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How do I find the top blockchain application development service provider?

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How do I find the top blockchain application development service provider? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by IBM Blockchain, providing blockchain solutions, services and expertise, on Quora:

Ed Moffatt, UK Design Manager, IBM Blockchain:

How do I find the top blockchain application development service provider?

“It’s worth starting with a little information on what makes an application a “blockchain application”. The skills you need in a service provider will depend on what type of application development you need.

Let’s consider a blockchain network used by companies involved in a supply chain network. Blockchain made sense for them because they can track the goods that are passed between all of them in a shared, immutable ledger: there can be no miss-matched information between different parties, and no disagreement as to the current state of, say, a mango on its way from a farm in India to supermarket in Scotland.

This network is already up and running – depending on the blockchain technology the network founders chose, they can expose APIs and SDKs to invoke the Smart Contracts (more on that term in a bit) that define the conditions to update the shared ledger.

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So if you now want an app that, for example, allows the supermarket worker in Scotland to confirm the arrival of a shipment of mangoes, possibly adding metadata like a quality score for the fruit, the humidity-sensor reading in the truck etc.. You’re looking for a front-end (client) application that can invoke the APIs of the Supply Chain Network. The API happens to cause things to happen on a blockchain (as opposed to a Cloudant DB or a Kubernetes Cluster or whatever technology might sit behind an API).. But all the application is doing is making use of the API in a well-defined way.

In this situation, you could call this a “blockchain app”, but really it’s just an app! An app that uses an API, which happens to be for a blockchain.

This is a bit of a simplification, but only a little. If all blockchain networks were exposed to client applications by a well-defined smart contract API, blockchain app development would be just the same as non-blockchain app development.

There are some really cool projects to look into here if you’re inclined to learn more.

The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric is my personal favourite (full-disclosure, this is because I contribute to Hyperledger projects!). There are many great examples of networks built using Hyperledger Fabric, where applications then use REST APIs to interact.

Sometimes when people talk about “blockchain applications” they mean “Smart Contracts”. These are what a developer must write (and deploy to a blockchain runtime) so that the rules of using a ledger are clearly defined. Having well-defined smart contracts means you can later empower other app developers to build on top of the network by exposing APIs.

Now “smart contract development” is certainly not “just development”. This is where you really need some blockchain-specific skills. Often smart contracts will be written in popular languages (like JavaScript, Java, GoLang etc.) but a dev needs some blockchain knowledge to create one even if they already know the programming language.

If for example, you’re a port authority involved in the shipping of mangoes, who can see a business opportunity for applying blockchain, that’s where you’ll need to draw on a Service Provider with some deep expertise, or skill up in-house. It’s worth stressing that the skill-up option is very much an option: smart contract dev is a totally learnable skill! Many companies or consortiums will prefer to engage some services though, and as we’ll see, if you pick the right provider you may be able to develop some in-house skills as you go.

Now for the final bit of “full disclosure”: I contribute to Hyperledger projects because I work at IBM Blockchain, and IBM Blockchain focuses on helping clients build blockchain solutions powered by The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger technologies.

There’s loads of information about it, but some highlights include:

  • Services including an option to pair up your own staff with IBM experts, and help them learn the skills by pair-programming on smart contracts and client applications
  • IBM also provides products for developers and operators of blockchain networks, so the projects you work on with the Services team can continue to be built upon, or deployed into a platform with full access to IBM Support

Hopefully that gives some insight into the nuances of “blockchain application development”, and provides the obligatory plug for the company the commenter works at 😉

What I will say is: When you’re looking for a service provider, look for examples of solutions they’ve helped deliver before. We’re reaching a point in blockchain’s maturity where the best service providers will be able to hold up exemplars of what they’ve delivered in partnership with other clients. There’s no better way of knowing whether they’ll be able to deliver what you need on your project!

As a parting shot.. If you liked the example about mangoes, there’s a really cool example made by Clause (who are working on very exciting software to translate legal contracts into smart contracts) that is similar.. But with avocados! Check it out.”

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