Blockchain technology is being ‘over-hyped’ - expert

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Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president of technology research firm Gartner. (Gareth van Zyl / Fin24)
Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president of technology research firm Gartner. (Gareth van Zyl / Fin24)

Cape Town - Digital distributed ledger tech, dubbed the 'blockchain', is being over-hyped at least in the short-term, says Gartner’s senior VP for technology Peter Sondergaard.

Sondergaard, who is in Cape Town this week for the Gartner Symposium, told Fin24 at a briefing with media about his views on this latest financial technology craze.

Blockchain acts as a digital distributed ledger to confirm batches of transactions for the likes of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.

But the technology has been grabbing the attention of banks across the globe for its potential to take over functions such as verifying payments.

READ: Banks face growing blockchain challenge - law experts

In July, Absa announced that it’s joined the R3 blockchain consortium. This global consortium represents over 50 major corporations and Absa said it would be working with other banks to develop Africa’s first distributed ledger-based banking solution.

Yet, amid the financial sector’s growing focus on the blockchain, Sondergaard said that it could take a while before consumers and the industry start to see the effects of the technology.

"I think it's a fascinating area to keep an eye out for but I think it's being over-hyped right now,” Sondergaard told Fin24 at the media briefing.

"I think it's being over-hyped from the aspect of its short-term impact because there are still technical things that you need to solve and scale and there are still counter-aspects - business model wise - that aren't necessarily fully clear.

"I think we will have it play a role because it's an extension of peer-to-peer models and we already have peer-to-peer models that impact our lives today. But when you overlay it with the requirements of everybody having the complete ledger running on your environment, it starts to be very heavy as you scale it,” he added.

While blockchain potentially threatens the clearing house model of banks, Sondergaard said that the technology further presents an opportunity for the financial services sector.

Sondergaard said that blockchain, for example, “brings an opportunity to actually drive cost of money down” in the financial services sector.

Other industries

However, Sondergaard explained that the technology, because of its contract clearing features, could be adopted by other sectors and industries over the next few years as well.

"Blockchain equally makes sense in other places and I think we will throughout the next 12 months see announcements, even from the larger vendors, that starts to propose that this could be used in other aspects such as contract clearing. Certainly, we talked about the shipping industry before,” said Sondergaard.

“The shipping industry is a classical hub and spoke model in which that clearing that happens, and if the clearing can happen at the edge, will be much more efficient,” he said.

Gartner, which is headquartered in the US, is a global information technology research and advisory company that has 1 600 research analysts and consultants and clients in 90 countries.

The Gartner Symposium and ‘ITxpo’ is taking place in Cape Town from September 26-28 2016.

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