As we progress towards a new year, it’s insightful to look at the previous decade in retrospect; many trends in the world of tech have come and gone, but none has been as drastic and lingering as the importance of data. The early 2000s was mostly about establishing a presence in the digital sphere. As time passed by, the next 10 years further bolstered various mediums that would later become absolute powerhouses for data collection and retrieval. E-commerce sites and social networks are such examples, and the data gathered herein is now beneficial to businesses that are looking to reach out with the right products – and at the right timing.
There’s no doubt that data is king, so much so that a lack of it can leave you lagging behind your competitors. Even analysing customer trends and patterns requires data – which for a newbie business, can be quite the challenge to source. At an age where contact databases are sold by online repositories and subsequently purchased by those who aim to conduct marketing operations digitally (and without users’ consents, very frankly), it may not seem like a tough endeavour. Following non-consensual data usage, GDPR and similar data protection acts have risen around the world to safeguard consumer data and prevent abuse – but the problem of privacy breaches doesn’t end here.
Enter the crucial subject of data integrity, where data is judged not by how much of it you possess, but the authenticity of where it has been sourced from. In other words, 40 users who have genuinely subscribed to your newsletter are far more worthy than 4000 names from a purchased contact list. Data integrity also aims to show businesses that it is just as important to analyse where your lead base is truly hailing from, as opposed to just investing all time, money, energy and other resources to sales, marketing and the like. With so many variables involved in the facilitation of clean, quality data, how does any of this correspond with blockchain technology?
A technology that was initially used to date contracts during the early 90s and later went on to be one of the components of bitcoin, the application of blockchain to data requirements today is interesting as it is intricate. Thanks to its element of transparency, blockchain can be considered as a turning point in the way we interact with and perceive data – both on a consumer and business level. Irrespective of industry or company size, everyone stands to benefit especially in the context of data privacy. While there are still some valid concerns present around the technology, including the fact that it’s still very much in its infancy, there is still much to look forward to, especially as we move on to the year 2020.
Unlike 2018 and 2019 (the years which proved to be conceptualisation phases for blockchain) the subsequent developments are now awaiting execution – something that 2020 now has the capacity to offer owing to further technological advancements and past use cases. Before we get to the nitty-gritty of how blockchain could possibly change the way we do business, it’s important to understand how it works.
In layman’s terms, blockchain is an online ledger that records transactions, with each transaction being irreversible and requiring peer-to-peer review so that it is mutually approved by everyone who is part of the network. Historically, blockchain was developed to date contracts such that their dates could not be changed or manipulated. The technology was untouched until 2009, when the development of bitcoin embraced it to create transparent records in due course of transactions.
In order to understand how this works, it is better to imagine blockchain as a ‘series of blocks’, each of which contain the following three elements:
With every edit, the hash is bound to change. Therefore, if any tampering is attempted, all the following blocks will be rendered void since the hash from the previous block won’t be able to coincide with its precedent. Additionally, another element further adds security; called proof-of-work, this ensures that blocks can only be edited in gaps of 10 minutes.
While all of this only explains the technicalities of blockchain, it’s something that needs to be kept in mind when deciding what to apply such a system to. Considering the specialised sequence of events that involve the workings of blockchain, its use cases are also equally niche. This is one of the biggest challenges that has faced blockchain when it comes to applications on a mainstream business level (and also why there was such a long gap of time between when it was first invented to when it was used again).
However, the increasingly specialised chain of events is proving to be less of a restraint, as its qualities of maintaining complete transparency and security gain more recognition. At a time when cyber breaches are rampant, businesses are more than keen to invest in technologies that can help them prevent just the same – which is what blockchain is ideal for.
A 100% transparency is great, isn’t it? While clarity in terms of data holds many advantages, it may prove to be disadvantageous in certain cases. Many businesses operate by maintaining trade secrets, for example. In turn, this can raise questions pertaining to just how transparent one needs to be, in order to embrace blockchain and be a part of the extended business network.
Speaking of an extended business network, the transparency may also provide leverage to companies irrespective of size to take advantage of all the data available, making the possibility of competition scarce, and therefore eliminating any innovation. Again, this poses questions around just how much one should bare sensitive information, especially in the wake of exceeding consumer demand and ubiquitous options available for buyers out there.
