Digital Asset has developed a programming language that could hasten the adoption of blockchain by removing barriers to interoperability. Co-founder and CEO Yuval Rooz talks DAML.
Remember Esperanto, the first attempt to create a common language between nations, designed to foster world peace and mutual understanding? There’s no evidence that it succeeded in the first, but as an auxiliary language currently used by two million people worldwide, it’s certainly helped to promote the second.
That’s kind of the premise behind Digital Asset’s programming language DAML – not to achieve world peace perhaps, but to overcome barriers in communication, in this case between computer systems and, specifically, blockchain networks.
Most people understand a blockchain to be a database for openly recording transactions between parties in a verifiable, secure fashion. But, beyond that, many are baffled by the technology’s complexities and have only a weak understanding of how a distributed ledger works, much less knowledge of the coding that underpins it. What anyone investing in the technology does know, however, is that the choices they make around it will most likely affect not only their future but also their current operating systems.
Lack of knowledge and uncertainty have undoubtedly held back adoption of the technology, according to Digital Asset chief executive Yuval Rooz, but he believes that DAML could solve that. DAML is unique in being technology agnostic – use it to digitise a workflow and the software will integrate with whatever blockchain system, or indeed non-blockchain database, that sits beneath.
“A company could model its processes with our language and still persist on traditional technology. And the nice thing about that is a lot of people are very comfortable running applications on traditional databases, think PostgreSQL, for example. But in a year from now, if you wanted to move your entire process to a blockchain, because you believed that technology had matured to a point you were comfortable with, you wouldn’t have to change the application. The application would run on a blockchain, giving it a futureproof element – and the work would not have to be done again,” explains Rooz.
Initially developed by Digital Asset to meet its own internal blockchain development needs, DAML has become the company’s core product and has recently helped it win investment from tech giants including VMware, Samsung and Salesforce during its Series C financing round. Software giant VMware was already using DAML to operate its own blockchain system. Rooz says the firm used DAML as a way to differentiate itself from rivals when pitching to potential clients.
This summer DAML was integrated as a cross-platform alternative to Corda’s native programming language – possibly the best-known financial enterprise-based blockchain, run by R3. DAML has solved silo issues caused by the various blockchain pioneers who used code unique to their particular distributed ledger, creating, in effect, islands of information that do not easily connect to each other.
“Because every blockchain is unique, asking your development team to really understand the ins and outs of every type of distributed ledger technology
is not scalable,” says Rooz. “As the developer, you don’t really care what underlying technology is running beneath your application, you simply want it to be decentralised. So, DAML is a smart contract language that is platform agnostic. It means if you develop an application to run on Corda, it will work in the same way on Fabric.”
Right now, in a time of pandemic, when replacing manual processes with digital workflows has become urgent, DAML promises relative simplicity and flexibility across any and all platforms, which could make those choices under pressure easier.
Rooz was a co-founder of Digital Asset in 2014, a time when blockchain meant Bitcoin in the minds of most people who were aware of it. He points out that blockchain is simply a tool – a database in essence – and businesses should not get hung up on the technology but rather focus on using it as a solution to improve workflow efficiency.
“COVID has brought digitisation of processes into sharp focus and blockchain promises a solution due to its inherent resilience,” says Rooz. “Organisations have business continuity plans (BCPs) but no one imagined a BCP that said ‘every single employee of your company will now work from home’.”
He points out that the distributed nature of a blockchain means there is no central point of failure – aka a place where employees come together, often for manual paper processing. And that’s precisely the scenario most organisations are now trying to avoid in order to protect their staff.
“That’s the reality of this pandemic,” says Rooz. “Businesses with a central point of failure, or manual processes, need to digitise, and blockchain can be a very good solution.”
Digital Asset has been working with clients through COVID-19 to that end, guiding them through the process of digitising workflows and using DAML to write applications. DAML uses less code than specific blockchain languages, and will produce the same result whether it is put to work with a Corda blockchain, or a Fabric system, says Rooz.
“In the blockchain world, if you want to build on Ethereum, you use Solidity, if you want to use Corda, you use Kotlin, if you want to use Fabric, you use Chaincode, and each one comes with unique characteristics and a unique development approach,” he explains.
Back in 2014, Digital Asset’s clients were faced with having to choose a system. “And they would be fearful of choosing the wrong one,” says Rooz. The thought of committing vast IT resources only to become hostage to a rashly spent fortune would understandably make them think twice. The advantage of DAML is its ability – much like Esperanto – to rise above specificity. It is not just a language of blockchain; applications written with it can be switched between platforms as time goes on. It is open source but under constant development – its compatibility with Corda was only announced in July.
Meanwhile Digital Asset’s major digitisation project with the Australian Securities Exchange is ongoing with the aim that every publicly listed company in Australia will be using the technology to clear and settle trades on the new CHESS platform by 2022. US fin
ancial services firm Broadridge is another client, which is working to digitise the US Treasury repurchase (repo) market to improve efficiency and control of the asset class.
Rooz sees the interest shown by the big tech players who came into his last funding round as confirming that DAML has merit, and the giants’ growing interest in blockchain will see the technology take off.
He says: “When big tech comes into a space, some people worry that they are going to steal their lunch. That can be a valid concern but, from my perspective, it’s a good sign. A lot of times, you work, you’re very passionate about something, you’re convinced there is value there, but the affirmation never comes. So, I’m glad to see the big players in this space.
“Secondly, because of their sheer scale and penetration, big tech will accelerate this technology. Once the likes of Microsoft and VMware really embrace something, the probability of adoption shoots up.”
In predicting how blockchain will be popularised, Rooz draws the analogy with the introduction of the Cloud to host consumer-facing products, such as file-hosting service Dropbox.
He says: “Like Cloud, blockchain will be a numbers game. Can you provide this infrastructure, this commoditised technology, at scale? Companies like VMware, Microsoft, AWS and Google, will.And we’ve developed a language that allows digitisation of workflows to run on any technology. That’s a great opportunity to create a funnel into their offering. We’ve partnered with many such tech companies and they love it.
“They can go to clients, with their reputations as infrastructure providers, and introduce DAML.
“With VMware, we have already won three very significant projects to drive massive pieces of infrastructure, and companies choose VMware because it is a vendor to pretty much every top 1,000 enterprise company in the world. They use our language because they believe it can get them to market faster.”
That DAML is the only language bringing various blockchain networks together makes Digital Asset’s position particularly strong.
“The networks being created today are still islands. Blockchain providers want everyone on theirs, they’re not interested in building bridges to another,” Rooz says. “There’s much talk about interoperability but nobody else is providing it. That’s good for us, and this will continue to be one of our main focus points for DAML.”