Blockchain Beckons

The world of Blockchain is one which, for most people, is still strongly associated with the crypto currency space. While this still holds true, Blockchain technology has the potential in many other areas of our business lives which is why vendors are currently pouring money into the development of new products. In this feature David Dungay takes a look at the potential in the Channel space for Blockchain technologies.

In 2014, vendor giant Microsoft announced that it would accept Bitcoin payments on some digital payments limited to the US, with Dell also embracing the cryptocurrency that same year. And in November last year, accountancy and consulting giant PwC accepted its first Bitcoin payment in Hong Kong as a sign that the firm is “embracing new technology”. However, when it comes to Bitcoin, and crypto-currency in general, the most interesting piece of the technology is the underlying mechanism called Blockchain. Some proponents of the technology believe that it could be the next major development in the telecoms space as companies fight to evolve and remain profitable. Margins are being squeezed at all ends of the market and in the Channel, there is little to spare.

What is Blockchain?
Originally developed by an anonymous person, or group, with the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto as digital ledger for Bitcoin the tech community is now finding alternative uses for the technology. The Blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions which can be programmed to record anything of value. Information held on the Blockchain exists as a shared, and continually reconciled, database. It is not held on any central computer but instead is duplicated millions of times across a network of computers. Why is the information held like this? It means all records are truly public and easily verifiable. No centralised system also means hackers cannot hack or corrupt the system. Other benefits include no control by a single entity and no single point of failure.

Blockchain in Telecoms
Operators today are continually looking for ways to deliver services more cost effectively which includes increased trust and transparency. The distributed nature of the technology will enable operators deliver some services without the need for expensive infrastructure or third party intermediaries. Security of information seems to be the leading use case for the technology, particularly in areas like IoT where there is a lot of data to manage and there is a clear need for secure data between machines and sensors. With the validation and verification processes that is decentralised, IoT security can be widely available and is scalable without the worry of rogue devices trying to barge their way into the data flow.

John Tolton, Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) at The Sphere commented, “The global revenue from telecom services is expected to exceed 1.2 trillion euros in 2018. Estimates for the cost of fraud alone are as high as 6.9% of the overall market revenue value, or about $155 billion every year, and this issue plagues buyers and suppliers. So there’s a huge market opportunity for operators and the partners who sell their services to reclaim that lost revenue.

With The Sphere, a team of telecom veterans who have helped to envision and develop global carrier networks built a Blockchain-powered global ecosystem to address these industry challenges. The Sphere is a commercial meeting point engineered to deliver an unparalleled business development and trading opportunity through the facilitation of unlimited, multi-party chain trading, routing and financial settlements in real time over a globally distributed hybrid cloud network. Blockchain is the tool The Sphere is using to solve challenges that telecom carriers and operators have faced for decades, and it will be a disruptive force in the industry.”

You may be surprised to learn that Avaya has already developed use-cases for Blockchain, perhaps not the ailing giant we all thought? The digitization of customer engagement is giving companies huge challenges at present, but according to Gartner, 89% of companies today expect to compete primarily on customer experience. Filling in a post-call survey to evaluate experience is no longer enough, it’s now about real-time analytics, with AI, which enables agents to measure customer behaviour in a more meaningful way.

With Happiness Index on Blockchain, Avaya can show how companies and government organisations can leverage Blockchain to securely collect and integrate data from multiple sources, such as different contact centres, emails, social media, web and chat platforms. By selectively filtering offline data and monitoring real-time data sources, organisations can dynamically measure customer satisfaction levels and transform experiences to meet their satisfaction level objectives.

“For too many people, Blockchain is a solution looking for a problem. Happiness Index on Blockchain highlights how Avaya has transformed its unified communications and contact centre platforms to integrate emerging disruptive technology trends into the customer experience with agility and speed,” said Laurent Philonenko, Chief Technology Officer, Avaya. “Marrying enormous volumes of historical and real-time data to understand customer satisfaction is a huge challenge for our customers. By applying Blockchain, data analytics and artificial intelligence on different data profiles and sources, we have built a globally unique solution that allows large organisations to measure and manage sentiment for every single one of their customers, as it happens.”

 Blockchain Use Cases 

Identity Management
Customer Experience
Fraud Prevention

For the Channel
The reality is that most Channel Partners aren’t going to see the relevance of Blockchain technologies for years to come. There is too much potential to go after in their core business and until vendors start providing tangible use cases for the Channel ecosystem there is little to adjust to right now.

John Tolton commented, “A key message that’s powerful for channel partners to understand is that the applications of Blockchain for telecom go far beyond cryptocurrency. The underlying technology behind Blockchain works well as the coded backbone of cryptocurrency because of its secure digital ledger capabilities — in other words, its capacity to track transactions in real time incredibly securely. Some of telecom carriers’ biggest pain points — fraud, declining margins, inefficiencies and quality of service concerns, for example — can be significantly reduced with the right application of these capabilities.”

Earlier this year Fujitsu announced developments with regard to Ethereum-based smart contract verification. The company’s new algorithms are set to detect 100% of the risks associated with these smart contracts, with some exceptions. Fujitsu explained their train of thought as follows:

“Because over-identification of risk is rare, this technology will enable more efficient smart contract development, and combined with the risk location identification technology, it is also expected to reduce the workload involved in tasks such as specification comprehension, code evaluation, and fixing the code. This technology will contribute to the efficient application of Blockchain technology to a wide variety of fields.”

Ed Says…

The big question, is Blockchain relevant to the Channel? Probably not… at the moment. As a relatively new technology the use cases beyond a simple vehicle for crypto-currencies are still under developed. The distributed nature of the technology may make it incredibly secure but then there are questions surrounding control, are we willing to give that up? There are already adverts popping up for connected home technologies on TV, generally there is a lag with this sort of thing between the technology being developed and the willingness of businesses to adopt it. By introducing Blockchain into the consumer spaces first this will inevitably make this transition speedier. For the Channel, it’s worth keeping an eye on your vendors to see what they are developing. To deliver a truly unique technology first could be the door opener you are looking for.

“Some of telecom carriers’ biggest pain points — fraud, declining margins, inefficiencies and quality of service concerns, for example — can be significantly reduced with the right application of these capabilities.” – John Tolton, Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) at The Sphere

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine