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How Blockchain Will Change the Data Supply Chain: Syncsort’s Predictions

The more I read about blockchain and the more I talk to the CIOs, CTOs, developers, and tech-savvy executives I call early adopters, the clearer it is that everyone will need to make sense of blockchain for their organization.

In the biggest sense, blockchain is a proxy for the genuine excitement about applications and platforms that cross company boundaries and support vast ecosystems. Let’s call these collaborative ecosystem applications platforms. Marshall Van Alstyne explained the logic of these platforms in his book Platform Revolution. We should all be excited about such applications.

In a technological sense, blockchain is key for creating an unalterable, trusted record of certain types of transactions. But the problem is that blockchain tech isn’t really needed for all collaborative ecosystem applications.

So, how can each of us figure out what blockchain really means to us? When is the excitement about blockchain about a collaborative ecosystem application that does not in actuality need blockchain? When do such apps really require blockchain? How can existing enterprise data feed blockchain applications and vice versa?

As a start of this series of articles, I am going to focus on how Syncsort is answering these questions. Syncsort is a company that focuses on building the infrastructure to support the modern data supply chain. With products for data integration, data quality, capacity management, mainframe optimization, high availability and security, Syncsort is dedicated to the general proposition of its tagline: Advancing Data. On my podcast, I recently spoke with Syncsort’s CEO Josh Rogers and CTO Dr. Tendü Yoğurtçu. The way they are making sense of blockchain provides important lessons.

How Blockchain Fits into Megatrends Syncsort Is Paying Attention To

Syncsort has identified four megatrends that they are paying especially close attention to and ensuring that their business strategy aligns with. Those are the cloud, streaming data and IoT, data science (which includes machine learning and AI), and data governance. Yoğurtçu told me that Syncsort views blockchain, in many ways, as falling under the data governance mantle and that as a result, the company is focusing on early research and product development to support the growing adoption and expansion of blockchain usage.

“We have some products that we will announce that are blockchain-ready, and data governance will continue to be the umbrella theme for us with blockchain because it’s an evolving data platform and data architecture,” she said. “Whether the data pipeline is shifting as a combination of data lake plus data bus, whether it’s shifting as a combination of on-premise and cloud architectures, it’s an opportunity for us to help our customers adopt these new trends and platforms.”

Dr. Tendü Yoğurtçu, CTO of SyncsortSyncsort

Both Rogers and Yoğurtçu see the greatest benefits from blockchain in applications where manual confirmation or cross-border parties are involved, or where automatic tracking and validation visible to all parties is desired. Blockchain helps to eliminate the middleman in many transactions and improves security by validating the authenticity of products and components and reducing counterfeiting. But blockchain-ready applications and tools are nascent and they must mature for blockchain to be widely adopted.

But Syncsort is preparing for this growing adoption because blockchain has applicability in so many sectors, especially those with supply chains, from food to car manufacturing, to cross-border trade. Blockchain can reduce the complexity of tracking these chains and simplify and solidify contractual arrangements between companies.

In addition, Syncsort is very focused on software for the fast-growing Big Iron to Big Data market, driven by the need for data-driven organizations to quickly extract value from critical data across their enterprise, often moving this data from traditional data systems like IBM mainframes and midrange systems and then seamlessly integrating it into a growing number of next-generation analytical platforms. The ability to access and integrate traditional and blockchain data for analysis will be part of this equation.

The Larger Meaning of Blockchain

Given this context of what blockchain can do best, it’s worth returning to the original question of when using blockchain makes the most sense. Rogers told me that part of the difficulty of answering the question is that blockchain technology is still in such early stages.

“It is very, very early,” Rogers said. “It is a technology that I think is going to be incredibly relevant in the enterprise. But I do not believe people have figured out all of the key use cases blockchain will be relevant for. But there’s enough promise there to indicate that it’s going to matter, and we are doing a lot of research in this space right now.”

Josh Rogers, CEO of SyncsortSyncsort

Rogers added that Syncsort will be engaging in partnerships in the blockchain space that will enable the business to add value and begin to understand the key integration points of working with blockchain.

Both Rogers and Yoğurtçu view blockchain as another platform that Syncsort must adapt to and work with. “We see blockchain as just another platform and if you look at Syncsort, we have been helping our customers in advancing data and helping create that data journey with adopting next-generation platforms,” Yoğurtçu said. “We have done that with big data and Hadoop.  We have over 7,000 customers, including 84 of Fortune 100. We have helped our customers in this journey and continue to help them in transitioning from existing platforms and existing data architectures to next-generation architectures. We help them create centralized data access, leveraging their existing critical data sources in addition to the new data coming through web, mobile, social networks and landing into a data lake directly.  We help with that journey. Blockchain is yet another platform.”

Yoğurtçu also cautioned that blockchain isn’t completely enterprise-ready yet. She mentioned that to run transactions on blockchain, data will need to be integrated into an existing transactional infrastructure, which requires a new set of tools and utilities to support that integration. Therefore, Syncsort is focused on creating a data pipeline that extracts useful data out of the blockchain platform and delivers it wherever it’s needed.

“Even though investment in blockchain is increasing, technology adoption is very slow, and there are a couple of reasons why,” Yoğurtçu said. “First, standardization is evolving. Second, nobody is going to start populating data in blockchain from scratch. Enterprise repositories already hold data about assets that they want to track or exchange and participants in a particular supply chain, for example. That data already exists somewhere. So that has to be populated in the blockchain platform.”

But if Syncsort and other companies can figure out these data movement questions, the power of blockchain could be more fully leveraged. Then the use cases I mentioned earlier become highly pertinent and businesses can adopt blockchain applications to deal with complex logistics or supply chain issues.

Syncsort’s Response to Blockchain

For their part, Syncsort is preparing for the expansion by investing in technology to move data in and out of blockchain. Yoğurtçu said she believes the company is in the best position to manage this data migration because of their existing expertise moving data in and out of mainframe, Hadoop, cloud and on premise data stores as well as streaming distributed platforms.

But she also believes Syncsort can play a role in the governance issues related to blockchain. “When we talk about the participants in a particular domain in blockchain, there is the address, the geocode, and our data quality and integrated portfolio in general fit very well with this,” Yoğurtçu said. “We will be looking at how we can leverage some of the global locators for data quality in the blockchain environment.”

When data is brought into blockchain, the platform will likely have the same challenges as other platforms in ensuring that once data is in the data lake or warehouse, it can then be extracted for use by applications. And this will lead to data quality, synchronization, and integration problems, and these will need to be supported by a product like Syncsort.

Yoğurtçu also said Syncsort intends to increase the number of security products in the company’s portfolio that can leverage blockchain. As part of this, Syncsort will be partnering with the Hyperledger project.

“We see Hyperledger as the most enterprise-ready project,” she said. “We announced our participation in the project, and we are really excited about it.  It’s similar to how our Hadoop journey started in 2010.  We started by contributing to the open source project. Being part of the community and collaborating enables us to weigh in on areas that matter for our enterprise customers. We will work with the rest of the Hyperledger community.”

It’s too early to know the complete shape of the blockchain universe and how companies will use it in the future. But as the technology continues to gain traction, it’s worth analyzing the most promising use cases as well as how businesses like Syncsort are responding as a way to predict what happens next.

 


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