Blockchain is steadily gaining buzzworthy status in the enterprise, but not just as a financial tool. As a means to implement trusted digital ledgers, the technology has the potential to remake the way we exchange information of all types, even if we don’t know exactly who or where it comes from.
Naturally, this may seem unsettling to some, but as the Internet of Things gathers steam and the enterprise data footprint extends far beyond the data center and even the cloud, the need to build an open yet fully reliable means of sharing data will mount as well.
According to Deloitte’s recent Tech Trends 2018 report, blockchain is among a host of recent developments that are causing the enterprise to veer away from technology-centric operational models to more holistic approaches in which infrastructure is compiled around specific use cases. Instead of, say, building a new cloud infrastructure or analytics engine, you would target a particular need and set about integrating systems that deliver optimal results. With blockchain providing the trusted source of information, tools like cognitive computing, collaboration and various physical/virtual-layer systems can be tailored around key user requirements.
There aren’t many enterprise applications where blockchain cannot have an impact. eWeek’s Chris Preimesberger canvased a number of IT though leaders who anticipate changes in everything from payments and processing so supply chain management, software development and even security. As Oracle Cloud’s Amit Zavery noted:
“Blockchain holds the promise to fundamentally transform how business is done, making business-to-business interactions more secure, transparent, and efficient. Enterprises can now streamline operations across their ecosystem and expand their market reach with new revenue streams, sharing data and transacting within and outside the Oracle Cloud.”
Blockchain is also emerging as a key element in the digital transformation movement currently sweeping the business world. With core business models shifting from products to digital services, blockchain provides a source of trust for communications across the digital landscape. As SAP’s Tosten Zube told the Huffington Post recently, blockchain creates an environment in which nobody owns data but it can still be viewed as reliable and accurate, since it is virtually impossible to alter a block once it has been added to the chain. This will revolutionize not just the business model but the entire business ecosystem by removing many of the barriers that currently inhibit the free and open exchange of information.
Unfortunately, implementing blockchain is not a worry-free process, says ZDNet’s Joe McKendrick. For one thing, the skills and knowledge to effectively manage blockchains are exceedingly scarce, as is the business acumen to deal with an entirely new business environment. As well, there are legal issues to work out, such as the need for new laws governing electronic signatures and the granting of legal status to blockchain-based electronic information. And then there is the potential for forks, which can sometimes be an effective way to upgrade and improve software but also have the potential to introduce incompatible or semi-compatible versions of a particular blockchain.
To say that blockchain has the potential to be disruptive is probably the understatement of the year. Some pundits are already describing it as the dawn of an entirely new internet, one in which control over data is in the hands of those who use it, not those who create it.
At this point, it is very easy to see how blockchain could change IT for the better, but if past is prologue we should expect to see the shortcomings once it is deployed on real-world production environments. And in the end, the vested interests that control data at the moment, and who see no reason to change, may have something to say about how blockchain is ultimately implemented.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.