William: Welcome to Data Decoded, an IBM podcast series dedicated to demystifying the wonderful world of data from data lakes to master data management to data science, big data, and everything in between. This is the podcast for the data professional and all those who understand that they are in the business of data.
I’m your host William McKnight, President of McKnight Consulting Group. In our first episode, we spent some time discussing the top data trends of 2018 and today I am excited to be at the first ever Think conference in Las Vegas to talk about one of those hot topics: blockchain. If you’re a Data Architect, a Data Integration Specialist, a Database Administrator, a BI Specialist or Big Data Architect or whole one of the other twenty or so data roles or you manage them, its [blockchain’s] impact is coming your way or perhaps you will be the one to bring blockchain to your company.
I’m joined by two guests today. Yves Mulkers, who you may remember from the first podcast. He is the founder of 7wData, and Erik O’Neill, the Senior Offering Manager of Entity Analytics at IBM. We’re here at the Social VIP Lounge at Think. I’m going to jump right in – Eric, can you give us the 1-on-1 on blockchain and touch on the origin story for us?
Erik: Sure, so most people will probably have heard of blockchain in the context of bitcoin because it’s the technology that really underlines bitcoin, it’s the shared ledger technology that that underlies bitcoin. It was invented by a guy called Satoshi Nakamoto back in 2008, so it’s been around for about ten years. Most people still think of it in the context of cryptocurrencies but it’s turned out that this shared ledger technology has proved really, really valuable and all sorts of other industry demands as well. And so we’re really starting to see this tape changing the way organizations are doing business across the wide range of industries.
William: Yeah, so it’s for far more than bitcoin obviously. Sounds like a bit of a wisdom of the crowd type of technology. What is the capacity for blockchain, especially when it comes to enterprise data management?
Erik: Well in terms of that capacity that was seen today, it’s being used on some fairly large scale projects done by consortiums. To think of what the real value of blockchain is, it simplifies these processes where you have multiple businesses working together. So I think it’s something like a supply chain, where you’ve got a lot of different parties sort of transacting business to maybe to create a good, to ship it, to move it through a store, to move it to a customer. At every touch point, there’s paperwork. You know with shipping you’ve got customs. You’ve basically got a whole lot of processing paperwork, a lot of hand-offs, and basically lots of organizations need to collaborate. Blockchain allows them to do that in a centralized fashion, in the peer-to-peer fashion so the whole process is transparent to everyone in that process. And so we see today that it’s these consortiums, within industries, in these sort of large multi-business networks that are already benefiting from blockchain.
William: And it works because the blockchain database isn’t stored in any single location and these records are truly public and easily verifiable. So that being said about blockchain, how does that affect data management and big data practices within an enterprise?
Yves: I think Erik already touched a bit on the process part where you exchange from the position, that a bit more about the processes I look more at the data assets perspective what you say we exchange the data or the assets and the assets can be either a currency or it can be something about a car, the different parts and you exchange it between the different departments or the different parties that collaborate on that sort of asset.
For example, hospitals can exchange data with the insurance [companies] or with the government and it is a transparent layer that keeps track of all transactions. You can always trace back who originally created that piece of data and where it came from. The level of data governance for big data, in fact, you can say it’s a secure way of exchanging your data assets.
William: Okay, alright, could it be used for master data management? Because I know a lot of people are interested in that and data quality initiatives.
Yves: Certainly, because one of the important parts of blockchain is that the old data is stored in an immutable way. It is shared among various notes so it’s distributed. So in that respect, if somebody changes something to one of the notes, your data is not coherent anymore. So it guarantees you the quality of your data.
For example in healthcare, a doctor has a patient’s records and the nurse has that patient’s records as well and your insurance provides that information. If something is not right [in the patient’s records], well, your complete dossier is not correct anymore and it will allow them, as well as the patients to have the correct treatment. Otherwise, you have a risk that the treatment is not correctly applied.
William: Yeah, it’s got to be more verifiable.
Erik: So I have a background in master data management and we’ve actually created a MDM and blockchain sort of asset, particularly for managing master data, customer data on the blockchain and I think it is interesting because master data management is all about reconciling information across multiple systems.
Well, blockchain by definition, is not a single sort of distributed database – so the data model is conformed. Everyone is using the same data model. So you have the same data model inconsistencies across the participants, but the data itself can vary because someone can type in my name without the apostrophe or with two L’s, or Erik is spelled with a C. You still need to be able to reconcile the master data across the blockchain records and so we say every blockchain project actually needs governance services and master data services for the data that’s actually stored in the blockchain as well.
Yves: I think you touch a very good point since most of data management is only two things. One, is the definition of your concept – the assets that you say we need to agree. This is a car you say. Okay, this for me, the same car is four wheels, four doors, an engine. This is the type of thing from working in data architecture projects, this is mostly due the difficulty when we try to define the conceptual data model.
We need to align upon the concepts and if you talk about the customer – is that the same for me? Is it an active customer? is it not? So in fact, it’s still the same discussions we had in business intelligence but I think – thanks to blockchain, we will need to conform on that. Otherwise we’ll get away with it and never speak the same language and in that area, it’s good to fall the chain and most of data management.
William: And Yves, you brought up healthcare as an example and I’ve heard of financial companies using blockchain. Even Kodak is jumping in with imaging blockchain, what industries do you see really being disrupted next through blockchain?
