Blockchain empowers data access and traceability beyond that of the World Wide Web
Ask just about any technology analyst what they think of blockchain’s potential economic impact and you’ll likely receive a glowing prediction. Ask many corporate executives the same question and you’ll be greeted with a much muddier response.
Case in point: a recent survey by Gartner found 60% of those in the transportation industry said blockchain was interesting but weren’t clear on how it could help them. Another poll by IDG found just 13% of senior IT leaders had definite plans to implement blockchain solutions.
At first blush, it would seem as though blockchain has been more talk than action. But dig a little deeper and it becomes clear the technology is having a significant impact on the highest orders of business. It all stems from blockchain’s ability to create economies without the need for a trusted third party, thanks to its immutable record of transactions.
“While some people say that blockchain could be as big as the Internet, I think it could be even bigger,” says Cameron Chell, the Chief Executive Officer of blockchain development shop Business Instincts Group. “If you look at the banks, it’s being implemented at really, really deep levels. And when you start thinking about [blockchain] in terms of smart contracts on insurance claims or on medical records and things like that, it starts to become really consequential.”
The confidential and secure transfer of documentation is of paramount importance in the banking, legal and real estate professions. Sometimes this information is so sensitive, even those holding it are not permitted to know its contents. That can make it a challenge to recover and verify the veracity of that information should it be misplaced or hackers get their hands on it.
Montreal–based Mantle Technology is developing a blockchain application called ‘Compare’ aimed at addressing these sorts of problems. It bookmarks the state of a file on a virtual blockchain network for later reference or comparison to other versions. Because data entries on the blockchain are immutable, each version has a permanent timestamp. This allows users to retrace a file in time to find the correct iteration without ever having to look inside.
“It’s the power to find differences in the file by comparing its cryptographic identity rather than the content itself,” says Pascal Leblanc, the founder of Mantle Technology.
The ability of blockchain to provide absolute cryptographic identification could have major implications in law enforcement. Agencies involved with airport security are already tapping into the technology as a way to curb terrorism and improper passage across borders. Similarly, blockchain can be used to track firearms and incentivize gun owners to increase transparency about their weapons without entering them into a formal registry.
“I do think you can make the use of a cryptocurrency so compelling and so inexpensive that the additional Know–Your–Client and Anti–Money Laundering that’s attached to a background check would make gun transactions not just more transparent, but boost cross-referencing,” says Business Instincts Group’s Chell. “Being able to have proof-positive at your fingertips, it’s a big deal.”
For other businesses, the originality of files means everything and that’s made the Internet a decidedly double-edged sword. It’s been a phenomenal vehicle for sharing content, but there’s been no reliable way to identify and stop counterfeiting. Blockchain’s immutable ledger solves this problem by allowing original files to be tracked as they change hands.
“When you have that full transparency, you can police it as well,” notes Chell. “We’re not able to stop someone from transferring a file that they didn’t buy, but we are able to identify it and show it’s being illegally used.”
Business Instincts Group is putting the blockchain to work in the photography industry where it’s a challenge to track image rights as files fly between multiple agencies. The company helped design Kodak’s image rights management platform KODAKOne which digitally encrypts original photos on a decentralized database. Agencies can legally purchase images using the platform’s cryptocurrency.
Mantle Technology has another product called ‘Authenticity’ to tackle the piracy problem. The application creates immutable digital identities for original pieces of work that can then be referenced by the software and hardware that access them. This has game–changing potential in the entertainment industry where counterfeiting is rampant.
“You could still use your phone to record a song while it’s playing but it wouldn’t be the same edition, it would be a copy. And the industry could design music players that won’t play songs if they aren’t legitimate,” Mantle’s Leblanc explains. “If I tried to resell you the song but I didn’t have the rights, you wouldn’t want to buy it.”
The same sort of counterfeiting evident in the entertainment industry also exists in education. There have been many high-profile instances of forged credentials that have eventually come to light, including former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson. With blockchain solutions, universities can digitally pair their graduation records with a specific copy of a diploma. That way, companies can easily verify job candidates are who they say they are.
The immutability of blockchain transactions can be advantageous for some businesses but many corporations want full control over their records. They want to be able to fix errors in data entry and recover information that is stolen or lost. As a result, they’ve shied away from adopting blockchain.
Mantle’s third application, ‘Chain’, gives managers the ability to govern their data without sacrificing the speed and convenience of sharing it online. It uses hypervisor software to “virtualize” a company’s network on the blockchain rather than having it tied to specific computers as many are today.
Leblanc sees ‘Chain’ as an invaluable tool to manage the fallout from hacks which are rapidly growing in frequency and scope as more and more data is stored online. Hackers often breach even the toughest cyber-defenses by stealing login keys from employees. ‘Chain’ offers a way to fence them in and prevent damage from spreading once a company’s system is compromised.
“Let’s say one of your users has been hacked. You could create a new cryptographic address for that user and include it in the virtual representation of your blockchain without compromising its integrity,” explains Leblanc. “The hacked operations are still there because with blockchain everything is immutable. With the hypervisor layer you can decide what you recognize as valid or not.”
Mantle Technology believes it is the first company bringing blockchain virtualization to the market and sees it as a key driver of adoption in the corporate world.
‘Going to market’
Though it has just emerged from stealth mode and kicked off its beta program, Mantle Technology already has a number of customers in the loyalty rewards industry, the legal profession and the public sector. The company is now working with those clients to get their blockchain applications up and running.
Come fall, Mantle will formally launch its services and allow the public to sign up and start building their own blockchain software applications. Then the real work of drumming up clients and forming partnerships will kick into high gear. Leblanc is optimistic his company’s products will receive a very warm reception from the corporate community, who he believes is itching to adopt blockchain if only they had the tools.
“I think after the October launch things are going to go pretty quickly,” says Leblanc. “I think 12 months after the launch our growth will be considerable and our successful revenue levels will be a goal for next-generation tech startups.”
Cameron Chell of Business Instincts Group sees a more fulsome adoption of blockchain stretching out over the next 10 to 15 years. However, he believes the toughest groundwork has already been laid and that blockchain will become more commonplace across the business spectrum.
“I think we’re already over the tipping point in terms of penetration of blockchain in critical functions,” he says. “Now it’s a matter of mopping up and letting everyone else catch up.”
Globalive Technology Inc. (“GT”) is an investor in Mantle Technology (“Mantle”) and holds a controlling stake in Globalive BIGDEV (“BIGDEV”).