Gennaro (Jerry) Cuomo
Vice President, Blockchain Technologies
House Committee on Science, Space and Technology
Subcommittee on Oversight & Subcommittee Research and Technology
“Beyond Bitcoin: Emerging Applications for Blockchain Technology”
Good morning, Chairman Abraham, Chairwoman Comstock, Ranking Member Beyer, Ranking Member
Lipinski and Members of the Subcommittees.
My name is Jerry Cuomo, and I’m the Vice President for Blockchain Technologies, at IBM.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to testify this morning.
We at IBM believe that blockchain is a revolutionary technology. With blockchain we can reimagine
many of the world’s most fundamental business processes and open the door to new styles of digital
interactions that we have yet to imagine.
You are wise to explore the science of blockchain technology – and its potential applications beyond
cryptocurrency and financial technology – because blockchain has the potential to vastly reduce the cost
and complexity of getting things done across industries and government.
Today, my testimony will share some key beliefs we hold at IBM based on our experience as an industry
leader in blockchain. I’ll also share some concrete examples that illustrate the transformative power of
blockchain. Finally, I will include some recommendations for Congress and the Trump Administration
that could ultimately help U.S. competitiveness and our citizens by preparing, advancing and applying
blockchain in new ways – as I believe we should.
IBM’s Blockchain Beliefs
Most people who have heard of blockchain associate it with the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. While they are
related, it is important to understand they are not the same thing. Bitcoin is merely one example of a
use of blockchain technology. Bitcoin operates with a network of anonymous participants. However,
blockchain can also be used as a trusted network, using permissioning, to handle interactions between
known parties. As an analogy, the internet like blockchain is a transformational building block for many
types of communication, Bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency are but one use of blockchain, just
as social media is but one use of the internet.
We have engaged with clients in over 400 blockchain projects across supply chain, financial services,
government, healthcare, travel and transportation, insurance, chemicals and petroleum, and more.
This experience has led us to develop three key beliefs that I’d like to share with you today:
1. Blockchain is a transformative technology.
2. Blockchain must be open.
3. Blockchain is ready for business and government use TODAY.
Blockchain Belief #1 – Blockchain is a transformative technology
First and foremost, blockchain is changing the game. In today’s digitally networked world, no single
institution works in isolation.
At the center of a blockchain is this notion of a shared immutable ledger. You see, members of a
blockchain network each have an exact copy of the ledger. New entries in the ledger are propagated
throughout the network. Therefore, all participants in an interaction have an up-to-date ledger that
reflects the most recent transactions and these transactions, once entered, cannot be changed on the
Blockchain’s power to transform is that it enables co-development of a shared copy of the truth. And
with this, what a group can achieve together far exceeds what any individual member can achieve by
Now let me tell you how blockchain actually changes the game.
1. Time is saved because multi-party transactions can settle immediately avoiding exhaustive
reconciliation that often takes days or even months.
2. Cost is reduced because business-to-business processing eliminates overhead caused by “middlemen”.
3. Risk is mitigated because the ledger acts as an immutable audit trail greatly reducing the chances for
tampering and collusion.
This leads to my first example, IBM and Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, recently
announced our intention to form a joint venture to create an industry-wide trading platform for the
ocean freight industry. This industry accounts for 90 percent of goods shipped in global trade. Currently,
one shipment of goods between two ports can generate a sea of paper and information exchanges
between 30 different public and private organizations. The joint venture will use blockchain to help track
in real-time millions of shipping containers across the world by providing a trusted, tamper-proof, crossborder
system for digitized trade documents. By having a shared blockchain ledger, companies can
reduce the time spent resolving disputes, finding information, and verifying transactions, leading to
quicker settlement. When adopted at scale, the solution has the potential to save billions of dollars.
This is the transformative power of blockchain applied to the shipping industry.
And blockchain technology provides the springboard for an even broader spectrum of innovation. Let
me just take a moment to tell you about a project from the IBM research lab. Uniquely identifying a
physical asset such as a type of a diamond, petroleum, or a manufactured part as a corresponding digital
asset in a blockchain network is an interesting challenge; verifying authenticity is important.
These physical products travel through many hands and companies before reaching their final
destinations. At any point along the supply chain, a valuable physical asset could have been swapped
with a counterfeit one. To help ensure provenance on the blockchain, at IBM Research, we invented a smartphone-based artificial intelligence technology used to scan the high value item. Using light spectral
analysis to capture the microscopic properties, viscosity and other identifiers creates a digital fingerprint
that can be used to verify authenticity and avoid counterfeiting documents or fake substitute products.
Blockchain Belief #2 – Blockchain must be open
For blockchain to fulfill its potential, it must be based on non-proprietary technology. Doing so will
encourage broad adoption and ensure the compatibility and interoperability of systems. Specifically,
this enterprise-ready blockchain must be built using open source software, with a combination of
flexible licensing terms and strict governance by an open community, meaning there is no one
controlling organization that governs the direction of the project and no lock-in to one vendor. Much as
we have seen with the internet, only with openness will blockchain be widely adopted and enable
For this reason, IBM is participating with over 180 industry players in the Hyperledger organization, led
by the Linux Foundation. Hyperledger is a collaborative open-source, open-standards and opengovernance
effort created to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies for business and
For example, IBM is collaborating with companies like SecureKey and the Sovrin Foundation on
blockchain-based digital identity. Together, we are working to create a global ecosystem of blockchain
identity networks backed by global standards. These standards are defining mechanisms by which only
the information that needs to be shared is shared with only those parties that need to know. With blockchain identity theft and fraud can be significantly reduced while at the same time increasing the
effectiveness of Know-Your-Customer and Anti-Money Laundering efforts, doing so in a more costeffective
way. We can not only make it harder for criminals to impersonate someone, but in the event
of a data breach, we can recover quickly. Unlike a social security number, blockchain-backed
decentralized identifiers can easily be revoked and reissued if ever stolen or compromised.
