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Mastering blockchain for traceability and trust

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For most organizations, the tangible business value of blockchain’s distributed ledger technology is murky at best. The few who understand that it is essentially a decentralized database shared between parties with the capacity for immutable, real-time transactions (when properly implemented) typically see no correlation between these characteristics and achieving business objectives.

They soon will, however, if not for themselves, then for their competitors. Blockchain has emerged as a coveted asset during a time in which distributed, remote interactions are an integral aspect of information management—and remaining operational.

“This isn’t like data that you somehow exchange with somebody else, perform some ceremony around, and put on a shelf. When we’re talking about data here it’s often real-time and it’s crossparty. It’s data that powers mission-critical applications,” said Tim Wagner, CEO of Vendia, provider of a serverless, distributed platform to share data and code. In these scenarios, there is a lot of data, its timeliness is important, and the consistency and correctness of the data also matter, he noted.

The unalterable nature of blockchain data means such consistency and correctness creates an unassailable trust for numerous enterprise use cases, supporting the following:

Data provenance: With flawless data lineage, blockchain is ideal for supporting supply chain management, procurement, and logistics operations— especially for resolving disputes or conflicts.

Real-time transactions: The low-latency ledger technology is primed for transactional systems, providing an opportunity for monetizing customer applications.

Regulatory compliance: Whether for adhering to regulations or demonstrating compliance, distributed ledger technology improves several aspects of this facet of data governance.

Data privacy: Shrewd implementations of blockchain furnish transparency and data privacy in sensitive
settings in which personally identifiable information (PII) is used, such as healthcare.

Organizations that solve blockchain’s challenges around data modeling and timeliness will surely profit from its advantages.

Trusted traceability

Blockchain’s data provenance is based on its consensus methodology in which each participant in a particular blockchain must validate a transaction for it to be approved. Those transactions, and the changes to data’s state over periods of time, provide “assured immutability of the data using blockchain for integrity,” explained Surya Varanasi, CTO of StorCentric, a provider of data management solutions. Organizations can always revisit those changes to analyze data provenance.

According to Debasish Chawdhuri, senior principal engineer, Talentica, a software product development company, the lone point of contention is if “data wasn’t recorded in the blockchain in the first place.” Otherwise, the consensus-based approach ensures the data—and its traceability— is accurate.

The implications of the inalterability of blockchain transactions are considerable for logistics. “Between two shipping companies delivering packages, if there is a dispute, the truth is there,” Chawdhuri said. “If you maintain individual databases, then it’s hard to get around that problem.” Supply chain management has even more to gain from this approach, especially when considering the varying technology stacks and vendors involved in complex automotive supply chains, for example.

Companies must be able to share information about the location, the status, and the production of goods and services as they move through those supply and logistics chains, Wagner noted, adding that in the event of damage or disputes, blockchain offers an unimpeachable record. “The immutability—the tamper-proof nature—of having images, multimedia videos, and other information about the progression of particular goods through supply and logistics processes allows them to automate the assessment of blame and replace a complex, messy, ‘my-lawyer-will-call-your-lawyer’ situation.”

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