Successful networks like Contour that leverage enterprise blockchain are scoring huge wins by providing customers with end-to-end value via integrations with complementary systems. They have moved on from the notion that only full blockchain interoperability is required for mass adoption, writes Joshua Kroeker, Contour’s Chief Product Officer.


A new path forward is opening up for trade finance as blockchain-based networks are scaling far beyond their founding members and embracing cloud and other non-blockchain technologies. As a result, they are increasingly being seen as straightforward solutions rather than complex, closed consortiums.

As solutions move closer to a typical software as a service (SaaS) offering, the focus is shifting to user experience, streamlined onboarding and open APIs.

Leading SaaS solutions, used by so many, have a lot to teach trade finance. Incumbents such as Salesforce, Xero, Shopify and Microsoft Teams did not scale by pouring their initial energy into interoperability with competitors or defining yet more new standards. Instead, they worked on building the features, integrations and technology their industry demanded.

Certainly, the concept of interoperability is attractive. Just imagine dialling into Zoom and connecting with your customer who only uses Teams. But at what cost? At what commercial complexity? To whose standards? And by when?

For companies looking to experiment and complete proofs of concept, interoperability was a perfect topic that fueled many lab budgets and even some new enterprises. Now, towards the end of 2021, we need to acknowledge the shortcomings of these experiments and focus on the job at hand: delivering value at scale now to an industry desperate to digitise.

To move forward, we need to change the focus from network interoperability to participant interoperability. Rather than getting entire networks to connect, we should help customers connect through the solutions they already use to help them transact seamlessly.

At Contour, we have deferred the dream of network interoperability, focusing instead on investing in our core features and building integrations with complementary solutions that can expand the value for our common users right now. Beyond that, achieving greater scale simply comes down to further lowering barriers to adoption, increasing the pace of change and identifying more integrations.

Today, our collaborations are creating interoperability for Contour participants who also use solutions like essDOCS, MineHub, GSBN, Chinsay and many others. The bridge is a combination of APIs, commercial partnerships and, of course, the participants.

Participant interoperability refers to an organisation using multiple solutions designed to work together. For example, a fully digital letter of credit transaction may require that a bank or a corporate use both Contour and an electronic bill of lading (eBL) solution. In that case, they should be able to view an eBL on either Contour or the eBL solution and then forward it under a letter of credit through Contour, with the status being updated in both systems.

An advantage of participant interoperability is that there is no need to wait for another upcoming standard, difficult cross-blockchain technology or a singular legal and commercial framework. Contour is keen to create participant integrations with Ethereum, Quorum, Fabric, centralised, decentralised – anything as long as it delivers value now for our mutual customers.

From this starting point, we can get back to work on what is important: delivering value-add product features through industry collaboration. We must also continue lowering the barriers to adoption through legal and commercial innovation, making it easier than ever to adopt and onboard to multiple solutions.

After all, having to sign up to a Zoom and Teams account isn’t that big of a deal.


When interoperability doesn’t work

It is helpful to break down a trade network like Contour into two components:

  • A network of participants all communicating together using the same standards, technical specifications, and legal agreements; and
  • An application deployed to that network designed to improve a business process

Visually, a decentralised network like Contour will look very different from a traditional centralised network.

In Contour, no one party has a copy of all the data, and neither does Contour itself. Every participant only has their data, and Contour doesn’t see any transactional data.

In regards to network interoperability, the approach creates too many challenges regarding who connects the dots, provides assurances on risks, runs the commercial model and provides customer service. Ultimately, it creates an impossibility to complete a transaction. In contrast, participant interoperability is a real solution available today as customers only need to connect using their solutions using readily available APIs.