If there’s any time to innovate, it’s now.
Our Innovation Uncorked 2023 virtual event kicked off the year with exclusive insights into the minds of our technology ecosystem. Innovation Uncorked is our way to embrace emerging technology, further peer connections, stay ahead of disruption, and realize the incredible benefits of innovation for an organization.
Innovation Uncorked provides exclusive research reports from Vation Intelligence, access to our global technology ecosystem, and world-class wine sent to your door. So, we keep you informed and, importantly, your wine racks full. We’ve partnered with he-li-an-thus, a single vineyard wine crafted by Jason Exposto and Jessica Futo. Located in an unmarked territory (AVA), Ed and Jan Brown’s vineyard in the southern Napa Valley foothills displays all the virtues of distinction - exposition, exposure, climate, and complexity of soil.
This year’s virtual event brought together an incredible list of featured speakers offering invaluable insights into what this year looks like from their perspective. Our topics included:
- Industry Expert – Decentralized Finance (DeFi) and Cryptocurrency // Mike Silagadze
- Featured CIO — What’s Important for 2023 // Trude Van Horn
- Fireside Chat – VC X Emerging Tech // Tarun Thakur & Rama Sekhar
Each of our topics of Innovation Uncorked gave our subscribers a look into different viewpoints of the high-tech ecosystem. Our featured speakers broke down the trending Decentralized Finance space, highlighted what’s important in 2023 for technology executives, and shared a candid look into the relationship between investor and founder. We’ve put together a recap of the insights shared by our featured speakers.
A peek into the past, present, and future of decentralized finance
Mike Silagadze, Founder and CEO of EtherFi, took a deep dive into DeFi and cryptocurrency. As a founder in the cryptocurrency space, Mike’s perspective gave invaluable insight into how we can interact safely with DeFi.
Mike shared his thoughts with the group that, unsurprisingly, the crypto space is riddled with Ponzi schemes and scams. Predominantly, it is still a giant, global, decentralized casino; and there is a much smaller segment that is actually pushing value creation. The only money coming out of the system is the money people put into it. With that said, this small part of the crypto industry (say 5%) is truly incredible and powerful. This little slice of reality has the potential to influence and eventually change the world for good.
The history of Bitcoin and Ethereum
To kick things off, Mike noted several key innovations that contributed to the initial launch of Bitcoin in 2009. At the heart of Bitcoin technology is an intelligent consensus mechanism. This mechanism makes it possible to achieve agreement, trust, security, and integrity across Bitcoin’s decentralized computer network. By design, the only thing you can do on the network is send Bitcoins from address A to address B. These transactions are completed and represented in the form of blocks. Multiple blocks are strung together sequentially, which produces a growing blockchain – the distributed and immutable ledger technology underpinning DeFi.
During the early days of Bitcoin, the transactions were carried out by executing a script known as the Bitcoin script. This script wasn’t “Turing-complete,” so it’s not designed to execute arbitrary code. However, early adopters, researchers, and innovators shared a vision to expand the Bitcoin script into a full-fledged programming language. This vision led to the birth of Ethereum, a much more generalized, programmable network. In addition to sending Ether from address A to address B, the Ethereum network deals with arbitrary data and programs.
The far-reaching applications of Ethereum
Developers are now using Ethereum to build software for different real-world use cases, such as stablecoins. A stablecoin is a type of cryptocurrency in which the digital asset's value is linked to a reference asset. The most popular stablecoin is the one linked with the US dollar. Moreover, many real-world assets (RWAs) are now being tokenized on Ethereum, including treasuries, government bonds, real estate, and collectibles. Other use cases of Ethereum include decentralized exchanges, insurance protocols, lending and borrowing systems, payment gateways, and digital identity management.
The future of the crypto space
Mike explained how the crypto industry has had its ups and downs, but it’s still growing rapidly. Today, the money controlled by smart contracts is roughly around $40 billion. Although there are several other blockchain platforms like MultiChain, EOSIO, and OpenChain, Ethereum is the most prevalent. Currently, over 13% of the total Ether supply has been staked. This percentage is expected to rise to around 60 to 70% in the next few years. Staking revenue rewards (i.e., transaction fees) have generated over $1.5 billion annually and are likely to keep increasing. However, a few risks are associated with staking, particularly with centralized operators. There is a need to create a decentralized non-custodial staking model, done directly on the blockchain, where the owner can have their Ethers staked while retaining their custody.
Preparing for 2023 -- Priorities, challenges, and focus areas
Trude Van Horn, SVP and CIO of NCH Corporation, shared her perspective as a technology executive for a 100-year-old manufacturing company, including top priorities, challenges, and focus areas for 2023 and beyond.
What’s on the CIO’s radar for 2023?
As the CIO of a large organization, Trude provided unique insight into the challenges she’s faced and what lies ahead. We find ourselves in a unique economic position - while there are concerns over inflation and rising rates, the labor market remains robust. Especially for global organizations, it can be difficult to expect how different economies will react. Technical debt is another challenge that can creep up on larger organizations, leading to large backlogs, an overburdened workforce, and higher turnover rates. In recent times, spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and work-from-home mandates, businesses have been able to move their technology agendas faster. This has caused business leaders to develop a “greenfield” type of excitement regarding tech projects. However, it can create technical debt when development is done in haste without realizing potential constraints and issues.
