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Can We Transition Enterprises from Private Data Silos to Collaborative Data Sharing?

The question is not “Public OR private?”: Enterprise reality requires a flexible public AND private context

Network Operating System (nOS), developed by Trace Labs, is a gateway to creating value-focused network applications utilising the OriginTrail Decentralised Network (ODN), Ethereum, and Hyperledger, but also legacy systems like ERPs, WMS, and SCM tools. To create a relevant business use case, combining the best of both worlds is necessary. Expensive “rip-and-replace” approaches or dangerous “vendor lock-in” strategies are to be avoided.

Building to Solve Users’ Needs

Old habits die hard. The enterprise sector has been traditionally used to closing themselves off, shielding every bit of information and focusing solely on achieving the organisational optimum. Some companies went to the extreme: Confectionery giant Mars Inc., for example, led even their contractors through factories blindfolded. Coca-Cola’s recipe is a legendary secret.

However, things are changing. Even the old giants are opening up. More open data exchange, ultimately leading to mass decentralization, is a part of it. In the always-connected, transparent world where information travels at the speed of light, the old way of doing things is not sustainable anymore. This new world comes with a whole other set of challenges: Which information is to be trusted? How do we shield against misinformation, false data, fake news, etc.?

New concepts, such as co-opetition, are arising. As we outlined in the OriginTrail Vision Paper, the game is no longer about optimizing one organization and its processes, it’s about adapting your organization for the optimum of the network (community) within which it operates. This, however, requires new levels of inter-connectivity and integrity among partners in such networks.

New Times Call for a New Approach

The winners in the new economy will not be the ones solely copying what had worked up until now. The future is even more complex and requires us to operate with a wider set of trusted information to deliver more value to customers. Enterprises need to work towards the network optimum, and decentralized data exchange helps them get there.

However, it takes more than just setting your mind to it to make this happen. We were fortunate enough in recent years to work with several organisations — from different industries — that have started making bold steps in pursuing such a way of thinking. In many cases, though, companies are facing several inhibititors to transitioning towards the public context:

  • Internal Policies: Some enterprise/government environments are required to follow very strict policies regarding data storage, often as strict as the “on-premise” requirement.
  • Regulatory Framework: Certain information is prohibited from being exposed in a certain context by regulators directly. One such example is the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), preventing certain datasets from being stored outside the EU.
  • Sensitive Information: There may be a business consideration regarding the sharing of data that pertains only to a small number of business partners (sometimes only two) and there is no business logic to putting it on a decentralised network.

It is due to a complex business reality that simplifying the debate about sharing data in a public or private context is not enough. As the World Economic Forum’s white paper (co-authored by the OriginTrail founders) suggests, it is important that the industry moves past the public-versus-private debate to one focused more keenly on deploying solutions where enterprise-specific requirements can be met. This requires a flexible way of providing integrity based data exchanges.

nOS — A Gateway for Business Adoption of the OriginTrail Decentralised Network

To help enterprises tackle these challenges and provide them quick entry into the decentralized future, Trace Labs has created nOS — Network Operating System. Blockchain-based systems should come in as an additional layer, avoiding the expensive rip-and-replace of existing IT and ERP systems. nOS is designed to easily connect with legacy systems and create interoperability for data exchanges between them (for further reading on importance of standards see this GS1 yellow paper) . With the aforementioned built-in flexibility, such data exchanges can easily transition between different levels of data integrity — anything from the lower-integrity private consortium exchange to the max-integrity of OriginTrail Decentralised Network (ODN).

Sharing something on a public decentralised infrastructure, like ODN, does come with the complexity of handling crypto-currencies (TRAC, ETH). From experience in the field, this has shown to be one of the key blockers for enterprises when it comes to adopting blockchain-based solution. With nOS, companies use a credit system where pricing is always presented in USD, a transparent and understandable process that they can also easily handle in the books.

An example of the nOS interface

The Private AND Public Reality

As depicted above, the business world is very rarely black and white and we already mentioned some of the hurdles companies face when it comes to publicly sharing their data, including internal policies, a regulatory framework, and information being too sensitive. Taking these inhibitors into account, there still are types of data that require the highest possible integrity in the business context, some of them include:

  • Claims towards the wider public (any claim that a company needs to verify for their consumers or partners that is not (yet) connected to the network) — such datasets should be shared in full on the ODN;
  • Metadata and publicly verifiable proofs (utilising the ODN to keep proofs of privately kept data);
  • Data for public use (open data requiring long-term integrity).

Following the initial argument, a single use case rarely falls within the fully-private or fully-public domain when we are talking about business applications from today’s perspective. On the contrary, enterprise use mostly needs a flexible combination, the best of both worlds. If we take a simple example of an exchange of goods between two parties, part of the data can be private (e.g. pricing information) while part of the data needs to have the utmost integrity (e.g. certification, traceability, and product quality information). What nOS enables in this case, is a single interoperability interface for both types of data and a flexible sharing setting depending on the type of the data.

An additional layer of flexibility is also offered by encryption mechanisms where data sets can be protected even while they are shared in a higher-integrity context. Since no encryption is ever entirely secure, it again comes down to how much protection a given encryption can offer. As an example, companies might be willing to trade off higher exposure for higher integrity in case of a dataset that has limited-time importance (a lab test for a batch of products). On the flip side, it is highly unlikely that we will see personal data (citizen or healthcare data) ever shared on a DLT in full because of the very small possibility that an encryption might be broken sometime in the future. We cannot talk about encryption without mentioning the zero-knowledge encryption support in the ODN, which is a very perspective functionality for the future. Due to the novelty of the technology, it does face a longer adoption timeframe, as wider understanding needs to catch up and more testing needs to be performed.

Lastly, we completely support a point made by John Wolpert who wrote about the dangerous belief that private networks are by default safe. Companies need to be made aware about the risk potential of different contexts. Educating and advising them on these topics is crucial as we seek to create tangible value with network applications.

Our Vision for the Decentralized Future

The future is not a revolution. Just as open-source software slowly became the reality and is now powering most of the world’s servers, decentralized technology is slowly but surely making its way to more reliable data flows around the globe.

Our goal is to enable enterprises to achieve seamless flexibility by helping them move more and more data towards the public environment, and getting them to experience the benefits of decentralisation by increasing trust in their operations.

The field of decentralised technologies holds many opportunities for the future, with the development of encryption possibilities in the zero-knowledge space as well as with business innovations on how cryptocurrency use can transition from a public to a private context as well (e.g. staking TRAC for consortium claims or compensating partners for data storage within consortium, etc.).

With the growing strength of the OriginTrail Decentralised Network, all of its characteristics (scalable decentralised data storage, interoperability, and flexible encryption) are becoming more obviously beneficial for business use. At the same time, the adoption of nOS makes these functionalities easily available and enables businesses communities of the future to connect the dots and harness the power of interconnected, decentralized data.

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