Beyond Bitcoin: How the Blockchain Can Power a New Generation of Enterprise Software

Bitcoin Magazine
Beyond Bitcoin: How the Blockchain Can Power a New Generation of Enterprise Software

This is a guest post by Jesus Rodriguez.

Bitcoin has become one of the most intriguing and revolutionary technologies created in the last few years. From a functional standpoint, the cryptocurrency has challenged the most fundamental principles of the world’s financial systems by providing a decentralized, secured and trusted model to process financial transactions. To enable its magic, Bitcoin relies on an architecture powered by a groundbreaking technology known as the blockchain.

While bitcoin has clearly become the most important implementation, it is just one of many practical applications that can be powered by the blockchain. From the conceptual standpoint, the blockchain provides a series of capabilities that can change some of the well-established architectures in the enterprise digital world.

How can the blockchain redefine enterprise?

The decentralized, autonomous, trusted and secured capabilities of the blockchain can redefine the foundational patterns of enterprise applications. While the principles of the blockchain are well-understood patterns in enterprise solutions, until now we have lacked practical implementations that validate its functionality at an enterprise scale. The blockchain opens a new set of opportunities to enterprise scenarios that weren’t possible before. However, in order for blockchain solutions to be embraced in enterprise, they will have to develop a series of key capabilities to get past traditional IT compliance and regulatory practices.

What’s needed to adopt the blockchain in enterprise?

Despite its unique value, the process of adopting blockchain solutions in enterprise is far from trivial. Like many other technology trends, blockchain solutions will have to develop a series of enterprise-ready capabilities to be adopted in mainstream business scenarios. Those enterprise-ready capabilities are called to address many requirements in areas such as management, operational readiness, or compliance, which are essential to adopt solutions on different industries. The following list includes some of the key capabilities required to adopt the blockchain in mainstream enterprise scenarios.

Development Platform: The blockchain is a very complex architecture modeled in terms of transactional exchanges. To mitigate that complexity, we need programming frameworks and languages that allow average developers to build general-purpose applications against the blockchain.Monitoring Tools: To be adopted in enterprise settings, the blockchain community should produce solutions that can actively monitor the health of a blockchain network and recover from unexpected failures. These capabilities will allow organizations to monitor the runtime behavior of blockchain solutions.Private Cloud Deployments: Facilitating the deployment of the blockchain in private cloud topologies using mainstream enterprise infrastructures is a key element to facilitate the wide adoption of blockchain solutions in the enterprise. In that sense, the blockchain should work seamlessly with technologies such as Docker, VMWare vCloud, Open Stack among other mainstream enterprise infrastructure platforms.Standards: As organizations start adopting blockchain solutions, the need to have standards will become increasingly relevant. Standards will facilitate the interoperability between different blockchain platforms while also enabling important security and compliance requirements of enterprise solutions.Interoperability with Well-Established Enterprise Platforms: Like any other enterprise software trend, blockchain solutions will be required to integrate with established enterprise platforms like databases, line of business systems, etc. Enabling that interoperability will be essential to power the adoption of blockchain solutions in the enterprise.

10 Enterprise Scenarios that can be Redefined by the Blockchain

Decentralized IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming one of the most important trends in modern enterprise software. While many IoT platforms are based on a centralized model in which a broker or hub control the interaction between devices, this model has proved to be impractical for many scenarios in which devices need to exchange data between themselves autonomously. That specific requirement has been the fundamental principle behind decentralized IoT platforms. Those decentralized models are fundamentally powered by a trusted ledger of exchanges between smart devices fundamental to power real-world IoT solutions.

The blockchain provides foundational capabilities of decentralized IoT platforms such as secured and trusted data exchange as well as record-keeping. In this type of IoT architecture, the blockchain will serve as the general ledger, keeping a trusted record of all the messages exchanged between smart devices in an IoT topology.

