It’s just not cricket..

As COVID-19 related restrictions have started to ease, the return of spectators to major sporting events has been welcome by all. Pilot and test events have seen up to 20,000 at Wembley Stadium for the FA Cup Final in May, whilst the forthcoming European Championships will see even more fans in major grounds around Europe. However, demand for tickets still outstrips supply for domestic and international events, which is why most organisations have invested in technology that has allowed them to stream their games to a much wider audience.

Domestic cricket in the UK has been ravaged by COVID-19 with fans, in severely limited numbers being allowed to watch the game for the first time in over a year last month. The incredibly popular T20 version of the game kicked off its season on Wednesday, with a few hundred fans in the grounds supplemented by thousands watching online. The teams have been providing free streams of all of their games this season, either through their website, YouTube or Facebook.

The first game of the season was the mid-afternoon start between Lancashire and Derbyshire from Old Trafford, streamed via YouTube and the Lancashire Facebook page. With approximately 17,000 fans watching online, the game was rudely interrupted on YouTube by a notice, saying that “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by England and wales cricket borad /Sporta Technologies” Note the ‘wales’ not being capitalised, or the incorrect spelling of board (‘borad’). A few hours later exactly the same thing happened with the YouTube coverage of the games being streamed by Kent and Somerset.

The ECB did not submit a claim to YouTube, and in the words of Lancashire Cricket Club, “It is absolutely clear that no copyright infringement has been made in the streaming of this game”. The ECB vowed to investigate the situation with YouTube.

Digital piracy costs rights holders billion of pounds every year. It is a huge, global issue and platforms such as YouTube have invested significantly in artificial intelligence that enables swift detection and removal of infringing material. However, any specific intellectual property infringement claims against material being hosted or streamed on YouTube has to follow a set process (details here). It quite clearly states that “The copyright owner or agent authorised to act on the owner’s behalf should submit the request” – in other words you cannot submit a claim if you have no material interest in the content. This means only the IP owner or their authorised agent, such as a brand protection company or IP law firm, can request for material to be removed.

YouTube state that “Do not make false claims. Misuse of the takedown webform, such as submitting false information, may result in the suspension of your account or other legal consequences” and then prior to the submission of any claim that “The information in this notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, I am the owner, or an agent authorised to act on behalf of the owner, of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed”

However, it appears that YouTube acted on a request not from the rights holder, the ECB, but on a third party who didn’t use a spell checker. This begs the question as to whether the platforms, in their haste to act on removal requests, do not carry out robust enough checks on who is making the claim.

All three teams were able to continue to stream the games via Facebook (it does beg the question whether a similar infringement claim was sent to them but they saw it wasn’t from a genuine rights holder) and fortunately, this wasn’t a paid event, which would have led to refund claims from viewers. Hopefully, an investigation by YouTube, the world’s biggest and most popular video sharing and streaming platform, will clarify what happened and make the necessary tweaks to ensure that it won’t happen again.

Digital piracy is still a huge issue that rights holders and the platform providers are constantly trying to battle, but in the heat of the moment, it is important to ensure that the genuine content isn’t impacted otherwise everyone will be on a sticky wicket.

Never bite the hand that feeds unless…

It was a news story that went under the radar in many parts of the word, but on Monday it was reported that a 55 second YouTube video had been sold $760,999. Whilst the video is an opportunist, amateur production, the amount it has been sold for is almost Hollywood value. I am sure many of us will have seen the video in question, simply known as Charlie bit my finger but perhaps we may not in the future, depending on the motivations of the new owner.

The sale came after the video was listed on the website with the simple explanation of “Bid to own the soon-to-be-deleted YouTube phenomenon, Charlie Bit My Finger, leaving you as the sole owner of this lovable piece of internet history”. The auction ran for just over 24 hours, with the opening bid being $99,999, with 11 active bidders then driving the price up to $760,999, the winning bid by “3fmusic”. The video is still available to watch on YouTube, with the message “Waiting on NFT decision”. What happens next is a mystery.

