“Blockchain does have great potential to cut out the middle-man, drive efficiencies and bring about new ways of doing business across a range of sectors,” said last year Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD. His comment highlights just how big this technology could be as its ecosystem enters into a more mature phase.
Blockchain is a technology for storing and sharing information without a trusted third party. It is a digital ledger – such as a database – operating without a central review body, designed to create transparent, common and trusted information with a high level of security, since no data entered in it can be modified or falsified, and every addition of data has to be validated by other users.
There are three different types of blockchains: public, private and consortium. The public platform is open to the public without access restrictions; the best-known one is the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, which appeared in 2008. In the private system, write permissions are kept centralized to one organization. The consortium blockchain is a shared database, requiring permission to access it, and comes with mixed properties from public and private networks.
“You might think that blockchain is a complicated topic with many complex technical concepts, but it is actually something very simple. It is like a co-ownership syndicate without the syndicate,” says David Rio, segment marketing manager for the Thales Critical Information Systems & Cybersecurity businesses.
Blockchain technology is the perfect solution for instances where several users produce information without a priori mutual trust and there is no one able or willing to play the trusted third party role. It creates opportunities as it is not only a technological innovation but above all an innovation in work organisation.
But however big blockchain’s promises are, a project will only be successful if the solution implemented meets companies’ needs. The fad for blockchain, and the fragmented, often overlapping offerings out there make IT decisions confusing for companies, many of which overestimate the technology’s capabilities and the benefits it can bring to achieving their business goals.
While this technology was highlighted as a trend topic in 2016, attracting growing interests and investments from multiple business areas, it is sliding into the “Trough of Disillusionment” in Gartner’s Hype Cycle, a report released in July by the research and advisory company shows.
Following, notably, the collapse of many cryptocurrencies projects, the Blockchain ecosystem has entered into a more mature phase and is going back to the fundamentals as only the most solid projects - from a business and financial perspective - are still continuing.
Assessing on a case-by-case basis and keeping the business needs at the heart of the decision process is the approach developed by Thales for its customers, through workshops that determine what the best solution is for each in terms of needs, duration and return on investment.
“We don’t sell software products. Unlike a company which specialises only in blockchain, we master all the technologies that are related to the data,” says David Rio. “We have no qualms about recommending one technology over another. The recommendation we make to a customer is the one which we are firmly convinced is the most appropriate solution for its needs.”
The Thales approach also stems from the broad diversity of profiles and challenges of the customers it serves as it aims to be a trusted partner for both its civil and military clients.
Thales implementations include providing blockchain expertise to the cargo community systems specialist MGI for collaborative freight management in ports. In this new collaborative logistics governance solution, the system's clients act as trusted third parties to guarantee traceability and ensure that data cannot be altered or falsified.
Thales is also working on a blockchain-based solution for sharing trusted information within an international military coalition. The aim is to avoid conjecture in the event of an operation being launched based on erroneous information, since tracing responsibility and working up the decision chain, without a trusted third party, could prove to be a difficult task.