Keyless Signature

Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) has been one of the fundamental technologies powering data signatures. PKI models rely on a central authority to stamp and validate signatures on a data payload. While PKI models have been incredibly successful, the dependency on a central authority presents serious limitations for large-scale scenarios and is also vulnerable to attacks involving quantum computation.

The characteristics of the blockchain can help to overcome some of the limitations of PKI models with a keyless security infrastructure (KSI). A KSI model uses only hash-function cryptography, allowing verification to rely only on the security of hash functions and the availability of a public ledger commonly referred to as a blockchain.

Data Archiving

Archiving historical data in a secure and trusted manner has been a permanent challenge of enterprise IT. Companies like EMC have become one of the most iconic enterprise software companies in history by providing robust storage and archiving solutions. More recently, cloud platform vendors such as Amazon have provided alternative data archiving solutions. However, in both cases, data archiving solutions rely on a centralized storage model, which has well-known limitations in enterprise scenarios in areas such as security and privacy.

Decentralized and autonomous data archives models, such as the ones provided by the blockchain, can be an interesting alternative to centralized data storage solutions. This model will eliminate the dependency on a centralized authority and will allow distributed and trusted storage across nodes in a blockchain network. More importantly, using the blockchain as a data archive will allow any nodes to validate the authenticity of the archived data without relying on central hub.

Decentralized B2B Auditing

Business-to-business (B2B) exchange models are one of the foundations of modern commerce. In those scenarios, transaction tracking, auditing and reconciliation processes are essential capabilities of B2B processes. Traditional B2B platforms enable these capabilities by providing centralized transaction tracking models that will be used by the different B2B endpoints to log relevant events of a specific transaction. These centralized tracking models have proved to be impractical to address many of the typical challenges of B2B transaction tracking processes in areas such as auditing and reconciliation.

Leveraging the blockchain as a decentralized, secured and trusted transaction ledger could be a more effective model to address the challenges of B2B transaction tracking solutions. Using the blockchain, each party in a B2B process could autonomously track the events related to a B2B transaction without the need to rely on a centralized authority. Additionally, the security capabilities of the blockchain will facilitate the implementation of more sophisticated reconciliation and auditing processes.

Legal Proof of Existence or Proof of Possession

Validating the existence or the possession of signed documents is an incredibly relevant element of legal solutions. The challenge of traditional document validation models is that they relied on central authorities for storing and validating the documents, which presents some obvious security challenges, but also becomes more difficult as the documents become older.

The blockchain provides an alternative model to proof-of-existence and possession of legal documents. By leveraging the blockchain, a user can simply store the signature and timestamp associated with a document in the blockchain and validate it at any point using the native blockchain mechanisms.

Distributed File Storage

Cloud file storage solutions such as Box, Dropbox or One Drive are becoming regular citizens of modern enterprise environments. Despite its popularity, cloud file storage solutions typically face challenges in areas such as security, compliance and privacy in order to be adopted in enterprise environments. Those concerns are all rooted behind the fact that enterprises need to trust a third-party cloud system with their confidential documents.

Security Trade Settlement

Central Security Depositaries (CSDs) have been an essential element of modern equity and bond trading. In the U.S. equity market, following frequent bottlenecks during the late 1960s in the settlement of securities trades, CSDs smoothed the post-trade process for transferring share ownership by eliminating the exchange of paper certificates and recording transactions in central, computerized book-entry systems. The international CSDs Euroclear and Cedel (now Clearstream) played a similar role in the Eurobond market from the 1970s onward.

The centralized nature of CSDs is essential to successful bond and equity trades. However, the settlement process via CSDs is incredibly expensive and slow, averaging two or three days per trade settlement.

The blockchain offers an interesting alternative to traditional CSDs as a decentralized ledger that can keep records of transactions without relying on a central authority. The query capabilities of the blockchain will allow the settlement of trades in minutes or even seconds and at a fraction of the cost of the current CSD solutions.