The video was posted 14 years ago and has since racked up nearly 885 million views – it is a huge investment in a relatively new way of owning digital media. Whilst there could be opportunities to monetise it in some way to get a return on investment through advertising on digital platforms such as YouTube, it would take some time to recover that on a video, which whilst is a piece of Internet history, is over 14 years old. Of course, this could be a shrewd investment, based on the fact there is only one authentic copy of the video which could appreciate in value over time.

On the other hand there is almost certainly copies/downloads of the video elsewhere on the Internet or on peoples digital devices. There are numerous programmes that allow users to download YouTube videos – NFT prices/values are driven in part by scarcity of the digital media, so whilst there will be one owner of the original, others will be able to still watch the same video on other platforms. That is a form of digital piracy but it becomes incredibly hard to constantly monitor the internet for websites that may be hosting the file.

The market of and for NFTs continues to evolve. There have been some interesting developments within the music industry of artists looking to release their material as NFTs, with digital archives of who owns the music being recorded within a specific blockchain, but this particular purchase could be a compelling event for the sale of digital media. Content creators could potentially sell their work as single, authenticated items rather than syndicate content.

Now, where did I put those videos I sent to You’ve Been Framed twenty years ago?

Building the future one block at a time

Over the last few weeks I’ve taken online classes to try to understand the concept of Blockchain and how it can be used by organisations to create new business models and applications. My interest was peaked by the whole NFT craze within the NBA world (“Top Shots”) and how scarcity and authenticity were managed through a blockchain application.

I have to say I was one of those who scratched my head to understand not just what blockchain technology was, but what the value was for organisations to create business models and applications using the blockchain. The course, delivered by the University of California, Berkeley, helped me fill in some of the blanks I had in my knowledge as well as giving me an understanding as to why organisations are looking at ways to implement blockchain-based solutions to help increase their protection, and ultimately, their customers, protection against fraud and cyber security issues.

It was quite coincidental that during the final parts of my studies there was an interesting new use case in the technology press that ticked a lot of the boxes about brand and risk protection, two usage cases of interest for me.

The United Arab Emirates has launched a new blockchain-based platform called UAE Trade Connect, that at its heart will prevent a number of fraud-based activities in the financial world, including money laundering, bribery and the effects/impact of Business Email Continuity scams (BECs).

The blockchain platform has been developed by Etisalat, the biggest name in the telecoms world in the United Arab Emirates along with a number of major banks and at its heart will ensure that all transactions between the banks are stored in a secure, audited and verified way on the distributed ledger-based blockchain. The advantage of using blockchain technology for the network is that it provides that unequivocal, independent verification of each transaction whilst retaining the sensitive information of each party.

Zulqarnain Javaid, CEO, UAE Trade Connect said, “The announcement is a milestone moment in the financial sector in UAE. Technological advancements are presenting innovative solutions to historic problems and enabling the sector to power forward. The solution is aligned with the UAE government’s vision to bring futuristic technologies like blockchain and will be yet another enabler for economic growth.”

In terms of how it works, each of the seven banks has their own blockchain node within the Etisalat cloud. The banks share a transaction (invoices, funds transfers or settlements) using a fingerprint (called a hash lock) of the data – which means they can’t see the client or the transaction details from another bank.

From a point of view of ensuring complete transparency and auditability, the blockchain solution ticks all the boxes. There are some limitations with blockchain technology within the finance world, such as transaction speed. Due to blockchain being a distributed system, its transaction processing power depends on the computational power of the machines on the network. In comparison to Visa’s 1,700 transactions per second, blockchain can process around 4.6 transactions per second on average. Not too much of an issue if the transactions are settlement payments but if they are for financial market transactions where milliseconds matter, it could be a concern.

