What is blockchain technology?
Blockchain technology, also, not so commonly, referred to as Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), is an ever-expanding list of records, also known as blocks, that are linked using cryptography. Each individual block stores a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp, and also transaction data.
Blockchain is a revolutionary and promising piece of technology as it helps reduce risk, eliminates the threat of fraud and brings transparency for myriad uses.
Blockchain technology consists of three key concepts which are blocks, miners and nodes. Every single chain consists of multiple blocks and every single block will have three basic elements. The first element being the data in the block, and then a 32-piece whole number which is called a nonce. The nonce is completely randomly generated when a block is made, which consequently generates a block header hash. Lastly, the hash is a 256-bit number wedded to the nonce. Miners create new blocks in the chain, they do this through a technology process called mining. Miners use unique and specific software to solve complex mathematical solutions. After the block has been correctly and successfully mined, the change is then accepted by each and every one of the nodes that are included on the network and the miner is rewarded financially. Every single node has its own individual, unique copy of the blockchain and the network must approve any newly mined block for the chain to be updated, trusted and verified.
When a block has been created and then added to the end of the blockchain, it is extremely difficult to revert and alter the contents of the block, this emphasises the security of the blockchain. For the hacker to be able to change even a single block, they would need to alter every single block after it on the blockchain, which will make it an extremely difficult task.
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”