Anti-Counterfeiting

Counterfeiting remains as one of the biggest challenges in modern commerce. Segments like luxury goods, pharmaceutical or electronics are constantly affected by counterfeiting. As a result, the demand for anti-counterfeiting remains one of the hottest topics in the digital commerce world. Unfortunately, most solutions in the market require a trust in the third-party authority, which introduces a logical friction between merchants and consumers.

The decentralized and security capabilities of the blockchain can enable an interesting alternative to traditional anti-counterfeiting platforms. In that sense, we can envision a model in which brands, merchants and marketplaces are part of a blockchain network with nodes storing information to validate the authenticity of specific products. In this model, brands don’t have to trust a central authority with their product authenticity information and can rely on the security and decentralized trust models of the blockchain.

eGoverment

Governments all over the world are investing deep resources to digitize many of their existing processes. Many of these processes deal with sensitive information that require sophisticated levels of traceability, privacy and security. Inevitably, the digital collaboration process relies on trust on centralized authorities.

The blockchain capabilities provide a robust option to enable the digital collaboration between government agencies and citizens. In this model, different government agencies can store records in blockchain nodes so that it can be accessed and verified by other government parties and citizens in a secure and trusted way.

P2P Commerce

Traditional ecommerce business models are based on the presence of a centralized entity that control activities such as order processing, inventory management, catalog access, etc. In order to buy and sell goods, ecommerce marketplaces need access to sensitive user information such as credit card information, user profile data etc. This information often becomes the target of cybersecurity attacks and many other security and regulatory challenges.

The architecture of the blockchain can enable the first effective peer-to-peer (P2P) ecommerce network in which buyers and sellers can interact directly without the need of a central authority. The absence of a central marketplace eliminates many of the restrictions of ecommerce models such as fees, regulated transactions, etc.

Summary

The blockchain represents one of the most important advancements in computer science of the last few years. The ability to enable decentralized, secure, trusted and highly scalable architectures opens the door to a new group of enterprise software solutions on a large number of industries. Blockchain-powered solutions have the opportunity to challenge some of the fundamental architecture principles of enterprise solutions in areas such as security, data storage, trust, etc. Similar to Bitcoin, we should expect to see spectacular platforms in the enterprise software space powered by the blockchain.

The post Beyond Bitcoin: How the Blockchain Can Power a New Generation of Enterprise Software appeared first on Bitcoin Magazine.

Building a Risk Market for the Digital Age Using Bitcoin

This is a guest post by Michael Folkson.

The Internet was originally developed as a network for information exchange. Now, a multitude of entrepreneurs and software developers are building the Internet for value exchange. The next logical progression is to build the Internet for risk exchange.

Just as units of currency can be transferred to a third party, insurance contracts transfer risk exposures to a third party. Blockchain technology has the potential to radically transform how the insurance industry operates and how risk exposures are shared and distributed.

While Bitcoin offers a protocol for peer-to-peer value transmission bypassing the traditional banking system, an insurance industry leveraging a public blockchain presents an opportunity for individuals and entities to retain, share or transfer risk exposures without the requirement for risk exposures to sit on an insurance company’s balance sheet.

Science fiction frequently offers inspiration for what an industry could look like in the future. The short speculative fiction titled “Know When to Hold ’Em” by K.G. Jewell is a somewhat dystopian vision of futuristic insurance, but it does explain how the user interface of a peer-to-peer insurance market could operate.

In the story, the lead character, Jonas, acts as an insurer on the platform MicroRisk. Among the microrisks he chooses to provide insurance coverage for are vacation sickness, exam results, fashion (two individuals wearing the same outfit at an event) and being stood up on a first date. He is required to post collateral into his MicroRisk account before insuring a risk and is able to audit claims before paying out on them. The policyholder’s premium and the insurer’s collateral are frozen in escrow until the contract closed.

Some of these risks may be difficult to price due to limited data and increased moral hazard. However, the story does stir the imagination when envisaging what personal risks could be insured if the requirement to go through a conventional insurance company was lifted.