In a few years time I am sure blockchain-based solutions will be all around us and they will be considered an integral part of how the technically interact with each other, organisations and the digital world around us. But today, solutions like UAE Trade Connect are relatively unique in terms of brand and risk protection but certainly one that other industries will be looking at closely.

Fliking raising its ugly head again

Back in 2016, the growing issue of fake reviews being offered for sale became a major concern for market place websites, who vowed to clamp down on the unethical, and in many places, illegal practice. Fliking” (fake liking) became a trend that was an issue not only for the market places but the brand holders and consumers.

Fliking (Fl-ike-ing) is my word for this practice. Meaning to solicit or buy social media likes, tweets or positive reviews….or simply fraud. Paying someone to say something that could be untrue can be classed as misleading, false advertising or fraudulent.

Despite the efforts from the major marketplaces, the issue still exists as highlighted in a new report by Which? The consumer group found 10 websites selling fake reviews from £5 each and incentivising positive reviews in exchange for payment or free products.

Just over two years ago, another Which? report highlighted the issue of fake reviews and how they were being used to trick consumers. Eighteen months ago they updated that report, sharing the truth that very little had changed. Unfortunately, as their most recent report shows, the unethical practice is still happening on the major marketplaces today.

Because our relationships with brands and marketplaces changed so much over the last year thanks to enforced restrictions and lockdown we face. We now rely on online shopping more so than ever and, more importantly, have had to adapt to communicating with others through technology rather than in person. That has led to a rise in people seeking reviews and opinions before they make purchases. Social media expert Erik Qualmann found in a study that over 90% of shoppers are influenced by Social Media and trust peer recommendations over adverts. In Which? survey of more than 2,000 UK adults in 2018, 97% use online customer reviews when researching a product. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) estimates that over £23 billion per annum of UK consumer spending is influenced by online customer reviews.

So why is this an issue? Fake reviews leads to consumers buying products that may be poor quality, or may not even exist at all. The more positive reviews a product gets, the higher ranked it may appear on some market place sites, and thus starts a Catch22 situation. Consumers could end up buying products that are sub-standard or even dangerous based on the fake reviews. Any brand holder will tell you that one of the keys to a successful Social Media strategy is getting your message in front of the right people at the right time. Whilst they will use social media or peer review sites to great effect, so too do the fraudsters.

The Which? report found that these weren’t small organisations who were offering the fake reviews. One of the businesses they researched had more than 700,000 reviewers on their books, who are offered incentives such as payments, free or discounted products and the opportunity to take part in loyalties schemes.

The big market place sites such as Amazon go to great lengths to try to spot and stop fake reviews but with so many products offered on one of the world’s biggest websites it is an ongoing, uphill battle. We, as consumers need to play our part in the fight against this unethical and illegal practice. We need to be on the lookout for some tell-tale signs that could reveal products that have fake reviews. These could include:

  • Too many 5-star, positive reviews – Be cautious of products that aren’t household names that have a plethora of overly positive reviews, especially if they have been added in a short period of time. Even great products will have some 3 or 4 star reviews.
  • Copycat reviews – Look for common language in reviews which could suggest that they are template reviews.
  • Look for verified purchases – On many websites actual product purchasers who submit a review are annotated as being “verified”. Whilst this isn’t a fool-proof method of identification, fake reviewers do not tend to buy the products in the first place.
  • Check the reviewers profile – If you are unsure about a review, look at the reviewers profile and see what other products they have been reviewing. Few people will spend all day adding reviews unless they are being incentivised to do so.
  • If it looks too good to be true – The final test is the most basic. If a review doesn’t sit right with you, pass on by.

It is an unfortunate byproduct of our thirst for a bargain and our reliance on online marketplace websites that fraudsters continue to find ways to cause brand holders and consumers issues. Fliking is another example of how criminals have adapted their behaviours to take advantage of the current economic situation, one which consumers need to be aware of and prepared to take an additional step to ensure that they stay safe and secure when shopping online.

