opened a Bluemix Garage in New York to focus on blockchain, fintech and financial services. In July, IBM announced it joined the Chamber of Digital Commerce, a Washington-based digital asset and blockchain trade association, as an executive committee member. The Chamber is a lobby that works with policymakers and regulators to foster innovation, jobs and investment in the blockchain opportunity.

"By joining the Chamber of Digital Commerce at the highest level as an executive committee member, IBM is demonstrating a strong commitment to supporting thoughtful education and engagement with policy stakeholders," said Perianne Boring, founder and president of the chamber.

"It is critical from a national competitiveness point of view for U.S. companies and government agencies to lead the world in understanding the potential of blockchain and putting it to use," said Jerry Cuomo, vice president of Blockchain Technologies at IBM, in a statement. "Blockchain will greatly benefit from government participation and we are pleased to join the Chamber of Digital Commerce to support engagement with the policy making community."

Last month, Moody's Investors Service released a report on the potential of blockchain, as the technology, originally created as a platform for the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, is now used in applications across a host of transaction-related areas. The Moody's report identified 25 use cases for the technology. Moody's identified a series of blockchain use cases including health care for managing records, media for digital rights, big data, cyber-security, data storage, internet of things (IoT) and voting, among other uses.

Overall, the Moody's report identified more than 120 ongoing blockchain projects including investments and partnerships with startups, internal projects and industry collaborations.

The Moody's report noted that the State of Delaware has developed a blockchain with smart contracts to register companies, track their share price and manage communication with shareholders. The U.S. Department of Defense, meanwhile, is developing a blockchain-based secure messaging service that separates the creation of a message from its transfer and reception. Other government-related uses include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is developing blockchains for the security of digital identity for IoT devices, identity management, privacy protection and security analytics, and the U.S Postal Service, which is assessing blockchain for supply chain management, identity services and device management.

Meanwhile, as IBM launches a new business unit, reports emerge of new layoffs by the company.

On August 31, Lee Conrad, who manages the Watching IBM group on Facebook, told eWEEK he received reports from IBMers who were notified of their layoffs as more and more IBM jobs are moving offshore, he said.