The transfer and distribution of risk dates back to at least to the second millennium B.C. In approximately 1750 B.C. Mediterranean sailing merchants paid their lender an additional sum to agree to terminate their liability conditional on the shipment being stolen or lost at sea.

There are a number of participants in today’s insurance industry. Brokers act as intermediaries to connect insurance buyers and sellers. Underwriters determine the premiums that should be charged in conjunction with the actuaries who also estimate the reserves required to meet future claims on an ongoing basis. Claims adjusters verify the legitimacy of insurance claims and assess the size of the payout.

There are many parallels between the banking and insurance industries with both sectors rewarded for accepting risk exposures. Rather than lending out funds and (hopefully) receiving them back at a future point in time, insurance companies receive funds in advance and return them contingent on future events.

The peer-to-peer lending model has thrived in recent years with companies such as Lending Club, Prosper and Zopa facilitating more than $1 billion of loans between individuals.

Its success is at least partly explained by re-establishing a direct link between investors and specific credit risk exposures at a time of economic uncertainty, sovereign debt crises and complex too-big-to-fail banking institutions. These direct credit risk exposures allow an investor to diversify her overall portfolio, and there are minimal infrastructure costs in comparison to traditional retail banks.

Similarly, a peer-to-peer insurance platform re-establishes a direct link between investors and specific insurance risk exposures. Today’s insurance companies are so large, complex and heavily regulated that the direct link between an investor and specific insurance risks has eroded. If an investor wants exposure to insurance risk to diversify her portfolio, she has little option but to invest in the shares of an insurance group and be exposed to multiple insurance risks in addition to asset risks such as sovereign bonds.

It is extremely difficult to match an investor’s risk appetite with specific insurance risks such as personal or commercial, home, car, health or travel. Moreover, it is impossible for an investor to opt out of specific risk exposures. The only insurance risks investors can get direct exposure to are credit and catastrophe risk through the issue of catastrophe bonds.

The peer-to-peer insurance model offers investors an opportunity to generate higher investment returns, transparency with regards to risk exposures and the satisfaction of directly insuring individuals or businesses rather than investing in a faceless insurance company. It offers policyholders access to cheaper premiums, faster claim payments and insurance coverage that might not be available through traditional channels.

Satoshi Nakamoto’s primary achievement of preventing users spending the same bitcoin on multiple occasions (“double spending”) without a reliance on a trusted third party is a historic feat. However, it is worth emphasizing the obvious that the protocol does not wholly eradicate reliance on trusted third parties for all financial contracts.

For example, escrow mechanisms that are easily built using the Bitcoin protocol may still require dispute resolution if there is a disagreement over whether the goods or services delivered are of sufficient quality.

Nevertheless an escrow transaction built on a Bitcoin-like blockchain could be a template for how future insurance contracts are constructed. The insurance buyer and the insurance seller could transfer the premium and the collateral respectively into a multi-signature (2-of-3) Bitcoin wallet. The third signatory to the wallet would be the arbiter. Funds would be released from the wallet conditional on two parties signing the transaction, preventing the buyer, seller or arbiter from fraudulently seizing the funds.

Just as the execution of a standard escrow contract will rely on an arbiter to resolve disputes between the buyer and the seller, the execution of an insurance contract relies on claims adjusters to verify that incoming claims are valid and if necessary estimate the monetary value of the claim.

This service will vary from reviewing evidence submitted by the claimant to physically inspecting the scene of the insured event depending on the magnitude of the claim. It is currently difficult to automate this function, and artificial intelligence is not yet advanced enough to rebuff all human attempts of fraudulent submissions.

Decentralized platforms heavily rely on the efficacy and dependability of reputation systems. The upside of bypassing centralized services such as eBay, Kickstarter or Uber is that no third party can charge excessive fees, impose restrictive policies, prohibit bitcoin payments or present a single point of failure in the storing of users’ personal data.

