Blockchain is here. It’s breaking open. It’s poised to escape the worst excesses of the so-called “hype cycle.

This isn’t breathless marketing hype but the assessments of Deloitte, Gartner and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), each of which recently released research on blockchain and its future. The findings of the three consulting firms portray a mixed bag of obstacles and opportunities but are clear on one point: Businesses are continuing to adopt the technology.

Despite the growth in the blockchain sector, many obstacles remain to wider adoption, according to recent research.

“Everyone is talking about blockchain, and no one wants to be left behind,” states the introduction to PwC’s Global Blockchain Survey 2018, which found 84 percent of respondents saying their companies have “at least some involvement” with the technology.

Continued Growth

Although there’s widespread involvement with blockchain technology, live systems remain the exception and not the rule. According to the PwC survey, only 15 percent of respondents reported live blockchain systems in production. A majority (52 percent) are either in the research or development phases while 10 percent are piloting blockchain technology. Interestingly, 7 percent have “paused” blockchain initiatives at different stages of adoption, the report said.

Overall, though, “momentum is shifting from a focus on learning and exploring the potential of the technology to identifying and building practical business applications,” says the introduction to Deloitte’s 2018 global blockchain survey.

More of the Deloitte survey respondents (34 percent) reported having a blockchain system in production, with nearly 40 percent saying their organizations planned to invest $5 million or more in the technology in the coming year. However, Deloitte says adoption is “rolling out in a more moderated fashion than expected,” noting the distinction between “digital enterprises” and more traditional companies, which the report says are “still working on how to incorporate digital into their existing operations and protocols.

Both PwC’s and Deloitte’s surveys say the financial services sector leads the way in adoption by large margins, followed by other familiar industries including industrial products and manufacturing, energy and utilities, health care, media, government, and entertainment.

“New industry and territory leaders are emerging,” PwC’s summary says, with the other sectors moving quickly to catch up.

Both surveys reflect a global audience, and respondents believe the technology is driving innovation across the world. “An early center of gravity in the U.S. and Europe is shifting,” PwC’s report says, noting that respondents believe China will become the leader in blockchain between 2021 and 2023.

Obstacles Ahead

Despite the growth in the blockchain sector, many obstacles remain to wider adoption, according to recent research. Regulatory uncertainty tops the barriers cited by PwC survey respondents, followed closely by lack of trust among users, an inability to bring together networks and limitations to interoperability between blockchains.

Gartner, too, suggests that obstacles lie ahead. In its most recent assessment of the so-called “hype cycle” of 35 emerging technologies, released last week, researchers placed blockchain well past the peak of “inflated expectations,” a natural part of the technology adoption cycle reflecting the explosive growth in interest in the sector over the past year.

However, Gartner cautioned the technology is on the cusp of entering a new, difficult phase called “the trough of disillusionment.That presages the hard work that remains to be done before widespread adoption. And Gartner says the final, productive stage of the cycle is still five to 10 years away, ahead of fully autonomous vehicles but behind technologies such as virtual assistants and deep learning.

At the same time, all three reports argue that the technology is here to stay. “It’s possible to imagine that 10 to 20 percent of global economic infrastructure will be running on blockchain-based systems” by 2030, the PwC survey states. Even its headline asks readers a pointed question: “What’s your next move?”

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.