Blockchain Revolution: Not Just in Banking

Miroslav Suchopar
IT Consultant at IBA CZ

Though an interest in blockchain has grown lately, not everyone knows what it is exactly about. However, the basic principle is not so complicated to understand.

With a view to a rapid growth of the Bitcoin virtual currency, we hear the term blockchain with ever increasing frequency. The term has evolved thanks to the above mentioned crypto currency. Either it is an inflated bubble or a real potential, it’s undoubtedly the area that is currently swirling the global IT world and that we have to know more about.

From a technical point of view, the blockchain is described as a continuously expanding network of chronological records (blocks). The network is cryptographically secured and shared among all users. In other words, it is a distributed public database of unaltered encrypted records. In the context of cryptocurrency, the blockchain can be viewed as a virtual public accounting book where all transactions are recorded. Individual transaction logs consist of the transaction data, time stamp, and a part of asymmetric cipher. To ensure public accessibility, copies of the entire blockchain (accounting books) are kept by all users. Thus, constant availability of the blockchain and the best possible security are provided.

One of the key features is the verification by other users. After its creation, the record should be validated and then it is permanently assigned to the blockchain. Once the record is verified and eventually added to the blockchain as a block, it is distributed among other users. Concurrently, this block can no longer be processed or modified.

The increase of investment in virtual currencies implies that in the coming years, the capital in cryptocurrencies can be transferred in more extended amounts than today. Alongside with this, we can expect the increase of demand for the blockchain use.

However, blockchain has a wider applicability than just the financial industry. One of many possible use cases is a so-called smart contract. These are business contracts created automatically using blockchain. First, a distributed database finds out all the terms of the contract between a customer and a vendor. Then it determines whether the conditions have been met, uses the information from every network node, and authorizes the related payment.

This revolutionary approach is expected to be used not only in banking, but also in other sectors. The blockchain area is already being addressed by some IT companies that are trying to implement different use cases of blockchain in practice. Is it your future too?

Top Three Strategic Trends in IT For 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The IT industry has seen some enormous changes in the past five years. The increasing adoption of cloud-based services and payment by consumption has seen the industry pivot away from packaged software to complete solutions that can be delivered to any customer with an Internet connection.

But what are the big strategic changes we are likely to see in IT in the year ahead? The industry analyst Gartner has published their own predictions. Here are some of my thoughts on the most important predictions they highlighted in their analysis of the top ten strategic IT trends to watch in 2018.

Blockchain; mostly known at present because of the crypto-currency Bitcoin, there are many other opportunities to use the theory of Blockchain. Many industries require detailed ledgers and records of activity and Blockchain provides a way to detach the ledger from any individual app or platform. The currency applications will also be important if a major global network, such as Facebook or Google, can provide a smoother front-end making it easy to use a new virtual currency. If Bitcoin was easy to use as a currency, rather than just an investment, then would it take off?
Immersion; more and more IT systems will use immersive technologies, such as Virtual and Augmented reality, to blend the real world with information inside the system. This could be used to guide shoppers around a store, help surgeons train to perform a specific type of operation, or improve that way your car GPS system guides you to a destination. Immersion into information will be a major trend across all industries.
Conversation; homes are already going smart with Amazon Alexa and Google Home. These systems are now rolling out into the enterprise. We are already used to voice control on our smart devices. Voice control has been fairly limited so far, but as each year passes there is an exponential improvement in the capability of systems to understand speech and to react and respond.

These are general trends, but all will affect both the home and enterprise environment. Any company involved in delivering IT services today needs to be aware of these wider strategic trends if they want to remain relevant in 2018.

We will continue to see a desire to only pay for services as they are used, but the way that people interact with IT services is also changing. Acknowledging that both methods of payment and channels of interaction are changing will be important in the years ahead – we are now light years away from the days of a client commissioning some bespoke software from an IT supplier and paying for it based on the number of software developers involved.

Take a look at the Gartner list of ten trends and let me know if you think I have focused on the correct top three or if there are other major IT trends that have not been identified here? Please leave a comment here with your thoughts.

How Are The Predicted Tech Trends of 2017 Working Out?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

We are already in Q2 of the year so is it possible to observe how any of the predicted technology trends for 2017 are playing out? At the start of the year Gartner predicted a global IT spend of £3.5 trillion so there is a lot at stake.