However, the downside is that no organization is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the system. Instead a mixture of user feedback, reputation scoring and financial incentives must be combined to construct robust reputation systems. The alternative is to build quasi-decentralized systems that may be an improvement on centralized systems but don’t accrue all the benefits of purely decentralized systems.

For example, the various activities of an insurance company could be unbundled so that some activities are automated while others are outsourced to external providers. It may be the case that quasi-decentralized systems will need to be built as an intermediate step or that optimal systems will never be purely decentralized. However, it makes sense to fully explore all the options and capabilities of this technology before falling back on how current systems already operate.

Although private blockchains (or ‘permissioned distributed ledger systems’) are useful for keeping databases in sync in a more trusted environment, they are an incremental innovation when compared to the potential of public blockchains. Just as Bitcoin opens the floodgates for peer-to-peer transactions and permissionless innovation, peer-to-peer insurance leveraging a smart contracts protocol could provide a platform for matching insurance buyers and insurance sellers for any risk they agree to exchange.

This marketplace would be a radical paradigm shift from today’s centralized and spatially anchored insurance industry. The blockchain provides the opportunity to build a more innovative, expansive and transparent industry that evolves to the needs and requirements of its users.


Photo Pictures of Money / Flickr (CC)

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Australian Startups Close Down as Banks End Support for Bitcoin

Australia’s largest banks have ended all financial support and abruptly closed down the bank accounts of at least 17 Australian Bitcoin companies, including the Australian Digital Currency Commerce Association Chairman Ron Tucker’s Australian bitcoin exchange Bit Trade.

“The banks had not advised any of our members. To the best of our knowledge all, or nearly all digital currency businesses have received letters from their bank, or in many cases banks, advising of the closure of their accounts. This includes at least 17, with 13 of these closed permanently,” Tucker told Bitcoin Magazine.

Major Australian banks, including Westpac Banking Corporation and Commonwealth Bank of Australia, have not announced their motivations behind the termination of banking support for bitcoin companies. This incident has attracted the attention of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and Senator Matthew Canavan, who sees the sudden pronouncement of the bank as an unlawful act, and has requested the ACCC to launch a full investigation on the banks.

“Whilst we’re unable to comment on the banks’ motivations (that is for them to explain) however, the consequences of these moves are becoming more clear. The Australian Bitcoin industry, as part of a larger revolution in financial technology, has seen its growth severely curtailed by this unexplained wave of debanking,” Tucker added.

Startups Begin to Leave Australia

“Unfortunately most digital currency startups have already shut their doors in Australia as no alternative banking solutions were available. In at least one case, one Bitcoin company, Coinjar, did relocate its head office to a more welcoming market in the U.K.,” Tucker told Bitcoin Magazine.

Most Australian Bitcoin startups offer bitcoin exchange services and merchant bitcoin payment processing; two of the few bitcoin-related services which require banking or credit card support. Although some bitcoin startups have begun to search for alternative financial institutions and organizations to maintain their operations, most companies have failed to secure banking service partnerships.

“Presently the industry here in Australia have no alternative options despite best efforts of our members to reach out to various banking sector participants,” added Tucker.

No Clear Justification

Labor Senator and a member of the Senate Economics References Committee Sam Dastyari showed his concerns toward the banks, due to their lack of explanation and justification behind the abrupt termination of banking support.

“I am concerned that there is an allegation that Australian banks are deliberately choking small businesses, while setting themselves up to offer the same services. We don’t have a four-pillars policy to allow banks to guillotine emerging industries they are competing with … These small local digital currency companies are essentially competing to provide trading platforms, and develop emerging technologies,” explained Dastyari .

The Australian Digital Currency Commerce Association strongly believes that the banks owe an explanation and a clear justification behind the “debanking” of the companies. Currently, all Australian major banks have terminated banking support for Bitcoin companies.

