Unfolding the Real Potential of Blockchain

Vincent Annunziato, Director of Business Transformation and Innovation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection

In the light of your experience, what are some of the trends and challenges that you see in the Blockchain space?

I’ve witnessed tremendous advancements in Blockchain technology since its inception. Today, one of the biggest things that we work on—in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (DHS-S&T)—is creating standards for Blockchain. The DHS-S&T has joined hands with several other standardization organizations, including the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), to effectuate this goal successfully. As a part of the project, we have successfully developed decentralized identifiers and verifiable credentials, which are significant milestones. These developments are anticipated to be made into globally-accepted standards in the next couple of years.

The decentralized identifier is something similar to a driving license, which allows you to use public-private pairing and hence recognize a facility or a product. With public-private pairing, users can show up their details on any Blockchain with the assurance that their identification won’t be misused. This has already gained a lot of momentum Verifiable Credentials allow the user to obtain data from the source that verifies identity. So, in the case of a driver’s license, the user would open up the wallet in their phone and show us that the DMV has validated their license. This eliminates the need for additional data to read their identity as a decentralized identifier includes all biographical data about the facility. The DHS-S&T is working tirelessly to facilitate not only computer-to-computer exchange but also mobile technology exchange.

Today, several other standards are also gaining momentum in the industry. The biggest one is the Trade Entity Server that tracks the trade of encrypted keys between people or entities. To put it simply, the system acts like a post-office box, which facilities the sharing of personal information between specific people. We see a trend of similar nature in today’s digitally-driven business realm where people use a firewall to save and securely share information. This led to the inception of the decentralized key management system, which is getting appreciation and support from several industry verticals globally. The ultimate result of standardizing the Blockchain is that it reduces the software cost, leading the way for democratizing the technology.

Could you elaborate on the benefits that different industries gain by leveraging the new advancements in the Blockchain technology?

With the recent developments in the Blockchain landscape, leaders from several industry verticals, including oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and automobile, are now keen to incorporate the potential of the technology into their business operations. However, a lot of people don’t realize that Blockchain is a niche program and offers the safest way to trade data over the internet. Also, it’s not built for internal systems. We are amazed by a new trend introduced by Blockchain that has private industry competitors working together to build a single system that meets all their needs. The Walmart example for food safety has helped in reducing cost and developed data standardization for an industry.

"It is evident that Blockchain is now universally accepted and serves as the backbone for several new technologies, including AI, robotics, machine learning, and IoT"

When it comes to the supply chain arena Customs and Border Protection is trying to bring in a balance between safety and the expedition of products into the U.S. markets. Focussing too much on safety will slow down the process while focussing only on expediting will compromise safety. However, experiments in the Blockchain arena visualized the possibilities for increasing both at equilibrium for better results. The concept of achieving high-end security without compromising efficiency and speed is developed from the potential of Blockchain to give access to insightful data much earlier. This enables customs officials to have a broader view of the products, helping them identify real and fake products by looking at the product license, within the Blockchain ecosystem.

What would be your approach in identifying the right partner to assist your technological revolution?

I’d say that for any company looking to invest in Blockchain, the first building block is to make sure that they have a proper use case. The advancements in the Blockchain industry, as well as the public knowledge on the technology, is quite evident that several companies have already established their footprints in the space with significant deployments. However, in this scenario, if the technology drives the business, it ends up spending a lot of money, oftentimes needlessly. Blockchain gets its moxie by giving them the visibility they need into their organization while using discreet data. Figuring out the use case is followed by a technological discussion in order to identify how Blockchain can help them fulfill their goals. Also, it is necessary to have the will and the way to accomplish their goals.

The government has taken blockchain to a whole new level. DHS-S&T has joined hands with agencies besides CBP and other governments to make the software more interoperable. Today, several companies are investing heavily in one product, and they do not realize the amount of customization needed for their product to interact with another. Identifying this scenario, we are working on the interoperability of the products to assist with increasing market adoption and lowering costs. Also, enterprises that are interested in integrating Blockchain into their ecosystem should have to follow those trends and start with small investments to build up their products as they go along.

What, according to you, would be the future direction of Blockchain?

It is evident that the Blockchain is now universally accepted and serves as the backbone for several new technologies, including AI, robotics, machine learning, and IoT. The technology is bright and shiny, but rather has the potential to be a significant background player in supply chain movements. But, Blockchain has its potential as a background player, leading the business realm to a more secure environment while increasing transparency and safety. Talking about the future, technology is going to have a tremendously positive disruption, which makes the world smaller. With the capabilities that the Blockchain possesses, we should expect to see an accelerated adoption of the technology, which will cover not only the larger enterprises but also mid-range and smaller organizations.

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