Humans have always cherished predicting the future. The idea has been to foresee and be able to take strategic advantage of the possibilities which the future has in store. Predictions also tend to open the human’s mind to the new endeavors of which, few might succeed and shape the future as well. In that vein, the newest kid in the world of technology promising immense potential is blockchain. Cited as the future by some and a fad by others, this technology is evolving at a rapid pace. The whole world has traditionally been structured in hierarchies and centralized control. Whether it's a government or an enterprise, systems and procedures have been formulated, controlled, and enforced by a centralized authority/administration.
Blockchain technology aims to decentralize the system by flattening the need to have hierarchical architectures. As an organization’s IT systems are mostly centralized owing to security and control apprehensions, blockchain technology might find it difficult to rapidly gain acceptance in workplaces. In this blog series, let’s try to predict some of the possible applications of blockchain in the workplace, hoping that a few of these predictions would see the light of the day. Blockchain as a technology has been there for quite some time now but has been popularized by cryptocurrencies. As the technology is still new, many people still think that cryptocurrency is blockchain and vice-versa but cryptocurrency is only one of the various applications of this technology.
Software asset management
Almost all organizations today provision applications to the end-users/employees based on a request-approval mechanism, barring a few common apps which don’t require any approvals. Imagine a scenario where you need an app for just a day immediately, but the organization doesn’t have any licenses to assign in the inventory. What if, you could have loaned the app for one day from your colleague? This is where blockchain asset management capabilities come in. Smart contracts built on private blockchain will allow certain events to automatically trigger things like the release of license post the assigned timeframe.
It’s not a secret that ensuring software compliance through effective software license management has been a herculean task for organizations, resulting in cost leakages and ineffective license utilization. As blockchain works on the distributed ledger concept, the ledger gets automatically updated as soon as the app ownership changes, resulting in full transparency on the utilization.
The admin can release a limited number of licenses in the system for an app and the system and the chain would itself ensure that only a definite number of licenses can be used, resulting in better compliance. Bitcoin uses a similar principle where the network only has a finite number of coins to be traded. This approach would greatly reduce the turnaround time for getting an application, optimize the license utilization, and consequently, the cost. Of course, the licensing model would need to be reworked with the OEMs so that the billing can happen on the utilization and not on the number of owners. Also, the integration with UEM tools like SCCM or Intune needs to be looked into as well.
Asset tracking in the enterprise
Using blockchain technology to track workplace assets as they move through a supply chain network will provide several advantages. First, it provides efficient and simplified communication between the partners since data is available on a secure public ledger accessible by all parties. Second, it provides enhanced security and data sanctity since the data on the blockchain can't be altered as is commonly understood. That means logistics and supply chain partners can work together easily with greater trust that the data they've provided or are accessing is accurate and up to date. Workplaces rely on the OEMs to supply various peripherals such as laptops, desktops, etc., as per their needs. With Microsoft’s autopilot technology, enterprises can now directly provision devices in the hands of the end-users. Maintaining all the information on blockchain asset tracking ensures that the payment for the OEM can be released as soon as a user gets his hands on the device. This shortens the payment cycles and reduces accounting overheads from the system. This would also ensure that counterfeits remain out of the system at each stage of the whole life cycle.
This use case is one of the most mature ones amongst all potential use cases explored in this article and HCLTech itself has already got a solution to offer in this domain through its blockchain practice. The application of this use case can be extended to trace the device within the enterprise’s boundaries, as well as leveraging RFID tags and IoT to minimize the issues of having “dark assets”. When blockchain is used, assets are given unique identifiers, which act as digital tokens (like a crypto token). Additionally, participants in the blockchain can be given unique identifiers, or digital signatures, which can be used to sign the blocks they add to the blockchain. Every transaction is then recorded on the blockchain as a transfer of the corresponding token from one owner to another.
The introduction of the blockchain data storage solution can provide enhanced security and integrity. But saying that it is going to replace traditional databases would be farfetched. There can be a few use cases only, especially where data integrity is paramount. Current centralized systems are designed to store data in only one place, and they might have backup storage attached to them as well. If data is deleted from the centralized storage, it might be gone forever.
Since data can be stored in a decentralized manner on a blockchain, it will be more difficult to hack into and wipe out all the data from the network. It also means greater access to data since access isn't necessarily reliant on the operations of a single provider.
But blockchain technology in its current form can only find specific use cases as it’s not suitable for storing large files and is cost-prohibitive as of now. Also, the current speed of transactions that a blockchain network can handle is slow as compared to what traditional storage is currently offering.
GDPR remains a major hindrance in the adoption of blockchain-based databases. The core principle of blockchain, which is decentralization, is in direct conflict with GDPR as it defines boundaries for the data and the user’s right to be forgotten. Data is neither confined nor can be deleted from a blockchain.
Current geopolitical tensions in Europe and reactions by various sovereign states have shown that private players can be leveraged by governments to forward their policies. Organizations worldwide would also have taken note that having all your data stored centrally with a single cloud provider might be risky in exceptional circumstances which nobody can foresee. However, there is still a lot of work to be done technologically before blockchain gains wide acceptance for data storage within enterprises.
Click here to continue reading the second part of this blog series.