Evaluating Brand Value in the Digital World

Billions of dollars are spent every year by organisations to build brand loyalty within their customer base. One of the traditional cornerstones and outdated views of marketing theory is that consumers are loyal, unfaltering followers of a brand, whether through aspirational desires or simply because customers are content with the convenience that a brand gives them – a classic tale of the satisfaction of needs and wants.

But the world is changing, driven in part by the digital revolution but also by the recession-fuelled demand for cheaper goods and services – substance winning over quality. We are becoming less loyal to brands and as a consequence, brand holders need to adapt their traditional strategic marketing plans to appeal to a greater audience through both aspirational and functional spending decisions.

Hundreds of books, theories and so-called experts try to convince organisations how they can evaluate the performance and value of their business.  The most obvious way if a business is listed on a major equity index such as the London Stock Exchange to assess financial performance is to look at share price trends and financial statements, although they won’t necessarily show exactly what’s going on under the bonnet.  Likewise, accepted industry-standard customer experience metrics such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) will indicate how customers feel about a brand, assuming they are motivated to complete a survey, but can’t show how that translates into actual sales or efficiency.  The most respected brands according to a NPS scoring index may be so because they are known for their charitable approach or social responsibility rather than actually making any money for their stakeholders and investors thus making it difficult to be considered a true measure of brand value or loyalty.

We are often told who the most respected brands in the world are, with the same names topping the list year after year.  Amazon, for instance has revolutionised the shopping experience moving in from the High Street into cyberspace (and now trialling the idea of moving in the opposite direction), more so than any brand in the digital world, but it’s hard to compare like for like operational performance against a traditional bricks and mortar business such as Walmart or Tesco.  But if you look at the list of the most respected brands a bit closer and why they are on the list you can define a formula that in theory should make any brand a winner, namely.

Exceptional Customer Experience + Innovative and Desired Products + Cutting Edge Digital Technology + Community-Focused = A global winning brand

Virgin, Apple, Google, Waitrose, BMW, Disney.  All consistently in the top 10 of the most respected global brands.  Each could be said to be market leaders or pioneers, but they also all displays traits that others want to imitate.  However, is this the only measure to determine the value of a brand in the digital age?

The world’s most famous, and successful investment entrepreneur is undoubtedly Warren Buffet and he has a different view on the most successful brands, looking at it not from a customer interaction angle but from a financial slant.  He defines the most successful businesses by their pricing power:-

“The single most important decision in evaluating a business is pricing power. If you’ve got the power to raise prices without losing business to a competitor, you’ve got a very good business. And if you have to have a prayer session before raising the price by 10 percent, then you’ve got a terrible business.” 

This metric could certainly be applied to a number of respected brands. Apple, for instance do not believing in standing still and will look to introduce updated models for their products on a regular basis, essentially adding more features in return for a higher retail price,  Likewise, BMW believe in designing cars for the next generation of motoring.  What today are extras that we can put in our X5s or M3s at additional cost become included in the price in future models, which in return have a higher retail price.

Price rises for products we use on a daily basis are now part of life.  Our subscriptions to mobile phone networks, broadband providers, satellite TVs and even basic utilities do not go backwards, nor do they tend to rise with inflation (especially as that is essentially zero in large areas of the world). These organisations are simply trying to pass on the increase in costs they have to bear from their suppliers as well as trying to provide a better product.  The rise in the cost of satellite TV and especially the sports channels is a great case in point.  Increases in subscription charges has driven more people to look at illegal streams of services, which means the satellite companies have to increase their costs by implementing detection and enforcement services.  This is on top of having to pay more for the same rights to cover events, such as the last Premier League TV deal which netted the top 20 clubs in England more than £8.3 billion.

For economists and investors, a robust pricing strategy is certainly an important part in determining the attractiveness of a brand, especially for those organisations who have a subscription-based pricing model but like the YouGov Annual BrandIndex, which looks at customer perception, it is simply another way to cut the subjective data.  YouGov BrandIndex’s Index score which is a measure of overall brand health calculated by taking the average of Impression, Quality, Value, Satisfaction, Recommend and Reputation which naturally favours those brands with the bigger marketing budgets.

