Three Truths about Blockchain Worth Discussing Now

October 30, 2018 Owen Burns

By Owen Burns, Legal and Compliance Technology, Conduent.

I recently hosted a small group of partners and clients at a Conduent Innovation Breakfast to discuss important technology considerations around the use of blockchain and artificial intelligence. Part of our esteemed panel included a guest speaker, Bert Kaminski, Chief Commercial Council, GE Digital Legal. Bert specializes in transactions related to the Industrial Internet of Things, cloud computing, and software licensing. The group also included several of Conduent’s technology experts, Ari Kaplan, a legal industry analyst at Ari Kaplan Advisors, and Gregg Goldman, Global Head of Regulatory Relations, Compliance & Legal in Group Sourcing & Strategy at UBS.

(Please note: Bert Kaminski and Gregg Goldman were opining personally, not on behalf of General Electric or of UBS.)

There is no denying that the biggest drivers behind innovation today are blockchain and AI. Our lively discussion took us on a deep dive into some of the most interesting challenges around blockchain. We also talked about the progress of AI and some of the current work that’s being done within that space. Here are three key insights from our conversation that articulate a wide range of discussions happening today around blockchain and other emerging technologies.

1. The blockchain hype is huge — and is well-deserved

Wherever you turn for your daily news, it’s easy to find articles on blockchain. Though early discussions focused around cryptocurrency alone, today’s landscape has evolved where every major corporation finds it necessary to be saying something about blockchain and its applications.

Indeed, one might say that blockchain is the hottest thing right now among analysts, news media, and businesses. Nevertheless, if you look deeper, you’ll also find numerous blockchain projects that companies started and eventually abandoned or those that simply fell flat. Why?

The simple answer, according to Armon Rahgozar, Vice President of Conduent Technology Innovation, is that just because everyone talks about blockchain doesn’t mean it’s the right solution for every situation. “Everyone wants trust and traceability in their business and they automatically think that blockchain is the answer,” he said during our discussion. “In a lot of cases, blockchain is the right answer for practical applications in finance, healthcare, government, and many other industries. But it’s important to get over the blockchain hype and really understand your project’s requirements and how a blockchain application can help achieve your goals.” Seemingly, it would be a mistake to rush headlong into blockchain innovation without understanding its applicability and adoption.

Bert Kaminski offered further insight: Any time you need to track transactions, that’s where blockchain comes in. Clearly, every time a product changes hands, the transaction could be documented, creating a permanent history of a product. This could dramatically reduce time delays, added costs, and human error that plague transactions today. The advantages are many in industries such as (but not limited to) supply chain management, finance and accounting, food production, energy supply, and quality assurance/safety management.

While the panel agreed on the promise of blockchain, we discussed some of the challenges including the fact that there is no central authority on the chain. Once the standards are developed simultaneously across a wide range of needs, that’s when blockchain efforts will be optimized.

2.  Legitimate blockchain infrastructure will take it mainstream

There are large-scale standardization efforts towards associated terminologies and technologies happening right now at an industry level — in finance, healthcare, government, and more.

Armon discussed the work Conduent is doing with a large healthcare insurer. The project involves building a blockchain network to validate the credentials of each provider. The pilot solution aims to create a unified network of healthcare stakeholders — payers, providers, and members to store, track, and update provider data one time — all in one place.

Another proof of concept Armon discussed is in the Source to Pay space for procurement. “We put together a proof of concept for a large auto manufacturer and its suppliers. Through the overall exercise, we learned a lot. Having managed this same backend process for many years for the client (before using blockchain), we were able to map out the entire workflow landscape at the deepest level.

3. Personal accountability and responsibility still matter

In all the chatter about blockchain, the word “trust” is freely thrown around — and for good reason. In discussions around both blockchain and AI applications, there’s a clear theme around the need for human responsibility and accountability. Because Blockchain establishes trust, it promises a simple paperless way to establish ownership.

Bert offered this perspective: “In a true public blockchain, there is no central authority. So how do you remove a piece of information if it’s sensitive?” Well, as stated earlier, a blockchain is a decentralized ledger with censorship resistance and immutability baked-in at the protocol layer. Some blockchains also support smart contracts, which allow for the creation of fully decentralized applications atop the network. Private blockchains go a step further — In a private blockchain, operators can decide to allow only specific nodes to carry out the verification process, and these trusted parties would be accountable for communicating newly confirmed transactions to the rest of the network. The accountability for securing admission to these nodes would be a safe choice made by the blockchain system operator.

A good example of a place where accountability is critical is the use of smart contracts. A huge buzzword these days, “smart contracts” have far-reaching business benefits — programmatically executing contracts under the specific terms of an agreement. But each of these contracts originates from a set of rules developed by — and vetted by — a team of attorneys.

Truly speaking, drafting a smart contract will require acumen, expertise, and creativity to set the checks and balances as well as build safety nets and solutions for failures. Agreeing on the source on which the parties will rely and its credibility, will become part of the contract itself.

Considering the momentum and value of blockchain, there is good reason to believe that blockchain will impact the current best practices across most industries for years to come. Stay tuned!

Blockchain is a valuable tool for optimizing digital interactions. At Conduent, we’re building this technology into our platforms across multiple businesses and working to lead blockchain-enabled ecosystems and networks. We recently joined the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA) and hired Nikhil Nayab to further develop our blockchain initiatives. Learn more about Conduent Innovation here.

If you have questions about blockchain or its business applications, please contact Nikhil Nayab, Senior Director, Conduent Technology Innovation at Nikhil.Nayab@conduent.com

About the Author

Owen is working for Conduent's Legal and Compliance Technology business unit.

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