Last week, Oracle officially released its cloud-based enterprise blockchain solution, the latest in a growing collection of offerings for large, often global companies and organizations.

The Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service joins similar products offered by other large enterprise players including IBM, Microsoft and SAP as well as blockchain developers such as ConsenSys. Though each company is taking a different approach to cracking the enterprise market, some commonalities are beginning to emerge.

It’s also clear the technology may be ready for prime time in large businesses and industries. Forty-three percent of global companies consider blockchain a critical strategic priority, according to a Deloitte study released earlier this year. Equally important, more appear to be acting on that priority with the help of enterprise solutions.

The internet of things may become the compelling use case that drives enterprise adoption of the blockchain.

Blockchain projects are quickly moving from pilot to production as enterprises and governments begin to see the inherent value of distributed ledgers and smart contracts,” Robert Parker, IDC’s group vice president of manufacturing and retail insights, said as part of Oracle’s announcement. “As spending accelerates, buyers will need an enterprise class platform beyond open source that includes data security and integrity, scalability, manageability and interoperability.”

Here are four common themes emerging from the enterprise market:

1. Businesses are finding use cases, or at least one overarching use case.

Oracle brands its blockchain solution as a “distributed ledger service,” and that’s exactly how the companies who have worked with the early adopter version of its solution ahead of last week’s launch put it to use.

As part of its launch announcement, Oracle provided examples of how its technology has been used to facilitate bank electronic fund transfers, shipping-industry logistics, supply chain tracking for an olive oil producer, software documentation, a consumer loyalty program, and a nonprofit food safety solution, among other use cases. All draw on the ability to provide “a single source of truth with immutable records,” as Solar Site Design CEO Jason Loyet put it in the Oracle release.

That’s true among other large providers. IBM promotes its own enterprise blockchain solution with a photo of a container ship plying the ocean, and its website focuses on “a new generation of transactional applications that establish trust, accountability and transparency.”

2. Enterprise sees blockchain not as software, but as a service.

Software as a service (SaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS) have become compelling business models in the enterprise market, and a number of developers now are upping the acronym ante by offering blockchain as a service, or BaaS.

Oracle is calling its own approach a platform-as-a-service (PaaS), but like other large players it is providing both the blockchain technology and the cloud infrastructure on which to run it. “It is in effect providing blockchain as a utility for companies to distill their intelligence and vertical expertise to build and run their own applications on it. It is also abstracting away from its customers all the complexity of hardening, securing and accelerating open-source componentry to make it production-ready and enterprise-grade,” says an analysis by Ovum Consulting analyst Rik Turner.

Other enterprise developers are taking similar approaches. When ConsenSys introduced its own BaaS product, Kaleido, earlier this year, it baked in the underlying infrastructure and scalability through a partnership with cloud provider Amazon Web Services (AWS).

3. They embrace open source.

Oracle and IBM both built their blockchain solutions on top of Hyperledger Fabric, an open-source technology hosted by the nonprofit Linux Foundation. A wide range of enterprise giants are actively involved in the development of Fabric, including Accenture, Cisco and SAP, as are partners from a wide range of industries.

While Microsoft is building blockchain services into its existing Azure platform, it is also embracing open source as part of its enterprise push. It plans to contribute the source code of Coco, its enterprise blockchain framework, to the open-source community this year. (Microsoft also acquired the code repository site GitHub earlier this year, which is where the Coco source code will reside.)

4. Integration is king, and so is the internet of things.

Enterprise solutions require glue such as application programming interfaces, integrations, and software development tools to connect blockchains to existing software and systems. Oracle’s solution focuses heavily on integration and built-in solutions for common blockchain use cases such as tracking and identification. Similarly, integration with both on-premises and cloud systems is a major selling point of Microsoft’s Azure solution.

SAP’s Leonardo blockchain solution, released earlier this year, emphasizes integration with a broad range of enterprise needs, including big data, analytics, machine learning, and the internet of things (IoT).

In fact, the IoT in particular may become the compelling use case that drives enterprise adoption of the blockchain, not the other way around. IBM and SAP worked together last year to develop a proof-of-concept solution for the pharmaceutical supply chain that married distributed ledger technology with IoT devices, including sensors that track package temperature for sensitive products on the long journey from manufacture to delivery.

The proof-of-concept aims to show how connecting IoT devices to a blockchain record can automate the kind of supply chain recordkeeping that is cumbersome to do manually. This reinforces the value of both technologies.

Mark Toner
Mark Toner is a Washington, D.C., writer and editor. He has covered business, technology, media, education, and healthcare for a wide range of trade and industry publications.