Other than that, if you are to focus on the immediate benefits of blockchain, it is something that can resonate across a variety of industries – from finance to supply chain management. In fact, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka is also looking to develop a blockchain-based technology which can offer commercial banks and financial institutions across the country to maintain up-to-date customer data in a transparent manner. With many slowly starting to realise the advantages that blockchain is capable of offering to the business and digital world at large, the opportunities to develop blockchain further and for diverse requirements is now growing at a steady pace.
In the world of software development, many variables need to be considered in order to ensure the final product is up to par. However, entering blockchain into this mix will completely change the status quo, as its increasingly specialised nature will offer little flexibility for blending in with existing enterprise software systems. While today’s enterprise software is vastly fluid such that it can scale up, down as well as withstand sudden loads lest the situation demands it, it cannot be completely overhauled to accommodate the nuances of blockchain.
With blockchain unable to meet even halfway, this can prove to be a problem. However, a lot of development is in the works in order to establish common ground, so that the transparent ledger system of blockchain can function in harmony with the familiar and intuitive aspects of today’s enterprise software systems.
Whether it’s your company’s CRM, ERP or project management software, the addition of a blockchain-based ledger can make operations more smooth, efficient and secure for employees as well as customers.
Up until 2019, blockchain was merely a talking point for most organisations. With most business decision makers unsure of how to proceed/what to apply it for, it was kept on the backburner for many reasons. But the constant deliberations, hype and even preliminary experimentation has reaped something positive – the insight and confidence to finally lift concepts from paper and bring them to life.
Whether it’s for banking or inventory, data or security, blockchain technology is now on its way to manifesting itself for a wide range of applications, and proving itself to be useful beyond a niche purpose. It’s widespread use in the business world is not only bound to completely disrupt the way data is handled day in and day out, but it also holds the potential to possibly become the norm in terms of managing data.
Since blockchain is in its very infant stages of being developed and subsequently deployed, it still has a way to go until we eventually see it in use in today’s business organisations. But the vast level of experimentation has long since led rise to MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) and beta platforms which can be honed to reach standards and satisfy necessary requirements.
The upcoming year of 2020 has much in store for us to anticipate; whether its consumers, business leaders or professionals in the tech sector who contribute towards the latest technologies, there’s something new and big for everyone to make the most of. Going back in time, it’s interesting to see how technology trends have evolved, and how they have also been shaped by shifting consumer demands. The past 2 decades in particular have seen a spurt of transformations in the digital sphere; from establishing strong web and mobile presences to the likes of social media, the advancements have been diverse as they have been swift.
Irrespective of the trends that have come and gone, one thing has always remained a constant – data. Over the decades, varying technological advancements have paved the way for platforms that collect, store and analyse data such that it now turns out to be the crux of business strategies today. Over time, organisations have realised the importance that data holds, and just how it can enable businesses to get into the shoes of their customers and comprehend what their behaviours, habits and interests are – to target products and services accordingly.
In the midst of it all, the development of blockchain technology has proven to be a revolutionary breakthrough; what was once thought of as a basic timestamp function in the early 90s has turned out to be the cornerstone for bitcoin and subsequently, many other applications on a mainstream business level. Being a ledger that records transactions and obtains approvals on a peer-to-peer basis, the ability to maintain 100% transparency is what makes blockchain unique. What’s more, many other features such as the hash (a unique identification code) and proof-of-work (time-based delays that moderate how often an item of data can be edited) further enhance security, thereby making blockchain all the more impenetrable.
The technology does have its caveats though; while complete data transparency can provide consumers assurance on what they’re purchasing and how their data is being used, it can hamper the retention of trade secrets and other confidential information for businesses. In spite of the disadvantages, blockchain can still be put to valuable use by making the most of what it does have the full capacity to offer, especially in environments where on-demand services (particularly of a digital nature) are on the rise.
The most resourceful application for blockchain would be its integration with enterprise software systems such as CRMs and ERPs. As standard enterprise software is the norm within most businesses, developing a strategy which blends the specialised process of blockchain together with the working processes of today’s enterprise applications is ideal for a mainstream business environment.
Even though executing blockchain concepts is still at its infancy, it has come a long way from recent years to be a technology that is ready to be embraced for optimum value, after much experimentation and contemplation.