No longer solely associated with cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology is now being harnessed in other industries, helping organisations gain insights from mountains of data.
Business runs on information. The faster it’s received and the more accurate it is, the better. According to IBM, blockchain is ideal for delivering that information, providing immediate, shared and completely transparent information stored on an immutable ledger that can be accessed only by permissioned network members.
“A blockchain network can track orders, payments, accounts, production, and much more,” IBM says. “And because members share a single view of the truth, you can see all details of a transaction end-to-end, giving you greater confidence as well as new efficiencies and opportunities.”
Today, businesses and governments across the world are adopting blockchain to fit their needs in everything from welfare management to voting records and tax calculation, with a recent survey from Deloitte finding that 86% of executives believe there’s huge business potential in blockchain technology.
Data and blockchain
A blockchain – as described by McKinsey & Company – is an encoded digital ledger stored on multiple computers in a public or private network, comprising data records, or ‘blocks’. Once these blocks are collected in a chain, they cannot be changed or deleted by a single actor; instead, they are verified and managed using automation and shared governance protocols.
“A blockchain is a database that maintains a set of records that are protected against tampering or revisions,” comments Mo Sahib, CEO of Borderless Security and FilesDNA. “In its simplest terms, imagine making multiple copies of a document. Each time the document is viewed, moved, or opened, it’s compared with all the other scopes to ensure no changes or errors have been introduced. This all happens automatically without the need for human interaction. If someone attempts to change a document or access something they should not be accessing, those instances can be easily identified.”
From product identifiers to medical records or land registries, blockchain and distributed ledger technologies are already functioning in many sectors. According to the World Economic Forum, up to 10% of global GDP could be stored on blockchains by 2025.
“We have never lived in a time with so many transformative technologies,” says futurist and business advisor Bernard Marr. “Tech trends like ML, robotics, blockchain, and the metaverse are revamping every business in every industry.”
Data is the lifeblood of successful companies, according to Marr, but this comes with a huge responsibility. “Companies must keep information safe and comply with all applicable security legislation. The companies that succeed in the future will need to have a solid strategy in place that makes the most of their data while protecting partners and customers.”
“Blockchain has only been around for a little over 10 years and in that time it has been widely adopted across the financial sector and beyond,” explains Sahib. “It offers better speed, accuracy, and security than was possible before its inception. Forbes has predicted a continued growth and evolution over the next 10 years. In 2021, the market was worth US$4.9bn; by 2026, this is predicted to grow to US$67.4bn.
“Growth like this has not been seen since the Dotcom boom in the 90s.”
Securing IoT data
As IoT growth accelerates, there will simply be too many devices and too much data for human intervention. According to research by IDC, the amount of data generated by IoT devices is expected to reach 73.1 ZB (zettabytes) by 2025. And while big data technology is capable of processing and analysing large volumes of data, it does not provide security and trust.
“That’s where blockchain comes in,” comments Jonas Lundqvist, CEO at Haidrun. “As a distributed database or ledger technology, blockchain stores and manages data in so-called blocks, encrypted and linked together to form a chain. Each block also contains an immutable record of exactly when it was created, which can’t be corrupted, lost, or changed without the network knowing about it.”
With a public blockchain, anyone can download the peer-to-peer client software, view the ledger, and interact with the blockchain. This means that no single party has control over the massive amount of data the IoT devices generate, with Lundqvist claiming this makes it virtually impossible for anyone to compromise or corrupt data records.
“Public blockchains, however, were developed for, and largely associated with, cryptocurrencies and are designed to preserve an individual user’s anonymity, treating all users equally,” Lundqvist explains. “This means that when it comes to enterprise applications – including managing IoT ecosystems – the strength of public blockchains also becomes a weakness and poses several challenges around privacy and control.”
For many enterprises, the idea of allowing every participant to have full access to the entire contents of the database does not sit well. “As a result, a new generation of private blockchain is emerging where a single authority or organisation ultimately retains control, and no one can enter this type of network without proper authentication,” Lundqvist says.
“Some private blockchains can look more like centralised networks but they offer many, if not all, the distributed benefits. Any overall control they do retain helps to improve privacy and eliminate many of the illicit activities often associated with public blockchains and cryptocurrencies.”
Blockchain powered by AI and ML
The foundation of blockchain technology, and the driving force behind its continuing evolution, is AI. The ever-improving fields of AI, coupled with ML, have helped keep blockchain up to speed with developments in hacking and cybercrime.
As Sahib explains, there are many benefits for businesses looking to move their data to digital storage and transmission systems. With modern document management systems files are easier to access and edit, searchable, automatically backed up and protected against illegal access and interference.
“AI and ML help automate a lot of time-consuming manual processes,” Sahib explains. “When you scan or upload a document, AI systems can tag, save and store your files across multiple locations on a distributed network. When you want to access your file it will be easy to find, accessible to you remotely, and you can be sure that no unwanted changes have been made.
“AI systems are also capable of screening your documents for sensitive information. Thus ensuring this is properly flagged, secured and not shared unnecessarily,” Sahib concludes. “The software can also be set up to detect and prevent unwanted access to certain files while leaving others open to wider viewing. This helps ensure that only your chosen users have access and helps identify any threats, inside or outside your organisation.”
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