In the consumer markets industries today, connected consumers are expecting a seamless, personalized and transparent shopping experience. Retailers and brand manufacturers alike have little choice but to respond, unless they want to be left behind. One key technology being discussed at length in this equation is blockchain. I sat down with Prasen Palvankar, the Senior Director of Product Management for IoT Applications Cloud & Blockchain Applications Cloud, to get his perspective on what he is seeing.
Q. Let me start with the obvious question around blockchain - the technology is arguably over-hyped, with many people looking at this technology, much like a silver bullet. What is your perspective?
This is true, at least in the enterprise blockchain area, a lot of people are looking for a problem to solve using blockchain rather than looking at how existing solutions can be enhanced using blockchain or how previously unaddressed issues could be addressed with the help of blockchain. Frequently, blockchain is being viewed as just a secure, distributed data store. The core value prop of enabling trust without the need for a central authority is not being considered.
Yes, I agree entirely with that perspective. In fact, I had a conversation recently with a manufacturer who started the conversation saying they needed blockchain. After talking with them for about 15 minutes, it turned out what they were wanting to track was all within their own processing and production facility. Not really a case where - as you said - trust needed to be enabled between various supply chain partners. No need for blockchain there. They did require an IoT solution to track equipment and batches through their production facility.
Which brings me to the linkage between the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain. Where blockchain establishes the trust, IoT provides many of the automatic data inputs to be captured by a blockchain. How do you see the linkage between the two?
Pictured: A screen shot from the Oracle Intelligent Track & Trace App for Supply Chain.
Q. What problem are we solving or what additional benefit are we adding to an IoT solution with blockchain? A typical answer to this is privacy and security..
Let's look at consumer IoT and Enterprise IoT separately. Privacy and Security are a big concern in consumer IoT such as smart homes where a large amount of data generated by smart home devices is unprotected, and the devices themselves are vulnerable to attacks. Also, the data from these home devices flows through one of the many smart home service providers where the consumer has no control over how their data is used. Most of the security is central. Blockchain could be useful in moving the security closer to the consumer and giving control of the data to the owner - the consumer.
When it comes to Enterprise IoT, most of the enterprise-grade IoT platforms provide out-of-the-box comprehensive security. They use multi-stage authentication and authorization to ensure only known and authorized devices communicate and send data and the devices only allow actions from a properly authenticated and authorized source. Data from these devices is securely transmitted, although it may be stored in clear in the message store. But blockchain would be an overkill, as well as expensive for securing stored IoT data. In most cases, the amount of data that comes in is voluminous and may not need to be stored securely. Where blockchain may play a vital role in monitoring and facilitating the flow of events generated from the device data that may need to be shared between distributed entities. For example, in a cold chain scenario, IoT is an essential component that helps monitor the condition of goods in the supply chain. Any anomalies detected would need to be reported and shared with all stakeholders. These deviations from norm may be critical evidence in case of spoilage, recalls, etc. and could be disputed by affected parties. Blockchain can help with ensuring these events are recorded in a trusted, non-disputable manner.
I appreciate that distinction between consumer and enterprise IoT. Makes a lot of sense, and blockchain can play a different role in each instance. From an enterprise perspective, clearly identifying the critical events to be captured within blockchain - and only those - is indeed a must, to manage the sheer amount of data now being written into the blockchain.
Thank you, Prasen. Let’s continue this discussion next week, when we pick up the discussion around blockchain use cases, deployment models, and what Oracle is doing in the blockchain SaaS space. Stay tuned!
To learn more about blockchain technology for supply chain and other industries, visit Oracle on the web. To learn more about the recently released Oracle Intelligent Track and Trace app, watch a video demonstration online.
Mario Vollbracht is Oracle's Global Director of Consumer Markets, and an industry veteran with 25 years in the retail and consumer goods space.