Blockchain Belief #3 –Blockchain is ready for business and government use TODAY
Not all blockchain technology is created equal. For broad business and government use, enterprise
blockchain technology is now available that solves four fundamental requirements: accountability,
privacy, scalability and security.
Accountability means the participants transacting in a network, and the data they are transacting on, are
both known and trusted. In an enterprise ready blockchain, participants are known and are identified by
membership keys. The data can be trusted because transactions committed to the ledger are
immutable – such that they cannot be removed or changed by the actions of a single party.
With this accountability the network is auditable allowing members to follow and adhere to existing
government regulations like HIPAA and GDPR.
Even though participants are known, they must be able to transact with privacy on the network.
Businesses require that both their transaction data and the transactions themselves are confidential. An
enterprise blockchain enables confidential communications when information is not desired to be
shared with the entire network.
Computer systems and networks must be architected to have the scalability to handle an immense
volume of transactions. Because trust in an enterprise blockchain network is not built through
anonymous “mining” (as is done in Bitcoin), transaction performance has been demonstrated at levels
needed for high volume throughput. A recently published research paper demonstrated one such
enterprise blockchain performance at a best-of-class rate of more than 3500 transactions per second
The need for security continues to be illuminated by breaches in the news every month. As much as
everyone tries, it’s impossible to eliminate all people with malicious intent or sloppy actions. A
enterprise blockchain network is fault tolerant, implementing algorithms like crash and byzantine fault
tolerance that allow a network to continue to operate even in the presence of bad actors or
These four requirements are delivered today in the Hyperledger Fabric, one of the popular blockchain
frameworks from the Hyperledger project. It now serves as the basis for over 40 active blockchain
networks that are running on the IBM Blockchain Platform.
For example, every year 400,000 people around the world die from foodborne illness. With the advent
of global supply chains, it’s very difficult to trace contaminated food back to the source, as we witnessed
with the recent e. Coli outbreak that sickened 60 people and took 2 lives over a period of 6 weeks. IBM
is working with twelve major food companies – including Walmart, Unilever, and Nestle – applying our
enterprise blockchain to rapidly trace food as it moves from farm to table, showing how blockchain has
the potential to help keep entire populations healthier. Blockchain makes it possible to quickly pinpoint
the source of contamination, reduce the impact of food recalls and limit the number of people who get
sick or die from foodborne illness.
Recommendations for Congress and Trump Administration
We are working with many government entities in activities for the adoption and use of blockchain
technology: from U.S. agencies such as the FDA, CDC and OPM exploring how blockchain can reduce
complexity to the Smart Dubai initiative to trusted digital identity projects in Canada. U.S. companies are
leading in blockchain technology development while U.S. government agencies like NIST actively engage
in blockchain standards exploration. While blockchain remains a team sport, there is an opportunity for
the United States to build upon its momentum to lead blockchain by doing. I’d like to make a few
recommendations to help Congress and the Trump Administration along this path.
First, we should focus our efforts on projects that can positively impact U.S. economic competitiveness,
citizens and businesses. The Congressional Blockchain Caucus, led by Reps. Jared Polis and David
Schweikert, has already begun this critical work. The Blockchain Caucus is working to collect information
on blockchain projects that could help individuals securely establish their identity, make key payments —
such as tax payments – and revolutionize supply chains. This work should fuel initiatives that can make a
meaningful difference in citizens lives like the digital identity, food safety, and transport supply chain
examples we discussed as well as other potential uses cases like land registration, taxation and more. I
recommend we explore blockchain adoption and use with these citizen and business-focused projects
first. Then, use the knowledge gained to inform policy and regulation in different blockchain technology
implementations going forward. In the same spirit we commend the House for passage of the Perkins
Act, that will facilitate government, academia, and private sector collaboration in order to advance skills
Second, thoughtfully inserting blockchain in appropriate projects already funded would help ensure we
stay at the forefront of this transformative technology. Consider blockchain technology as an enabler to
lower cost, time and risk in currently budgeted projects. In addition, look for opportunities to fuel
innovation in the broader ecosystem of U.S. businesses by encouraging blockchain projects as part of
the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program that is part of existing research budgets in a
number of agencies today.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, recognize the difference between blockchain’s use in new forms
of currency from broader uses of blockchain when considering regulatory policy. Carefully evaluate
policies established regarding cryptocurrencies to ensure that there will not be unintended
consequences that stymie the innovation and development surrounding blockchain. A policy that has
not been carefully vetted could risk inhibiting the U.S. leadership position.
Blockchain is ready for government, now let’s get government ready for blockchain. We at IBM stand
ready to help provide the analysis of any such policies and would be happy to work collaboratively with
Congress to ensure the continued expansion and success of blockchain.
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss such an important topic for our present and our future.
In summary, at IBM we believe that:
1. Blockchain is a transformative technology: It enables the many to achieve more than is possible
by the one.
2. Blockchain must be open: Only then will blockchain be widely adopted as a springboard for
3. Blockchain is ready for business and government use TODAY: it provides accountability, privacy,
scalability and security.
At IBM, we are actively working to ensure businesses and governments are thoughtfully implementing
this technology and we believe the United States has an opportunity to lead in this space.
I will look forward to answering your questions and continuing this discussion. Thank you.