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    Deciphering the Blockchain Ecosystem

    In 2008, a white paper was released by Satoshi Nakamoto, a pseudonym, and the whole world got the first glimpse of the idea of Blockchain technology from that paper. Blockchain is a compendium of information blocks chained sequentially to one another. This array of blocks are immutable and tamper-proof providing transparency into any transaction. It is a decentralized database that keeps a continuously updated record of data and its ownership.

    According to IBM, Blockchain is a shared, immutable ledger that facilitates the process of recording transactions and tracking assets in a business network. An asset can be tangible (a house, car, cash, land) or intangible (intellectual property, patents, copyrights, branding). Virtually anything of value can be tracked and traded on a blockchain network, reducing risk and cutting costs for all involved.

    Operations often waste effort on duplicate record keeping and third-party validations. Record-keeping systems can be vulnerable to fraud and cyberattacks. Limited transparency can slow data verification. And with the arrival of IoT, transaction volumes have exploded. All of this slows business drains the bottom line — and means we need a better way. Enter blockchain.

    According to Markets and Markets, the global market for blockchain in healthcare is growing at a CAGR of 72.8% and is projected to reach USD 829 million by 2023. The biggest factors that drive this adoption are – increasing incidence of healthcare data breaches, the increasing threat of counterfeit drugs, the increasing adoption of blockchain as a service (BaaS), and the transparency & immutability of the distributed ledger technology. In a few years only, Blockchain has progressed to be one of the safest bets, however, India is still treading the path carefully. 

    Senior IEEE Member, Ramalatha Marimuthu is a Professor at Kumaraguru College of Technology, Coimbatore, India. She has vast experience in motivating and training students on skill development and peer networking. Currently, she is on the Board of Governors of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology and has founded the Women in Engineering subcommittee under the Society. ELE Times Sub Editor and correspondent Mayank Vashisht had a profound discussion with Ramalatha Marimuthu circling the blockchain ecosystem in India, its future and how it is benefiting an array of industry sectors to operate more efficiently than ever, especially in the times when the whole world is facing the horrors of the pandemic. Excerpts:

    IC Ramalatha Marimuthu, Senior IEEE Member

    ELE Times: Please discuss how Blockchain is transforming the banking and healthcare ecosystem?

    Blockchain provides businesses and people with a fast, secure, and cost-effective way of transacting without depending on third parties. Transactions can happen without the need of a structured organization like a physical bank with written ledgers, which eliminates the requirement of the physical movement of people from one place to another.

    Apart from banking, trade finance is another area where Blockchain is driving change – an arena where export, import business, insurance, and customs operate. Blockchain technology allows for “Atomic” transactions thus, making it easy for clearance and settlement. However, a significant challenge remains with blockchain technology, it involves a lot of communication between people, leading to higher transaction costs and missed opportunities.

    The healthcare system, again, is a highly secured database-based system that can benefit from this technology. Blockchain can help make patient management systems in hospitals more convenient and transparent, which helps provide easy access to patients in need of emergency care to the hospitals nearby. It also helps to maintain the integrity of the records and provides accurate data to medical experts attending patients, thus supporting a seamless transition to the new environment with the same reliable healthcare. Blockchain-based algorithms can support direct enrollments of patients and doctors in a healthcare center, thereby improving accurate and fast service in remote patient monitoring. Remote Monitoring has become a new normal in the current situation of the pandemic and this can be extended to alert the authorities in case of emergencies.

    Pharmaceutical Supply Chain is another area in which Blockchain can be used to improve organizational features. This enables the streamlined visibility of movement and stakeholders with improved traceability of medicines and optimized availability of drugs to patients on a need basis. It also improves the stock management system, thus facilitating a well-balanced supply-demand system with an optimized flow of goods. The reduction in time, cost, and effort in getting drugs to hospitals and subsequently, patients could help in reducing mortality rates. Tracing the movement of goods dynamically can reduce fraud and risks overall. A second large use of blockchain in the pharma industry is that it can enhance the clinical trial process through the systematic tracking of information regarding every step of the trial process.

    ELE Times: The era of Pre- Covid and Post- Covid differ entirely in terms of offering and practising a more secure method of operations. Please elaborate on the changes from your perspective.

    The pandemic has changed our lives significantly – making us reliant on technology more than ever. The adoption of new technologies has been increasing since every industry and academic organization is moving towards a completely virtual operation. Organizations are now embracing and working towards building an infrastructure that supports the virtual work environment.

    This means more digitization and more challenges when it comes to security and privacy. Though there are many mechanisms and methods continually being developed, the actual implementation needs a lot of awareness in terms of training users on the precise steps that need to be followed to keep security in check.

    However, a robust plan for a sustainable future using digital infrastructure and technology development is a necessity. Most of the essentials like healthcare, currency transactions, education, and the consumer industry have adopted digitization of operations to a major extent, if not fully, after Covid.

    ELE Times: How secure is the Blockchain environment, in terms of data encryption and breach prevention?

    Though blockchain is claimed to be impossible to tamper with and censorship-resistant using smart contracts, users must always remain vigilant that the security of any digital transaction is up to the mark. There are other challenges also associated with the practical usage of blockchain. Scalability is one, for example. This is because of the very nature of the blockchain – the redundancy of the data which is an essential part of the technology itself. All devices connected in the network receive the same transaction data, which means it is copied over and over again on hundreds of devices. Though the users will remain anonymous, and the data is protected with a private key, redundancy is a security issue.

    Recent blockchain algorithms are claiming to provide anonymity where a generated address protects the real identity of the user. Shared databases have become a necessity due to the distributed nature of the business. For example, with a patient monitoring system – the same patient suffering from multiple ailments will require treatments by various healthcare experts. This expertise may be available in different clinics, cities or even different countries. Since the data is immutable in blockchain, this protects against data manipulation at any stage, thus keeping the original user’s data protected. Hence blockchain is said to offer a high level of data integrity and immutability.

    ELE Times: How much time will it take for a country like India to have a fully adopted Blockchain space?

    The key to adopting new technology in a country is building an infrastructure that makes it accessible to all. In India, the technology availability rate widely varies between rural and urban areas. Mobile connectivity is the only technology that has penetrated successfully to rural areas.

    A key reason for increased adoption is the reduction in the cost of technology. As the number of users increases, the cost reduces and vice versa. Increasing the number of private players in the industry and creating competition always reduces the cost of the technology. The challenges of blockchain adoption can be overcome slowly through improving the infrastructure, technology and increasing the number of users thus dividing the cost between them. Though right now, some of the companies are using blockchain for their operations, it is still at the base level and none of the consumer industries has started to use blockchain. It will take at least 5 more years for the technology to become popular and trusted by them.

    ELE Times: Please discuss the way forward and future of Blockchain technology in general and specifically for India.

    As of now, blockchain in India is only used for improving business processes within the industry. Some of the bigger players are testing it out to improve transactions between their subsidiaries and business partners, however, most of the work is in trade finance and banking. Even this comes with many challenges and requires a set of things – like creating awareness among the employees, identifying the correct vendor for the platform to be used, and the training of the employees.

    The future of blockchain depends on developing the necessary infrastructure to address issues like scalability – storing hundreds of copies of the same transaction data requires massive storage and enormous power to process everything. So, developing the infrastructure and making it available at a reduced cost for the benefit of the consumers is the way forward.

    Mayank Vashisht | Sub Editor | ELE Times 

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