“Our members have said the banks have been remarkably unwilling to provide explanations for ceasing to provide services for ADCCA members. Our members, some of whom may end up being partners with or competitors to the banks in the future, are currently at the mercy of established financial institutions. At the very least I think our members are owed an honest explanation of why they are being debanked,” Tucker said.

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Bitcoin Used to Pay Utility and Credit Card Bills in the Philippines and Australia

Over the past year, bitcoin startups in the Philippines and Australia have begun to target day-to-day expenses and remittances; markets that are in desperate need of instantaneous, secure and cost-effective payment systems.

Startups including Australia-based Living Room of Satoshi and Manila-based Rebit.ph, also known as the parent company of Bills Ninja, have been trying to educate the global population to use bitcoin in day-to-day expenses, such as paying utility bills and settling bank payments.

Paying Bills with Ease

Earlier this year, Rebit.ph acquired bitcoin bills payment platform Bills Ninja, to allow its users to settle rental, tuition, and electricity and credit card bills abroad. The service has been used by Filipino expats working in countries including Canada, UAE, Singapore, Hong Kong, Austrailia and Canada.

“Using Bitcoin, we’ve made it easier for Rebit users to send targeted remittances. A good number of remittances coming from overseas Filipino workers are intended for bills payments anyway. By enabling our users with this service, we’ve made it more convenient by eliminating that second step for them,” Rebit.ph CEO John Bailon told Bitcoin Magazine.

An official with Satoshi Citadel, the parent company and investor of Rebit.ph told Bitcoin Magazine that the Philippines-to-Canada, -Hong Kong and -Singapore remittance markets are huge, and that there are hundreds of thousands of Filipino employees working in these countries to support their families in their homeland.

Quite often, these expat workers pay utility bills such as water and electricity and credit card bills directly from these countries, using the Rebit.ph platform or the Coins.ph platform, which is currently ranked among the top 300 most popular websites in the Philippines.

Coins.ph, a competitor of Rebit.ph has seen a huge success through its partnerships with local banks, remittance outlets and financial institutions. The platform enables users to pay utility bills and cash out bitcoin at any of its supported outlets, including thousands of ATMs from the nationwide Security Bank and remittance outlets from Lhuiller and Palawan Pawn Shop.

However, Bailon told Bitcoin Magazine that its platform is different from services such as Coins.ph, because of its over-the-counter transactions for remittances and bills payments.

“Coins.ph allows people to load funds into and draw from their mobile money wallet, while Rebit is closer to the current user experience of an electronic over-the-counter transactions for remittances and bills payments,” Bailon explained.

Currently, many local residents and employees prefer to pay bills at local establishments and institutions. However, the Rebit.ph team says that the local residents are starting to recognize the advantages of bitcoin and bitcoin bills payment systems.

“There needs to be a paradigm shift in consumer behavior when it comes to electronic bills payments. Most Filipinos still pay their bills in-person at establishments even though they actually have access to more convenient methods. We’re getting there, and when more and more people start to realize the convenience of electronic bills payments, Rebit is here to allow them to do it over the blockchain,” said Bailon.

Living Room of Satoshi

Living Room of Satoshi, Australia-based bills payment platform allows anyone to pay any Australian bill using bitcoin. The platform has been providing bitcoin bills payment service in all sectors, including shopping, entertainment, banking, Internet, electricity/gas, rent, tax, insurance and water.

The platform has been welcomed and used by Australian residents across the country. In a recent interview with Bitcoin Magazine, Australian farm Buda Foods founder and CEO Mark Burgunder said:

“We currently have a great service available here called Living Room of Satoshi that allows us to make bill payments and electronic transfers to almost any bank account in Australia using bitcoins. We’ve been using this service on a number of occasions already with the largest purchases so far having been for chicken feed and for mobile electric fencing.”

Many bitcoin enthusiasts and startups in the Philippines and Australia believe that the key to mainstream success for bitcoin is to educate the general population about its advantages, and encourage people to use bitcoin for day-to-day expenses.


Photo www.tOrange.us

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