At the South by Southwest festival last month, Charles Bell, chief product officer at Syncrasy Technologies, didn’t sugarcoat his message for companies exploring blockchain technology. “Most companies’ blockchain deployments are going to fall flat on their face,” Bell said in a panel discussion. In a recent interview with ThirtyK, he said the problem is cultural. “Most business leaders are more concerned with stasis than they are with changing everything,” said Bell, who has anointed himself The Wizard of Blockchain Platforms. “It is unreasonable to expect business models blockchain makes possible to bubble up from the tech department and change the worldview of executives.”

At Syncrasy Technologies, a decade-old software provider based in Noida, India, Bell oversees more than 500 developers, engineers and other employees. Over the past four years, the company has focused increasingly on its blockchain work. “You have to be ahead of the curve if you’re going to serve your clients,” he said. “Blockchain applications provide an opportunity to move your business model in a direction which can free up tremendous resources.”

ThirtyK: How did Syncrasy Technologies begin working in the blockchain space?

Bell: We developed the expected things of an Indian outsource software provider: a lot of application, mobile, Android, IOS. Then about four or five years ago, we started to look at blockchain technology. We viewed that as a separate topic from cryptocurrencies. We started working with the software that was available at the time and figuring out how to make it work, and then when smart contracts came along, we began working with those because we knew there was going to be demand.

ThirtyK: What spurred your interest in blockchain?

Bell: You have to be ahead of the curve if you’re going to serve your clients.

ThirtyK: What is the concept of a consortium?

Bell: A consortium is a collection of organizations performing similar functions to satisfy similar needs, and in our model, collaborating to the benefit of everyone who performs those functions.

ThirtyK: Using the same software?

Bell: Yes, the first step is that everybody saves money by participating in a consortium and using standardized applications. When consortiums that are sharing common blockchains emerge, the lion’s share of the industry’s data is in common format. And when data is in common format, that makes sharing, selling, monetizing it, and other applications more practical.

A More Secure Environment

ThirtyK: The data is also more secure.

Bell: Yes, it is potentially highly secure. But there is a lot that goes into good design and technical practices, like whether you properly locate it behind a firewall on a correctly hardened platform. Usually when we design a platform, we’re looking at at least three broad classifications of blockchains. You have some that will be globally available to everyone in the consortium. You have some that might be locally shared only within certain groups of consortium members, and then you have additional blockchains located behind an individual consortium member’s firewall where only that consortium member would be able to access it.

“You have clients who show up and they want to sprinkle magic blockchain on something. They have not thought through the business operating on a blockchain model, and we spend time helping clients to understand the new model.”

ThirtyK: How many consortiums are there?

Bell: We have 11 consortiums under construction. One consortium that is out there, BankChain, is owned by a company called Primechain, which is in India. Primechain operates a multiple-chain blockchain platform, and it provides a code base for an annual membership fee to the consortium membership. So when you download that code, it gives you a package of 18 applications, such as know your customers, secure payments, traditional banking, like cross-border payments and domestic transfers. As a consortium member, you can choose to run as many or few as you like. BankChain has 32 member banks.

ThirtyK: All in India?

Bell: No, all over the place: Deutsche Bank, State Bank of India, DCB, UA Exchange Emirates, Rock Bank, South Indian Bank.

ThirtyK: Whom does Syncrasy serve?

Bell: We have nine organizations that have outsourced building the code base for their ICOs to us. We have cryptocurrency exchanges, which we have created, that are starting to go online worldwide. We’ve created smart contracts, code to run in other people’s wallet applications. We are versed in the technologies that the marketplace is demanding, which is a lot of blockchain applications, and we have an excellent system for producing that code in commercial volume to commercial standards. We’ve had people come to us from the commodities sector, securities sector, government, education, a consortium of churches and a handful of others.

Educating Clients

ThirtyK: What’s been the biggest challenge?

Bell: You have clients who show up and they want to sprinkle magic blockchain on something. They have not thought through the business operating on a blockchain model, and we spend time helping clients to understand the new model. You take the database that used to be back in your IT shop and you externalize it from your organization and share it with your enemies. Sounds crazy. Then you educate them as to how smart contracts can convert that into a neutral third party, which is a self-governing platform, and how they co-benefit with others in their industry. It also requires a worldview change. In a lot of these ecosystems, there are a lot of these regulators used to being in charge instead of being a participant.

ThirtyK: At South by Southwest, you said that “most companies blockchain deployments are going to fall flat on their face.” Why?

Bell: In most businesses, it’s a cultural problem. They tell you they want change until they get real change. If you’re going to create a 10-to-1 cost reduction in your business, everything has to be on the table, and candidly most business leaders are more concerned with stasis than they are with changing everything. It is unreasonable to expect the business models blockchain makes possible to bubble up from the tech department and to then change the worldview of executives

ThirtyK: What do they need to do?

Bell: You start with a simple willingness to do things differently. You say, “We’re open to doing the business differently. Let’s build a small thing, get it released, use and learn from it, and get it right.”

Developing Talent

ThirtyK: You have a 500-person blockchain development group? How have you been able to hire well when other companies can’t find talent?

Bell: You don’t hire people with blockchain skills. You hire people and you provide them with growing and learning, and they grow into their roles over time. On occasion, we will do a hire of an experienced person with a particular talent or skill set.

ThirtyK: What has the company done right to motivate your employees to innovate?

Bell: We deliver code every two weeks. That constant delivery forces other little things to happen in a healthy way.

ThirtyK: What is blockchain’s potential?

Bell: Blockchain applications provide an opportunity to move your business model in a direction which can free up tremendous resources. Consortiums are going to make it easier and less expensive for businesses to reduce overhead so that most of the company can focus on core value-producing activities.

James Rubin
James Rubin has covered a range of business topics for such publications as the Economist Intelligence Unit, Forbes Insights and Adweek. His papers have been presented at World Economic Forum events. He was an associate editor at TheStreet and is the author of the "Urban Cyclist's Survival Guide."