Debapriya Nandan, senior director and head, public sector business development, Oracle India talks about blockchain technology
Can you explain the concept of blockchain? How does it function? What kind of IT infrastructure is required for deploying it?
Blockchain is a system for maintaining distributed ledgers [‘distributed ledger technology’ or DLT] in a way that allows organisations which might not fully trust each other to agree on ledger updates. Instead of using a central third party or an offline reconciliation process, Blockchain uses peer-to-peer protocols. As a distributed ledger, blockchain provides a near real-time and indelible record that’s replicated among the participants. Blockchain holds the promise to fundamentally transform how business is done, making business-to-business interactions more secure, transparent and efficient.
Please explain the current and future trends in blockchain.
Mobility or mobile devices have a large role to play in driving most of the disruptions happening today for example, IoT. Blockchain can take IoT to places where it can create or establish better transparency, process compliance and trust among stakeholders. Blockchain creates digital records, across computers and hence mitigating the risk of hacking. When you combine IoT and Blockchain – BIoT – it brings in a completely new set of services and businesses. For example, to track shipments; in smart cities scenario to create connected heating systems for energy conservation or to manage rush hour with connected traffic lights.
Blockchain technology allows individuals to closely monitor the use of their personal data. Private information plays a significant role in our daily lives and today we are going through a major social and legal debate over privacy. Blockchain allows quicker, more efficient identity management without any third-party verification, if verified identity is stored.
A blockchain platform, when used in supply chain management, can automatically track individual products, parts or goods during any part of its journey from supplier to the end customer. It will also keep a comprehensive record of serial numbers, transportation history and ownership; offering greater transparency, increased operational efficiency and more stringent adherence to local regulations in the process.
What are the top five areas where blockchain’s application could be transformative and how? Please elaborate.
Blockchain provides transparency, accountability and security, which makes it useful for various businesses and not just for cryptocurrency or financial services.
Cybersecurity: Blockchain can bring about big advancements in cybersecurity. As the whole process excludes human interaction in the data communication process, it lessens the threat of data corruption, human error and hacking. Another aspect is authentication of data. Some of the international startups are trying to come up with a blockchain-centric keyless signature infrastructure. This will work by tagging and verifying data transactions, providing crypto-level assurance of data authenticity and integrity.
Advertising: Blockchain technology will take advertising by storm as it allows information to be stored and distributed but not to be changed or copied. This technology will overhaul online advertising as it will not require the middlemen anymore for the data. The users will be able to select the amount of data that needs to be released to advertisers. So, instead of intermediaries, the customers will be supplying the data in a controlled manner to them.
Real estate: Real estate is another area plagued with massive paper trails, overall lack of transparency, erroneous public records and a persistent scare of fraud. Blockchain technology can be a boom for this sector. The technology can reduce the need of paper records and thus speeding up the transaction time, reducing the transaction costs and improving the overall efficiency and accountability.
Voting: Election rigging is one of the most active pain points of any democracy. Elections at any level require authentication of voters, record keeping, vote tracking and counting. All these levels when operated manually leave a huge room for manipulating and fraudulent activities. Blockchain can capture each vote as ‘transaction’, where nothing can be changed, removed or added. Some of the US-based startups are developing a beta version of their complete blockchain-centric solution.
Forecasting: When we have accurate records, which are supported by data analysis, forecasting can be done basis machine learning algorithms to develop more precise insights.
Can you explain the application of blockchain in land records, health records or national resident ID? These functions are being managed by government officials by advanced computer systems. Can you discuss the value of its application in each of these cases?
In India, presently the ownership of property of land parcels are proved through chain of documents (RoR) that evidence the transfer of ownership of the land parcel till the current date. The problem is that any one of these intermediate transactions is capable of being challenged and the office of sub-registrar is the only undertaking deed registration under the Central Registration Act, 1908. If we are to introduce greater certainty into the real estate business, we must devise a mechanism by which ownership transfers cannot be set aside and are irrefutable and blockchain can play an important role by accurately timestamping each transaction and even adding a cryptographic Hash. Similarly, blockchain can secure storage and sharing of electronic health records being generated at various hospitals as part of e-health initiative can secure storage and sharing. It can also help in the management of service provider credential management and clinical trials (store trial results in a tamper-proof way, anti-counterfeit drugs).
What is the value created by blockchain when it is applied in banking and financial transactions?
According to Harvard Business Review, Blockchain will do to banks what internet did to media. In 2016, 60 percent of financial organisations plan on using blockchain for international money transfers, 23 percent for security clearing and settlement, and 20 percent for ‘know your customer’ (KYC) regulations and anti-money laundering services. The blockchain would change the banking sector in two ways – It will be less expensive and will become faster.
Some industry reports suggest that blockchain systems remove a complete layer of overhead, which is dedicated to confirming authenticity thus reducing costs. Identity confirmation is another area where banks can leverage blockchain technology in a big way. Identity fraud has costed $16 billion in 2017, so it is not an exaggerated claim, when it is said that banks can save $20 billion every single year. Banks are believed to spend $400 million on blockchain by 2019.
Globally, there were some experiments done to check how fast cross-country payments can be done by using blockchain technology. Euro 667, which would typically take about two-six business days, were transferred in about 20 seconds and now the same process can be completed in 10 seconds flat. This is the reason almost every major bank is investing in blockchain technology. In India, banking and financial sector is betting big on blockchain and ML for tackling debt crisis and deploy digitised ledger to capture each transaction.
(The interview appears in June 30, 2018 edition)