This post serves as the first in a series of articles written in collaboration between a blockchain platform vendor Fluree and a systems integrator, Codete. Drawing from collective expertise from both a technology vendor and a software development company perspective, we’ll provide insight into overcoming common hurdles in implementing blockchain technology and best practices for operational success in DLT projects.
Fluree is a blockchain-backed data management platform. Founded in 2016 by Flip Filipowski and Brian Platz, Fluree is headquartered in Winston-Salem North Carolina. The Fluree platform organizes blockchain-secured data in a highly-scalable, highly-insightful graph database — allowing businesses to develop applications with foundational data-centric trust, interoperability, and security. Fluree has experience in working with partners, like Codete, in developing next-generation applications, interoperable data sources, and data-driven ecosystems for a variety of industries and enterprises.
Codete is an IT consulting and software development company. Since 2010, we’ve been supporting businesses worldwide in gaining competitive advantage by means of modern technology. Codete has over 10 years in the market and has completed over 100 projects for enterprise clients. The company now employs over 150 IT professionals delivering full stack solutions for advanced data management and reporting. Codete leverages the right technologies to meet different client needs, and has worked with a diverse group of technology providers, including Fluree, to provide optimal solutions.
Blockchain technology has evolved in the adoption cycle over these past few years from an innovation buzzword to a core architecture slated for operational use. As enterprises move from exploration towards proofs-of-concept and beyond, six common challenges to overcome have emerged in order to successfully deploy. Today, we’ll take a look at a high-level overview of these six obstacles:
1. The Lack of Data Availability for Decision Making
Often, companies have an immense quantity of data that is spread across legacy RDBMS, customized application stores, and even Excel® workbooks. This disparity in siloed information makes it very challenging for decision-makers to glean appropriate data in a timely manner for decision making. In most cases, rather than making changes to the data architecture, this data is simply pooled into data lakes as unformatted data, due to the many different data structures of the legacy data.
This common IT problem has crept into enterprise blockchains as well: since blockchains are essentially structured data stores, it is often difficult to easily pull and leverage the data that sits in these repositories. This quickly becomes an issue for applications that require frequent and dynamic data queries (which describes 90% of business applications today).
2. Lack of Secure Interoperability
Data often sits in many different locations as described above and copying and movement of data is required to build a common set of data for analysis and operational applications. However, the datastores don’t “speak the same language” in reference to the data formatting and syntax. This leads to additional complexity navigating through datasets, building integrations, and running harmonization procedures.
When blockchain is added in a distributed network, this further compounds the problem as now there are datastores at each of the member node tenants. Each of these nodes may have a different schema and different data elements for each of the associated datastores. This requires a translation layer for the disparate data interpretation by other nodes. A common “language” across all nodes is desired, but may be difficult to agree upon in practice.
3. Regulatory Compliance with GDPR, HIPAA, and general PII protection
Blockchains’ biggest strengths — being fully transparent and immutable — is also its biggest weakness in the topic of regulatory compliance.
Taking 7 GDPR principles as an example:
- Lawfulness, fairness and transparency
- Purpose limitation
- Data minimisation
- Storage limitation
- Integrity and confidentiality (security)
Some of them are strongly reinforced by technology, like integrity, while the purpose limitation is much harder to achieve due to the blockchain characteristics. All of those challenges will differ according to a case’s particular compliance regulation, but they have one common solution — leveraging ‘traditional’ data storages in tandem, allowing both technologies to work in synergy.
4. Difficulties in Auditing
Enterprises require historical time-boxed auditing and reviews, at a minimum on an annual basis, for compliance and reporting. Blockchain technology has been regularly touted as an “instant audit trail” of transactions. While the chain is indeed a validated chronology of data and brings immense potential value to digital compliance, data stored in a blockchain typically requires custom code to dig into the historical data and filter for specific time domains.
Though this makes auditing possible, as the full append-only history is available, this often is costly if changes occur in the formatting, or manner in which the data stored since the last auditing event.
5. The Challenge of Gaining Stakeholder Buy-in and Ecosystem Business Value
Blockchain has become a buzzword in the startup ecosystem and multinational enterprises alike. Numerous benefits provided by the technology have incentivized businesses and governments to adopt, explore or invest in the technology.
However, in 2019 using “blockchain” as a buzzword, stopped to be enough to receive the funding. There are a variety of reasons why investors developed more hesitance, beginning with more and more already-executed adaptations, as well as oversaturation of projects where blockchain is added just for the sake of having it in the technology stack – without any business value behind it.
The technology stack should always be seen as a toolbox to reach the goal, not the goal itself.
We should always focus on the benefits that the technology provides for the business’ needs, start with the USP, and select the state-of-the-art technology stack to back it up in order to build products that deliver real-world business value.
6. Framework Rigidity and Opacity
It is said that by using a predetermined blockchain framework with rigid schemas, the governance can’t evolve as business or application requirements change. Of course, every decision made when determining the technology and infrastructure stack is important, and needs to take the future into account as well.
When building an initial project, one typical discussion arises: “buy” versus “build.” It is very easy to make a decision to use blockchain, but more difficult is “which one” and “how to use it”, as the decision between, for example, Ethereum or Hyperledger will drastically affect the future possibilities. Another important factor to address is the actual scope of effort needed to implement a solution using chosen technology.
Due to those factors, it is usually a better idea to buy and use a SaaS solution to predetermine the needs of our solution, as this is a much more scalable and adaptable solution.
We will be covering each of these areas in subsequent posts in order to elaborate on best practices for overcoming each specific barrier. Stay tuned!