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SAP Alumni Network: Staying Relevant Through Blockchain

Feature Article | September 1, 2017 by Andrea Schmieden

For SAP alumnus Michael Reh, blockchain is more than just a hype. The co-founder of Tymlez wants to make blockchain technology acceptable in companies.

“I was having dinner in Rotterdam with a business partner,” recalls Michael Reh, former executive vice president at SAP, who left the company in 2014. “The people at the next table were talking about blockchain, and this is how I got to know Reinier van der Drift. The very next day, we set about founding Tymlez.”

Making Blockchain Acceptable

Today, Michael is a blockchain advocate. For him, it’s a question of making blockchain technology acceptable in companies. If businesses want to stay relevant, they need to embrace digitalization. “A lot of companies continue to run key processes in their existing systems, and will probably continue to do so for some time,” says Michael. Yet new business models evolve in parallel, and are increasingly enabled by blockchain technology and applications running on top of it.


SAP Alumni Network
What do people do after leaving SAP? All kinds of different things. They found their own tech startups, engage as social entrepreneurs, and work as consultants. Or they even go on to tackle something completely different, like designing comfortable high heels (yes, that’s right – comfortable high heels).


“Many SAP employees will be familiar with our first customer,” says Michael. CIBT, the company which provides visa services for SAP, uses blockchain to prevent visa forgery. In recent times, the number of forged visas had risen sharply. Now CIBT is using blockchain for visas, and certain export documents, for the Netherlands Antilles. This way, every document’s validity can be checked. The results speak for themselves: The number of forgeries has fallen to zero.

Multiple Use Cases

“When it comes to blockchain technology, Estonia is the front runner. They use blockchain to register real estate,” explains Michael. This is an interesting use case for emerging economies, where there is often no secure way of proving property ownership. There are additional innovative scenarios in the field of data usage: “People who use social media platforms often don’t know what happens to their data.” The platform operators typically profit from the usage of this data, such as through pushing personalized advertisements to the user. In case of a blockchain-based platform, however, users would have full control over their data. The users would decide for themselves if they want to share their data, and what kind of data they wish to share – and they would be profiting from it themselves,” says Michael.

Similar scenarios could also be implemented in the healthcare industry, so that patients own their own data, and decide how it is used.

Practicality

While many advocates view blockchain as a disruptive technology with a potential similar to the internet, other critics see obstructions in performance and scalability. “It’s like someone saying ‘all cars are slow’. There are racing cars and there are tractors. You don’t plough a field with a racing car, and you don’t go racing in a tractor,” Michael argues. There are various blockchain technology systems optimized for diverse use cases.

In Michael’s view, the legal framework conditions currently constitute one of most serious obstacles. “In some parts of the U.S, blockchain transactions are already recognized by the courts, but Europe is still lagging behind.” As such, financial transactions using blockchain are still considered too risky for many companies, as the legal conditions surrounding taxation, interoperability and standards are not yet clear.

In other application areas, blockchain technology can be used today to increase efficiency. “We are currently moving a 6,000-step auditing process onto blockchain,” says Michael.

SAP’s Role

“Every company has to engage with blockchain,” Michael believes. “Generation Y will question many of the existing realities: Why do I even need a bank if I want to transfer money to my business partner? Business models that use an intermediary to conduct transactions are facing increased pressure.” There is nevertheless room for new opportunities, such as connecting blockchain technology and machine learning.

Michael names data masking as one example case: “Take alcohol as an example. If you want to purchase it in Germany, you have to be over the age of 18. Today, one typically proves their age by showing their ID card. But doing so also reveals several other personal details, such as name and nationality.” There are multiple use cases in which intelligent data masking can contribute to the safeguarding of privacy and self-determination over personal data. “For SAP, this is a world of opportunities,” he explains.

Michael has many positive memories of his time at SAP: “In my 14 years at the company, I learned a lot about the importance of scalability, developing a business perspective, and much more. It was the best form of training anyone could hope for.” This has been a great benefit for Michael: “When it comes to startups, you are responsible for everything, right from the initial purchase through to programming. It’s a diverse and interesting process. Although I do sometimes miss the professional environment at SAP.”

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