Global companies are making massive investments in blockchain, the digital ledger technology that underpins cryptocurrencies and allows information to flow securely between different parties. The total number of blockchain-related job openings more than doubled in 2017, reaching 4,918 postings by year’s end. And consulting giant Accenture is hiring more blockchain jobs than any other company.
In English-speaking countries, Accenture had 537 blockchain job openings in 2017, compared with 237 for IBM and 157 for cryptocurrency consulting firm and startup incubator ConsenSys, according to job-market analytics firm Burning Glass. Deloitte and SAP rounded out the top five companies hiring blockchain jobs, with about 100 openings apiece.
While Bitcoin is based on a public ledger that anyone can use to make secure financial transactions, Accenture is focused on building private blockchains that only its clients, their business partners and customers can access. It’s seeing the most demand in three areas: financial services, supply chain and identity. And it’s hiring primarily for roles like software developer, “technical architect” and business strategist. Accenture generally provides consulting and technology implementation services, while companies like IBM build the technical tools that Accenture often uses.
But why does Accenture need to use blockchain to link entities together privately, instead of a simple database? According to David Treat, managing director and head of Accenture’s global blockchain practice, it comes down to trust. Historically, organizations have rarely trusted one company to become a central data repository, “either because of the proprietary value of their data or due to a lack of trust in others.” With blockchains, multiple parties maintain a replica of recorded transactions that are immutable, or unable to be changed.
Financial services was the first sector where Accenture saw major traction in its blockchain business. The technology is particularly helpful for efficiently settling transactions between banks. “Imagine a scenario where banks A, B, C and D each owe each other different amounts of money, all at the same time,” Treat says. “They need a mechanism to resolve that A owes B $10, C owes D $12, and C owes A $5 … In a typical process, that’s lots of messaging going back and forth between the central system and each bank about what funds they have, what funds they need and their liquidity.”
With blockchain, you can move only the net amounts necessary, eliminating much of the back-and-forth communication. It’s a similar problem that virtual currency platform Ripple, a company Accenture has invested in, is trying to solve.
If banks implement these types of changes, Accenture estimates that they can save about 30% of their costs on average, which would amount to billions in savings for large banks. And most of Accenture’s blockchain business is happening outside of the U.S., Treat says. Countries with less complex financial systems and fewer regulators “are rising as tremendous proving grounds and centers of innovation,” he says. He points to places like Singapore, Australia, Canada and Japan as examples.
Accenture’s projects with supply chain companies are based on a similar premise as its financial services work—much inter-party communication is needed to bring a product from a factory to a store shelf. A blockchain can serve as one system that countless companies can plug into and are more likely to trust.
And regarding identity, Accenture is a founding member of a public-private partnership called ID2020 that aims to solve a wide range of identity problems, ranging from helping the one billion people around the world who don’t have an official identity to solving the customer-service headache of having to provide your information every time you deal with a company or service provider.
Where will these private blockchains live? Some are quite centralized, and others, less so. In the case of ecosystems where one organization already serves as a trusted authority, like the securities trading clearinghouse DTCC, that organization could use blockchain to modernize its infrastructure and remain the central player.
But another emerging model is companies banding together to create a consortium, like B3i, a group of 15 insurance companies collaborating to increase transaction efficiency across the industry. And Accenture can sit lucratively at the center, helping to build the blockchain and guide companies through technical and governance issues, Treat says. “Having an independent party in the middle is quite beneficial.”