Yves: I think you touched on that. There’s healthcare but that’s still very soon because you need to inform them then they have to re-architecture older databases in that area. So we will see somewhere between three to five years, the fastest that we see blockchain being implemented in healthcare. Financial services, I think they’re more on to it because they already are incorrect or concurrency and that’s already more leading into it, but they have to fight a battle still as well, to becoming a new business model and to build trust in that new technology.
Erik: Right and so you have also healthcare as well. I mean I think again drug traceability, to be able to trace things from source right through to the end consumer I think is really important. Clinical trials, patient data management, the whole supply chain, medical supply chain as well. Tremendous opportunities. Governments and utilities, voting you know asset registry, power grids, social care. I think anywhere there’s a lot of paperwork and government has a lot of paperwork.
Blockchain can help streamline the processes. Manufacturing, supply chain of course. I mean you mentioned that you know from the supply chain parts. Retail on IBM has a has a very active role. A retail blockchain industry solutions team as well again so does a great case study we have I think with Walmart.
Very nice video talking about tracing food from the farm to the table so that if there is a salmonella scare or something with watercress, they’re able to say almost instantly – is the watercress on our shelves affected by this issue? Blockchain really enables that and it’s helping with food safety, food traceability, and streamlining the process in virtually every industry that has processes will benefit from blockchain.
William: Well, all the more reason why a data professional needs to be on top of blockchain and get ahead of this. Blockchain makes the results fully transparent and publicly accessible. Distributed database technology could bring full transparency to it by storing data across the network. It eliminates the risks that come with data being held centrally and this is a good thing from a governance and compliance perspective, right?
Erik: Yeah sure, so this whole concept of blockchain is increased trust and security is actually built into the network. They’ve been built in – cryptography there. So all the data is encrypted. You can also manage visibility. Who gets to see what parts of the data in the blockchain as well so that’s really important because not every participant in a process needs to be able to see all of the data.
You want to keep up a private, public tree. So there’s a lot of power from having the centrally stored data there and then the fact that no single participant can really modify our adds or change the actual blockchain data without consent from all the other participants as well. So there’s a sort of built-in checks and balances in the security and in the actual infrastructure itself.
Yves: Definitely, I see the traceability and the transparency. That’s the biggest advantage of what blockchain will bring into the world because everything is public and the only thing if you see the receiver in the center, that’s still something which is anonymized. So you have some crypto numbers, say number 15, 45, or whatever. That’s the one that initiated the transaction so you need to be able to identify that one to find the original party that initiated the transaction.
William: Yes, there’s no centralized version of the information for a hacker to corrupt. For example, it’s hosted by millions of computers simultaneously, well up to millions, and the data is accessible to anyone on the Internet so this is all very interesting and an interesting new way of doing things but Yves – should we be worried? Is there a back door here? How hackable is the blockchain?
Yves: Well, from a technical perspective and we don’t want to frighten people – but everything is kind of “hackable” in that way. If you have enough power, enough time, whatever – you can hack that, but the security is built into the blockchain and it takes you a lot of time to get that security cracked. On the one hand, it’s hackable, but on the other hand it’s so uncommon.
Erik: Yeah and I would say what one of the benefits [of blockchain] is looking at the systems and the processes the blockchain is replacing. And in a typical scenario, each of the participants have their own systems. There’s an inherent security in the network of systems. If out of one system is compromised, it can compromise the others as well. Whereas blockchain gives it – removes that concern to a large degree.
Yves: Yeah I think in the end, about “hackable,” which is the most insecure party – that’s mostly the people working with the information and I think that technology will help like you said. You need to have a consent of multiple parties to change something in there so that will take about the human factor. Really make a two, zero. So hackable yes, but on the other hand, you have the technology. That’s the tricky part.
William: Indeed. Well blockchain security methods use encryption technology. Eric, can you explain how these public and private keys work?
Erik: In my past days, I was actually the offering manager for security products in the Middleware space. Basically if you think about today, when you do a transaction with your bank you might see you got https in your web URL so that means it’s a secure connection and basically you exchange keys with your bank so that you can encrypt the transactions in the days that have been sent to the bank.
And by beating encrypted, it’s unreadable by anyone else and basically you need the right key to be able to decrypt it in the simplest form. And so the city’s public, private keys allow you to have that really very personal communication that’s encrypted just between you and the party you are communicating with and no one else can actually decrypt it/
And so encrypted data on the blockchain means that unless you have the right keys and authorization, you can’t access it. I mean, it’s the same thing nowadays our iPhones and our smartphones can be encrypted as well and we’ve seen that in the news sometimes – you know some of the agencies have difficulty trying to decrypt the data on that subject.
Yves: You can always put something in there but it’s like I give you a million pieces and just try to open the door. And then you see the amount of time or the effort you need to take it to break it in the private and public keys. The result is that we say we encrypt the transaction, which goes over the line and private parties what you keep with you so you know I need to use the fifty out of my one million keys that I need to want to check and that’s where you say it’s a double layer where you can secure whatever is possible across the line.
William: Well hopefully we’ve expanded your horizons in regards to blockchain. Thank you Yves and thank you Erik for joining us. So where can people find you guys? Where can people find you?
Yves: Well mostly online. Twitter you can follow me at @YvesMulkers or my blog handle @7WData or you can go to my blog www.7wData.be
William: And Eric what can they find you?
Erik: Just find me on LinkedIn – Erik O’Neill.
William: Thank you and you can find me on Twitter at @WilliamMcKnight and my company website is williammcknight.com. Thank you listeners, for tuning into another episode of Data Decoded. You can find this podcast and more at ibmbigdatahub.com. Until next time, this is William McKnight at Data Decoded.