Young & Rubicam, the global marketing communication agency, developed some years ago another measure that could be used to value a brand’s perception and loyalty.  The BAV (BrandAsset Valuator) is a tool they developed to measure the power and value of a brand based on four different views:-

  • Differentiation: The defining characteristics of the brand and its distinctiveness relative to competitors.
  • Relevance: The appropriateness and connection of the brand to a given consumer.
  • Esteem: Consumers’ respect for and attraction to the brand.
  • Knowledge: Consumers’ awareness of the brand and understanding of what it represents.

This measure is certainly more subjective than the other measures discussed as the perception of a particular brand to one user may be very different to another.  For instance, as someone who is a heavy Apple technology user, my rating of the brand based on the four measures above would be very different to my friend and technology journalist Barry, who swears by Microsoft and Samsung products.  Both provide leading edge technology, both can count hundreds of millions of global users and both would class their products as being respected and attractive.  In fact a large percentage of consumers will actually use both brands in their daily lives.  There is no right or wrong score when looking at a company via the BAV.  If a large enough sample was used then perhaps some credence could be associated with the scoring but often the BAV is used as part of a Balanced Scorecard (a strategic performance management tool used by many organisations) to determine the non-financial health of an organisation.

Being a respected brand will almost certainly lead to imitation, which as the saying goes, is the greatest form of flattery. Alas, in the realms of intellectual property (IP), imitation can also mean counterfeiting which damages revenues, reputations and consequently band value if not properly controlled.  In every aspect of life there has to been pioneer so by default there will also be followers.  In the years that followed Henry Ford’s launch of the first automobile, the Model-T in 1908, dozens of car manufacturers sprung up not only across America but the world.  Today, whilst the consolidation of brands has in some ways commoditised the car industry, there are still hundreds of car plants across the globe and all of them can trace their ancestry and in many cases, approach to production, back to Henry Ford’s first factory in Detroit. Pioneers by default have a very high brand value, even if history sometimes covers their tracks.

After all, there is often no value in re-inventing the proverbial and in the case of Ford, actual wheel, so why not simply copy the brand values or customer experience that others deliver? That’s acceptable as long it doesn’t infringe on any intellectual property.  Companies such as Coke, Nike and McDonalds have spent billions developing their advertising campaigns so would understandably take a dim view of someone else using their digital assets such as domain names, infringing on trademarks or simply copying product design or marketing slogans.  But likewise, competition from companies offering similar products such as Pepsi, Adidas and Burger King has ensured these brands have never been able to lose their focus on innovation and customer experience. So perhaps with this in mind, another measure of a brand’s value is that of its own digital and intellectual property risk.

By assessing not only the negative impact on a brand but also the potential opportunity cost of not addressing online intellectual property infringements, a clear return on investment calculation can be made on the cost of implementing actions to detect, analysis and enforce against brand infringers and abusers.

There are two types of organisations when it comes to looking at cybercrime and intellectual property infringement.  Organisations who have been impacted and are taking mitigating action and organisations who have been impacted but do not know or understand the consequences of inaction. Having a strategy to ensure there’s no erosion of brand value through intellectual property infringement is as essential as being able to manage the impacts of marketing campaigns, customer service and consumer experience.

