By Peter J. McAliney, Ph.D. and Ban Ang
This article is a collaborative effort of Peter J. McAliney and Ban Ang. The authors have each worked with information technology for over 35 years and bring a historical perspective to the emergence of Blockchain technology. Both started their professional careers as APL programmers, back when APL was the “it” programming language in that sector of Financial Services that would later become known as FinTech. Ang is currently looking at the technical implications of Blockchain, while McAliney is designing educational programs to meet the potential human capital shortage associated with the emergence of Blockchain as part of the global economic ecosystem.
Riding the coattails of – or in the more nuanced business vernacular of leveraging, exploiting, or capitalizing on – the latest “it” trend is nothing new.
- With the advent of the transcontinental railroad and the opening of the western United States, a small grocery store called “Gilman and Company” morphed into the supermarket chain A&P – The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. However, it was in business for over 70 years before it opened up a store on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in the western United States.
- In the early 1990’s, thin clients became “Application Service Providers” and a new industry was born – and collapsed ingloriously until the next resurgence as “the cloud.”
- During the early days of the internet, Halfway, Oregon, agreed to change its name to Half.com as a publicity stunt.
These examples are just a few of the ways entrepreneurs co-opted the latest trend to garner attention and grab headlines.
So, too, with Blockchain. Late in 2017, the Long Island Iced Tea Company changed its name to Long Island Blockchain Corporation and saw its stock price surge nearly 300%, albeit only temporarily. A little more in line with some reality to reflect a genuine business model, Kodak announced KodakOne, a new digital rights platform that would be built on a Blockchain with its own underlying cryptocurrency to support it. Kodak, too, saw a renewed interest in its stock as shares soared. Closer to the authors’ immediate network, in a recent conversation with a colleague who is the CIO of one of the largest investment management firms in the world, he shared that almost every technology presentation made to the Investment Committee includes at least one slide that has a tie-in – real or imagined – to Blockchain.
Our fundamental approach to blockchain is … think about a customer issue that we want to solve and then work backwards and say how we should solve it. And, frankly, 80% of the time the answer is not a blockchain answer, people think it is, it ends up being an infrastructure issue or a business model issue. But then focus on the 20% of the where blockchain is really a good solution.
– Umar Farooq, Head of Blockchain, JPMorgan Chase
So what, then, is Blockchain?
There are already a number of technologies that have made use of the networking capability of the Internet to enhance their functionality when coupled with the browser. Is Blockchain really new, or is it the “same old same old, just a new name?” How is it different from a database (how is it similar to a database)? What is Google Sheets? It seems to have some of the attributes of Google Sheets as well – so, are there differences?
In order to gain a better understanding of Blockchain, it makes sense to revisit some of the characteristics, and attributes of some of the existing technologies, namely, databases and Google Sheets. Each of these technologies are designed for different uses and functions. Most started out existing in private networks but have evolved to take advantage of the technology of the internet. Some are centrally run on servers while the existence of the internet has made it possible for newer technologies to exist and collaborate via peer-to-peer networking. In this article, we will examine the strengths and weakness, functionality and robustness (security) of databases, Google Sheets, and Blockchain. These three technologies will be compared along the following dimensions:
- Maturity of technology
- Access to use
- Public or private network
- Use cases
- Privacy and security
- Backup and Business Continuity
- Cost in terms of energy consumption
The description will provide some background of the evolution of each of the technologies and provide understanding of the roles they play in each use-case and the business problems they were designed to tackle.
About the Authors
Peter McAliney, Ph.D, is Executive Director of Continuing and Professional Education at Montclair State University, the second largest public university in New Jersey. Prior to his work at Montclair State, McAliney spent thirty years in the private sector. In his early career, McAliney focused on the application of technology in financial services, utilities, supply chain, manufacturing, media, and healthcare. The insights he developed working with the human side of technology and aligning business processes to support a rapidly changing competitive environment, along with his research on social networking theory and distributed work, led to management consulting roles advising senior leadership designing organizations that would accommodate the requirements of provisioning a 21st century workforce. At Montclair State, McAliney is working with the private sector, professional organizations, and his colleagues in the academy to equip an increasingly diverse workforce to acquire the skills and develop an appreciation for lifelong learning they will need to support their career success.
Mr. Ban Ang, is a Director in the Continuing and Professional Education unit at Montclair State University. Ang spent a decade in the Oil and Gas Industry with a subsidiary of Exxon-Mobile in Malaysia. Leveraging his analytical expertise, his focus shifted to financial services when he came to the United States where he worked with a number Wall Street investment banks and hedge funds. He developed both front-end and back-end systems supporting different financial products, such as commercial paper, derivatives, bonds and stocks. Additionally, he worked on systems assessing asset risk exposures and asset pricing, supporting and reporting to the CIO and CRO.
After leaving Wall Street, Ang continued his technology role in the education industry. At Montclair State University, he has used his data expertise in addressing the issues involved in student retention and persistence. Recently, he has been chartered to investigate the role of Blockchain applications in both education and for use by students to obtain employment in an emerging blockchain-enabled economy.