Judging by the amount of discussion there is around blockchain online, and the number of new companies which are developing blockchain-based models, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the technology was everywhere already. The truth is, however, that although blockchain is prominent in the public eye, there are still very few real world use cases creating value using blockchain.
That’s not to say that there won’t be, however. One particular area in which blockchain could have great potential is around the Internet of Things (IoT), which makes it extremely important to explore for Ansys and its customers.
“The value of combining blockchain and IoT is that you can have a distributed trust model,” explains Jaco Botha, Senior Product Manager at Ansys. “Typically we have a central network that all devices report to, and which becomes a point of weakness of attack. With blockchain we don’t need that.”
Blockchain technologies are riding high in public awareness thanks to their association with the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. In Bitcoin, the blockchain replaces a database of transactions with a list in which individual entries are bundled together in “blocks” and cryptographically signed. There’s no central server to authenticate the writing of a new block, however, so the principle of consensus is used: every machine in the Bitcoin network stores a copy of the blockchain, making it almost impossible to fabricate data – if you change it on one machine it still remains unaltered on all the others.
Bitcoin is not the only way to implement a blockchain, however. The Estonian Ministry of Health, for example, uses a blockchain-like technology to prevent tampering with patient files – but whereas the Bitcoin blockchain is open for anyone to view, health records must, of course, be kept private.
“In IoT there are lots of interesting potential applications,” Botha says, “Especially in the fields of automating things and developing new business models around that. There are platforms under development which introduce distributed smart contracting, for example, so that devices can ‘sell’ services to other devices automatically.”
Blockchain is a young technology, however, and Botha says that no-one has quite figured out the right mix of public and private, centralised and decentralised system to fulfil its potential in IoT solutions. Getting there is going to require experimentation and development in real-world scenarios.
“We’re really looking for forward thinking partners to work with us on this,” Botha says, “We’re good at building IoT devices, we want to work with people who want to innovate with the business model. Let’s find it together and disrupt ourselves before someone else comes along and does it for us.”