Organisations tend to use formalised brand protection and IP abuse strategies to combat one (or more) of four main reasons: –

  • Revenue Impact – Intellectual property infringements are clearly impacting legitimate revenue streams either through counterfeiting or brand and reputational damage, with genuine consumers being duped into buying inferior products;
  • Brand dilution – Counterfeit goods are devaluing the genuine products, turning luxury and aspirational brands for instance into mass-market, poor imitated everyday goods;
  • Partner Management & Monitoring – Legitimate goods and services being offered through unauthorised channels – the “grey market” or third party making claims of authentic brand patronage;
  • Executive Directive – Legislative regulation may means organisations have to take steps to ensure compliance in certain areas;

The Internet can sometimes resemble the early days of the Wild West with little regulation and enforcement, and brands having to take whatever measures they can to protect themselves and their valuable intellectual property. An effective brand protection strategy should today be as vital to an organisation as any marketing campaign or pricing strategy.  If they are not plugging the holes at the bottom of the brand infringement bucket, all of the great stuff that is being delivered through innovation, customer experience and sales at the top end will be diluted.  Therefore, a brand risk score should be as important a measure to a business as their NPS, Respect score or the BAV rating.

By tackling the issue of brand and reputational damage head on, consumer confidence, customer experience and sales of legitimate products will rise.  Global brands such as Ugg, Canon and Barbour have seen the importance in not only having a brand protection and enforcement strategy but also educating consumers.  These brands have web pages dedicated to consumer information not only about the risks associated with buying counterfeit branded products but also how consumers can report infringing products, turning their customers into advocates of the brand.  Unless a brand has a control on its intellectual property then it makes marketing and more importantly, pricing decisions significantly harder, with justification of return on investment diluted.

There is no right or wrong way to value the worth of a brand but the adoption of a brand protection and enforcement strategy is possibly the most cost-effective and fastest way by which an organisation can improve the overall value of their business.  The first step for any brand holder is to recognise how and what nefarious activity in the digital world could be damaging their brand value, reputation and of course ultimately, revenues. Being proactive is certainly a key element in growing brand loyalty, being part of the solution rather than the problem.

The next technology Big Bang? GDPR in 30 seconds

I’m of an age where I have lived through two major technological events that had business owners in a cold-sweat and vendors rubbing their hands in delight.  As a young sales person working in the telecommunications industry for one of the biggest global players I remember vividly PhONEday.  For those under the age of forty you will have lived in blissful ignorance that changes to almost every phone number in the UK were made on the 16th April 1995. Whilst Take That’s Back for Good was riding high in the charts, Dumb and Dumber was the big hit at the cinema and Blackburn Rovers were on the verge of an unlikely Premier League title, those of us working in the Telecoms industry were busy preparing for an extra “1” to be added to all telephone numbers after the first “0”.  For some cities, such as Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol and Nottingham they would get a whole new numbering system.

Nobody knew what would happen at midnight on the 15th April – would phone systems explode, would the stock market collapse with brokers who traded still by phone unable to place deals, would the emergency services system fall over?  In the end, there was no more than a ripple of impact.  Years of preparation plus a thorough public awareness campaign ensured that everyone was aware of the change and four years later another change saw the use of “020” numbers plus the consolidation of all mobile numbers to start “07”.

That was in the year 2000 which of course gave us the second biggest event that caused mass panic in technology terms – the Y2K or Millennium bug.  Rumours spread that the world would end at midnight on 31st December 1999 when our computer systems simply wouldn’t be able to compute when the date clocks moved to 2000.  By luck I had moved into the IT sector at this point and spent my time trying to advise clients about the potential impacts and some practical steps they could take.  But many organisations sold on fear – fear that organisations computer systems would fail, fear that websites would stop working, fear that the Internet, then in its early commercial days, would crash.  Many people made a lot of money selling services that simply weren’t needed.

Next May we have another compelling event, one that almost certainly requires every business in Europe to take steps to protect themselves as well as their customer’s data and one where the ramifications of non-compliance to be severely damaging.  The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) may have slipped under the radar of some businesses but when it comes into effect on the 25th May 2018 there are new accountability obligations, stringer rights and restrictions on international data flows.

Businesses that operate in Europe or hold data on European customers must be compliant within the next 13 months – after that date they could be hit with some huge penalties for any mishandling of data, including being the victims of cyber threats such as data theft.

