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Why Blockchain Fails—and When It Will Succeed

November 2, 2016, 7:51 PM UTC

Remember how blockchain technology was going to transform everything from legal contracts to land registries? Well, it hasn’t worked out that way and, in some cases, blockchain has been a bust.

The state of Vermont, for instance, embarked on a much-hyped experiment to use blockchain, which is a type of tamper-proof software for recording transaction, to keep track of land titles. The experiment soon failed, however, because blockchain proved too complex to be a practical in-house record system.

Ryan Zagone, an executive with crypto-currency firm Ripple, cited Vermont as just one example of how recent hoopla around blockchain has fallen short.

“It felt like blockchain would fix every financial problem and cure zika along the way. We’re in a hype cycle,” said Zagone, speaking at a blockchain event for bankers hosted by D+H on Wednesday in New York City.

Meanwhile, Citi (C) executive Nick Nadgauda drew laughs when he described his vision of a “cloud-based blockchain enabled distribution system” and then added “just kidding,” a sly knock at the overload of marketing rhetoric related to blockchain.

The good news, according to Sue Hutchinson of D+H, is that the hype cycle appears to be coming to an end as the financial community moves away from a frenetic “embrace-blockchain-whatever-it-is” mentality to the more mundane task of finding and deploying use cases for the technology.

Increasingly, it appears those use cases will be for certain financial services, such as cross-border lending and settlement records, where blockchain’s core strengths—rapid record verification and an ability to do deals with untrusted parties—outweigh the complexity of deploying it. But for other cases, especially those involving internal records, banks and other institutions will likely stick with existing software solutions.

As the blockchain hype cycle cools, bankers are also drawing other conclusions. One of these is that “the blockchain” is not going to emerge in industry as a single platform, as it was once imagined, but as a series of different blockchain platforms designed for different purposes.

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As these platforms emerge, companies like Ripple will come to be seen as plumbers who maintain different parts of the financial infrastructure, according to Heimen Schuring of Rabobank. He added that, in this architecture, the new generation of “plumbers” will have to ensure their designs offer openness and interoperability if they want to succeed

But what about more revolutionary uses in which blockchain transforms supply chains and economies? According to Zagone of Ripple, there is plenty of possibility for this as global companies like Uber and Facebook (FB) demand more financial options to transact with their large of small contractors across the world.

Not everyone is buying this, however. Some at the gathering felt that major banks are already in position to provide these services, and will just have to get better at delivering them—with or without a blockchain built on top of them.

So stay tuned. Blockchain has clearly shifted from a sexy phase to a boring one. But that doesn’t mean that, by this time next year, the whole story won’t change again.