Moreover, it can be difficult for established institutions to deliver an Amazon-like, frictionless customer experience. The mismatch between customer expectations and reality is another challenge enterprises must solve. Somewhat at odds with prioritization on customer experience, cybersecurity has also been a pressing matter over the recent past. To enhance security postures, companies are increasingly focusing on vulnerability management and cybersecurity education for employees at every level, incorporating tools like IAM, MFA, and PAM, and conducting better risk management.
Cost containment is another area where there is room for improvement. It’s important to cultivate a mindset of cost control and monitoring across the organization. Consider making savings as a team sport to instill enterprise-wide cost conscientiousness and awareness. Some steps towards saving include optimizing cloud spend, rationalizing software usage, identifying alternative labor options, using AI and ML technologies for informed forecasting, and exploring avenues for monetization of their data and assets.
It’s crucial to establish a delicate balance between “managing the old, securing what you have” and “driving innovation, making improvements, and preparing for the future.” Trude shared these five strategic imperatives that every modern CIO must know.
- Focus on value: Prioritize business value while building software and achieve alignment with the relevant stakeholders’ definition of value.
- Craft experiences: It’s less about building beautiful applications and more about creating compelling customer experiences.
- Forge a cohesive strategy: Break the silos of digital transformation and use an overarching strategy to move the business forward.
- Lead into the future: Perform rigorous research to identify well-suited technological tools and drive innovation while being as cost-effective as possible. Explore advancements in automation, AI/ML, no code/low code, cloud, big data, quantum computing, and other innovative technologies.
- Deliver at market speed: Understanding the variability in speed and its effect on the business is key to agility.
Some words of encouragement
Trude ended on an impactful note offering guiding words for leaders to follow. “Sometimes it makes sense to slow down to speed up.” Even though our focus is typically on doing things fast these days, we need to acknowledge that there are certain moments when we must pause to dig deep, ask important questions, understand the challenges, and better align ourselves to the goals. This will not only enable the mitigation and avoidance of potential problems in the future but also allow us to speed up. A great way to grow yourself professionally is to lean on your network. Whether you are a software developer, salesperson, or CXO, nobody can teach you better than your peers. “Quantum leaders” is the new term for IT leaders of the future. As a quantum leader, you strive in times of uncertainty, accept that challenges are complex but believe that solutions are always available, know how to pace your work, and excel in focusing your energy in the right direction.
Today’s Financial Market: The VC vs. Emerging Tech Perspective
Challenging economic conditions have led to new investment trends. Companies are being more cautious while spending money. How do you build products that thrive in such a market? Rama Sekhar, Partner at Norwest Venture Partners, and Tarun Thakur, Co-Founder & CEO at Veza, shared their perspectives as investors vs. founders.
We are back in a market where fundamentals matter and “growth at all costs” is no longer rewarded. In 2021 and early 2022, venture capital funding was in full swing. Now, many hedge funds have become dormant or shut down due to out-of-control valuations. This is an opportune time to be backing early-stage startups, as many great companies, such as Dropbox and Airbnb, have been born during recessions.
Discretionary vs. effective
An increasing number of organizations are reevaluating their cost containment strategies. There’s a line being drawn between the nice-to-haves and the must-haves. Every buying decision is a function of discretionary vs. effective. An effective investment guarantees value and is aligned with the organization's overall goals. As a vendor, you must strive to build products that offer tangible value and add efficiency to existing business processes. For example, a security application that simplifies the process of regulatory compliance and guarantees an improved NIST score; or an automation software that decreases maintenance costs in a hybrid-cloud setup.
Being more agile
Many new companies are adopting a product-led growth strategy. This strategy places the product at the center of the buying journey. Get the product deployed in the customer’s environment, where they can try it with their own data. This strategy is a win-win for both parties where vendors can lower the cost of customer acquisition, and customers can test out the product in their own way and identify its pros and cons. Another strategy that’s becoming popular is usage-based pricing. Following in the footsteps of companies like AWS and Snowflake, more and more organizations are transitioning to pay-as-you-go models. In the coming years, as companies become more scrutinous of their spending, usage-based pricing can be a formidable competitive advantage for service providers.
Before and after cybersecurity
Cybersecurity became one of those technological needs that changed the market. You can consider a pre- and post-period when thinking of cybersecurity. Security governance, privileged access management, and best practices can enable organizations to govern both areas. However, traditional compliance and regulatory software cannot protect modern application stacks and platforms, like multi-cloud environments, serverless platforms, and cloud-based data lakes. Therefore, organizations need to modernize their compliance stack at the same pace as they are modernizing the rest of their tech stack.
Building a product with trust
When it comes to trust, the best approach is for it to be built into the software development life cycle (SDLC). Customers trust that vendors are following security best practices while building software, such as adhering to SOC-2 guidelines and ISO standards, for example. Vendors, in turn, trust that customers are giving valid feedback, as they will be investing time and effort to build according to that feedback.
To Vation Ventures, we see 2023 as an opportunity for companies to embrace innovation during uncertainty. We heard from our technology executive community that innovation won’t be halted and is a way to stay ahead of what’s to come. Continuously embracing innovation inspires your teams to think differently and discover new technologies, placing your organization in a position to thrive.
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