Gartner predicted a move away from hardware spending as more companies source services from cloud-based solutions. This is bad news for the companies building servers, but great news for companies trying to quickly get new solutions up and running. This is one predicted trend that is observable in almost every IT project I see. Nobody is interested in managing their own infrastructure today, which creates a great opportunity for service companies to offer cloud solutions.

Business Insider published their own long list of predictions, from which I think that three are particularly worth mentioning:

  • Internet of Things; long talked about as a smart fridge, but now it is clear that all electronic objects can connect online and be more useful. I talked at a conference last month about how auto manufacturers are planning to create cars that can self-diagnose problems – an audience member told me that Chevrolet is already doing this. It’s happening right now.
  • Virtual Reality; I have long talked about VR as a tech that just needs people to have access to it at home. Now this is finally happening. In the past few months the new Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox have both been released with support for VR. Tens of millions of homes will be VR-ready by the end of this year.
  • Blockchain; it’s clear that Facebook has enjoyed some success over the past year with their Messenger cash transfer service, but it’s clear to me that they will take it further and create a global currency that can be used on Facebook. The Chinese WeChat service is already used for payments so I believe Facebook will need to make a quantum leap beyond just connecting a credit card to your account and this will be by taking the experience of BitCoin and making it easy to use virtual currencies. Blockchain will underpin the experience, but the user base of over 1bn people will ensure that when Facebook seriously gets into finance it will rock the industry.

What is particularly interesting is that several of these technologies have lurked around for years without much adoption – look at Augmented Reality for a great example. However there is a wave of enthusiasm for many of these nascent technologies now because companies are finding real business solutions and consumers are demanding better services.

Which of the predicted technology trends do you think will become the biggest later this year?

What Are The Biggest Trends in Outsourcing Today?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

A recent Raconteur report explored some of the key trends driving outsourcing today. The six key trends identified are:

1. BPM not BPO; Business Process Management means taking over entire services for clients and working as partners, not like a supplier.
2. New Frontiers; many new markets are offering services, particularly in African countries that have not engaged much with global IT in the past.
3. Local Government; a wave of global austerity is forcing governments globally to explore outsourcing.
4. Changing Contracts; the long-term 20-year deals are over.
5. Cyber Security; Companies need more help than ever protecting their information and their supply chain.
6. Transformation; more than ever, outsourcing is being used to completely change companies and to help them explore new business models.

These are good observations, although it is not mentioned that both IT outsourcing and Business Process Outsourcing have been dramatically changed by innovations such as cloud based services and the app store culture. Delivering IT services today is far closer to offering products to customers than it used to be – bespoke development still exists, but is far less common.

However, the problem I really have with the six trends is that the report appears to give them equal weight. They are all listed with an appearance of the same importance, whereas I believe that the first point is entirely reshaping the outsourcing market.

Many technology services are so complex today that large companies will almost certainly not have expertise in-house. Think about complex Big Data analysis as a good example. Designing and building the database systems is hard enough, but to make sense of it you need data scientists. Most companies don’t have any of these skills just sitting around waiting to be used.

The Customer Service marketplace is another good example. Customer Service used to mean managing a contact centre. It was quite a dull and repetitive process and could easily be managed in-house or could be outsourced to a service provider that could provide the service at a lower cost. Now there is an enormous amount of technology involved in managing customer relationships – ERP for supply chains, CRM for managing interactions, Big Data for analysing trends and social interactions. Managing customer relationships now is far too complex for almost any company – other than the biggest – to handle without going to an expert.

Outsourcing is becoming an essential strategy for this reason. Companies need to hire expertise. These clients really need the expertise of the supplier to help build their strategy. The days of lining up three similar suppliers and then asking which one will offer a service at the lowest price are largely over. Supplier relationships now are far closer to partnerships where both companies want the business to succeed.

We all know this from our personal life. You know that there might be a cheaper plumber or a cheaper car insurance company out there, but you also know that if you go for the cheapest then the service will not be good. This thought process has now entered into the enterprise outsourcing space. In fact, the term outsourcing no longer really reflects the partnership nature of these corporate relationships today.

Perhaps it’s time to say that outsourcing is dead, but partnership is alive and well?