Why is Blockchain Important?

As Kim Knickle, manufacturing industry specialist for Insight’s Digital Innovation division, explained in her blog, blockchain is a type of distributed ledger technology. That means it’s a collection of shared, confirmed, encrypted data spread across multiple geographic locations. The blockchain, as its name implies, is a series of linked data blocks. Nothing can be erased from the ledger or audit trail, but more data can be added in the form of new blocks. For example, to be able to quickly trace the origin of lettuce, a digital record of each produce batch could be added to a blockchain. The farmer would sign off that the lettuce indeed came from his or her farm and was the type indicated. New transactions with temperature and humidity data would be recorded during transit using Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Another transaction would be added when the lettuce arrived at the processing plant, where a representative would confirm the origin of the lettuce and the processing — not just the location of the processing, but also the specific batch. From there, the blockchain trail would follow the lettuce to the packaging facility. Information would be verified and transferred to the transportation provider, which would add a stamp of approval and then pass it on to distribution and on to retail stores. At each point, a block of data would be authenticated and added to the blockchain. In the past, each of those entities along the lettuce journey had their own version of the truth as to where the lettuce came from, how it got to them and where it went from there — but they didn’t share the information with each other. As a result, recalls for bacteria-infected romaine lettuce had to include all romaine lettuce, not just that from a single source or packaging facility. “What’s always been elusive is having trusted, shared access to data,” explained Jason Kelley, IBM’s general manager of blockchain services, as part of a blockchain panel at CES 2019. “[Data has] always sat in silos, different departments, different groups. Everyone has their piece of the data, yet no one has a single version of the truth.” Blockchain fixes that — not only presenting one source of truth, but also ensuring data quality. Kelley likens the technology to a series of handshakes. A “digital handshake” occurs between each company on the network as the data is verified accurate and added to. “The focus is on data,” he continued. “Blockchain is a bright shiny thing that gives new capability to give value to data.” Let’s look at some of the benefits this provides.

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