Cybercrime today is unfortunately a growing business, with more sophisticated means being deployed by the criminals to exploit not only insecure systems but also the most fallible link in any organisation – employees. Social engineering is an almost daily threat for some organisations – the criminals only have to be lucky once to have potentially devastating effects.

The GDPR brings together many of the existing laws on how organisations need to handle any data breaches.  Any loss of data will have to be reported within 72 hours which means organisations must have the technology and processes in place to both detect and respond swiftly to any breach.  Failure to comply with the regulations could see firms fined up to €20 million or up to 4% of their global turnover.

This isn’t something that companies should schedule to start planning for next year, it is something that they need to be on top of now.  A colleague who works in data security said to me this week, “There’s two types of company – one who has had a data breach and one who doesn’t yet know they’ve had a data breach”.  Whilst this statement may hold water for the corporate and enterprise market, it is an interesting guiding principal that every organisation should consider.  The financial penalties for even the most sustained and malicious cyber-attacks could be terminal for some businesses come what May (2018).

The good news is there is enough information available to understand the legislation and how organisations can start planning for the new regulations.  In addition, many organisations are starting to develop software that monitors networks for potential breaches that today may be slipping under the radar including signs of potential social engineering attacks and data misuse (including industrial espionage) – a small price to pay for ensuring that customer data is kept safe and sound.

We will hear more and more about the GDPR over the coming months and I urge everyone not to ignore it.  Whilst in our post-Brexit mood we may scoff at anything that mentions the words “European Union”, it is highly important that in this context we address the issues at hand and do not leave everything to the last minute where the cost of compliance could be prohibitive.

Back on the Blockchain gang

Bigger than the Internet.  That’s certainly a number of peoples view about the emergence of Blockchain technologies and the volumes of domain names registered with the words “block” and “chain” in would certain bear out that we could be on the verge of a new tipping point for the world of technology.  But it is more than just a digital fad?

In a recent blog by Verisign they have revealed that the keywords feature in the top five terms in .com registrations in a February, whilst the term “blockchain” has been peaking at 30 .com registrations per day over the last 30 days.  Domain names are a good barometer of trends in the real and digital world so perhaps we should start to take note of how Blockchain could shape our future?

So why are so many people getting excited about Blockchain?  First we should define exactly what it is so that everyone doesn’t have to nod their head knowingly whilst secretly having no idea what it is.  At its most basic level Blockchain is a shared database, one that allows multiple people to update it in realtime but in a secure, encrypted way.  That doesn’t sound transformational does it?  But the number of ways it changes be used is where the interest for all aspects of global economies comes in.

Today, a database can be accessed by multiple users but there tends to be one master copy, kept updated by one party. All other users have to wait for the data to be updated and refreshed which causes issues for applications being used across time zones.  Blockchain technology means all users can update data (the “block”) and immediately see the results (the “chain”).  Add in the highest levels of encryption and a clear audit trail and you have a very powerful technology.  One that the financial services industry, for instance, is keeping a close eye on where Blockchain applications may be able to perform the role of intermediaries, agents and brokers in a faster, more secure way.

The concept has been around for awhile – it has supported the use of Bitcoin for a number of years and the fact that the digital currency has now surpassed (at the time of writing) the price of an ounce of gold suggests that these technologies are no fad.

In a recent article The FT suggested that Blockchain could root out fraud in supply chains, an issue that has caused scandal in the past in the UK in the meat industry.  One of the biggest shipping companies in the world, Maersk, have started trialling Blockchain to track inventory in their containers on shipping all around the world which they will hope will both speed up goods getting from seller to buyer but also reduce issues around tracking counterfeit and illegally shipped goods.

Economists cleverer than me (and that’s not saying a lot!) are already thinking about how Blockchain technology can be used to manipulate (positively of course) the economy and prevent some of the problems we’ve had in the past.  If technology can be used to smooth some of the peaks and troughs we’ve seen in the past then surely that’s a positive?

It may be early days for the widespread use of the technology but it’s certain to play a bigger part in all of our lives in the future.