April 12, 2017

Blockchain is a call to action for organisations with enormous amounts of data

Simon Kavanagh

Lifecare Chief Designer, Tieto

The status quo of siloed data storage is unsustainable and the time to act is now.

In the first wave of enterprise systems data was a by-product, an almost inconvenient consequence. It was something which the system needed to function correctly but it took up storage space and cost valuable resources to maintain. It was not uncommon in this era to purge databases when they grew too large.

In more recent times our view on data has radically shifted such that it’s recognised as a tremendously valuable resource in its own right. The new oil. Great efforts are now put into leveraging the power of the data we have, unlocking its secrets and using it to achieve magnificent feats of analysis and prediction which were unthinkable even a decade ago. But all is not well. Poor security has led to enormous data breaches in companies such as Yahoo (over 1 billion accounts), Myspace (160 million), eBay (145 million) and LinkedIn (117 million), just to name the four biggest. At the same time there is a growing unease about how personal data is being used, who has access to it and where it sits. We live now at the cusp of a momentous change in the way we think about data and a third wave of enterprise systems is approaching.

This third wave will be personal, protective and highly sceptical of large corporations and ‘secondary use’ of data. You, the citizen will own your own data and no-one will have the right to process your data without your consent. The third wave will be tightly regulated and characterized by a high level of information security, but at the same time data silos will be unlocked and all sorts of wonderful sharing of data will be enabled. In the EU the General Data Protection Regulations are the most obvious manifestation of the third wave. They provide the legal impetus to make a change (or else pay up to 4% of your revenue in fines). On the GDPR’s own homepage they call it “the most important change in data privacy regulation in 20 years”. In addition the more grassroots MyData movement describes itself as “a human centred approach in personal data management” and aims at defining ethical data usage and citizen centric enterprise systems across industries.

From a technology point of view Blockchain has a very important role to play in enabling this third wave. At its core is a distributed, peer-to-peer ledger. It is immutable, fully auditable, persistent and cryptographically secure. It began as the technology which powers the popular cryptocurrency Bitcoin, but it has many other usages too (powering land registers, diamond certificates, records of provenance and many more). Blockchain seems to enable a type of network where peers can share data without having to trust each other. On such a network peers share sensitive data with each other because they rely on the integrity of the blockchain, not the trustworthiness of the other peers (who might not necessarily be malicious, but may well be incompetent). Such a network would also enable a citizen to see where their personal information sits, decide who gets to keep it, who gets to use it and what they get to use it for. They could issue requests such as the right to be forgotten and the right to get a digital copy of their information. This should make us pause to consider the type of enterprise applications which will thrive in the third wave, and the type which have no place. To misquote Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, someday a real rain will come and wash all these bad applications off the streets.

So why are we not there yet, and do we really need blockchain to get there? For an organisation like Tieto, with broad portfolios in many different industries and being gatekeepers to enormous amounts of data, blockchain is a call to action. The status quo of siloed data storage is unsustainable and the time to act is now. Blockchain proof of concepts are no longer de rigueur. It’s time for real production applications. But in the blockchain enabled third wave will Tieto be a Blockbuster Video or a Netflix?

You can read more about blockchain, GDPR and the thorny issue of data ownership in healthcare and other industries in this whitepaper.

Interested in Blockchain? Read our recent blogs about the topic:
Opportunities to utilize blockchain technology in asset finance
Blockchain and the new era of trust
Blockchain - A dawn of the new digital world

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