Interview: Jim Scott, Director, Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR
I recently caught up with Jim Scott, Director, Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR, to discuss blockchain, at its core a Shared Distributed Ledger with strict, yet customizable rules detailing how to place information into the ledger.
The foundational pieces that comprise this model are already in place in one fashion or another within most enterprises. Jim is an experienced leader having worked in financial services, regulatory, digital advertising, IoT, manufacturing, healthcare, chemicals and geographical management systems. He is a cofounder of the Chicago Hadoop Users Group (CHUG) where he helped grow a now flourishing community around next generation technologies. Scott has built systems scaling to 50+ billion transactions per day, and his work with high-throughput computing at Dow Chemical was a precursor to more standardized big data concepts. His passion is in building combined big data and
– Why has blockchain become such a hotly discussed topic in the news – not just in financial services, but in the enterprise as well?
– It is rumored that blockchain can do everything from making waffles to curing baldness. It is an extremely hyped up technology that warrants consideration from many different types of enterprises. Blockchain brings with it a capability that simplifies regulatory oversight.
It delivers on a concept called irrevocable proof. This is valuable to most enterprises who need to prove that what they say happened actually did in fact happen. This simplifies regulatory processes which require this type of detailed history. In addition, blockchain solutions reduce the friction associated with information
exchange. A blockchain that provides irrevocable proof of information associated with an exchange simplifies and speeds resolutions.
– How would you explain blockchain to someone outside the tech industry?
– A blockchain is really nothing more than a ledger. In its simplest form a ledger is append only, and for this use case it is highly available, where multiple people can write to it nearly simultaneously. It can easily be compared to that of a checkbook ledger, except in this case it is digital, runs on multiple machines at the same time, is highly available and allows many people to write to it. All members of an exchange can view the values and understand what happened, and when.
– Do you believe blockchain is challenging the accepted ways we manage business?
– Most businesses are accustomed to managing based on key performance indicators and that really doesn’t make sense in a marketplace where data is flowing in and out at such high rates. As companies continue to focus on the importance of effectively managing data flows and exploiting the networks forming in their respective ecosystems, blockchain will be a valuable approach to reduce friction and provide speed and agility in coordinating across different companies, partners, and customers.
– For an enterprise, what advantages does it offer? How about any disadvantages?
– Being able to provide highly available, fault tolerant and immutable storage for events that occurred is tremendously useful in many industries and will assist in proving the difference between facts and data which has been tampered with. In addition, any business that requires regulatory oversight should be considering blockchain-based solutions for problem areas.
The only real disadvantage to a blockchain solution is that it is a new model. Since it is new, it takes some time to get people up-to-speed and to be able to manage it in a production environment.
– Could you describe some real-world use cases for blockchain in the enterprise? Is it a better fit for some industries, over others?
– In the case of marketing in GDPR regulated countries there is this notion for double opt-in. By placing all the activity on a blockchain there would be irrevocable proof of the point in time and sources of such opt-ins. Another great example would be an HR system with employee information. Instead of just a current state view of an employee, the entire history of changes would be available for review. If we expand our horizons a bit there are a great many use cases which blockchain is a very natural fit because life happens one event at a time.
People are finding really creative uses in many industries for blockchain and I do not believe there are any industries which could be exempt from finding value in this new model.
– What advice would you offer to organizations just now dipping their toes?
– Realize that education on this topic is critical to the success of a blockchain solution and that blockchain technology will only account a piece of a total solution. For example, the distributed ledger in the blockchain may contain all of the data or it may only contain timestamps and hashes of a full data set contained elsewhere. Blockchain provides the proof that the data hasn’t been tampered with, but it is only a piece of the entire solution. In this case data may be accessed and managed in a way that may be somewhat awkward when compared with data management systems of the past. This model is more akin to a streaming architecture and brings with it many benefits. Expect from the onset of any project in this technology space that you will be required to perform large scale analytics, as well as apply enterprise level security practices to the data being placed on a blockchain. Any attempt to ignore those details will yield certain failure down the road.
Do not ignore people within the business who have concerns about this technology stack. Education is critical and driving this with a culture of inclusion is required for success. They can be assured that while blockchain as a concept is relatively young, it is really just a repackaging of concepts that have been around for quite a while, and due to this it delivers a new set of business benefits.