The Fascinating world of Blockchain!

Sachin Mahajan, MobileLIVE

In the early 1900’s if Henry Ford asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. Essentially, proving the point that the consumer doesn’t really know what transformatory customer experiences could be! Secondly, people care little about the technology powering these very iconic experiences.. However, the markets do- evident by the ballooning value of bitcoins, hitting a record high post Trump’s election to the White House. The point being- wall or no wall, money has to be remitted across the border and people will find alternative and efficient ways (Bitcoins), when the traditional routes are blocked or taxed.

Before jumping into the nitty gritties of blockchain, let’s ensure we are all on the same page.

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain is the brainchild of a group of people (or a person) that go by the pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto.

  • It is an incorruptible digital ledger of transactions that can be programmed to virtually everything of value.
  • It’s a shared view of the current state of a marketplace, and the history of all transactions that led to that current state. In plain English it would translate to, “If your assets are on a blockchain, no single company or operator can take them away from you”
  • This Shared Ledger can also be described as transactional database.

The key advantages being its robustness, transparency and flexibility over traditional “disparate” ledgers. Blockchain is ideal for applications with the following characteristics: Have multiple writers, Need immutable and traceable history, have a high degree of transparency, Limited trust between participants and are transactional in nature.

The market excitement is surely intense, based on the ~$2B investment pouring in from the entire spectrum of institutions; Amex to Goldman Sachs to Deloitte:

What are Bitcoins?

Its a type of digital currency, created and held electronically. Bitcoins aren’t printed, like dollars or euros – they’re produced by people, and increasingly businesses, running computers all around the world. However, bitcoin’s most important characteristic, and the thing that makes it different to conventional money, is that it is decentralized. No single institution controls the bitcoin network; and the transaction history is stored on a shared ledger i.e. blockchain providing the required transparency.

What are other use cases of Blockchain outside bitcoins?

I found it rather fascinating, when a Sr. Analyst recently said to me, “We have an amazing solution in blockchain, we now need to find a problem to solve”.  We had a great discussion following it, and came up with some of the following use cases which were absolute no brainers: Guaranteeing Digital Identity, Recording IoT transactions, Validating health records and land registries.

  • Internet of Things (IoT) payments and traction: shared ledger (blockchain) may allow machine-to-machine authentication and micropayments and continuous traction of transactional activities. An algorithm could be used to broker an arrangement for a room rental as a smart contract, with the smart lock on the front door being provided instructions to open when the renter arrives. Money would be held in escrow by blockchain and funds released on fulfillment of the contract. This dis-intermediates not only digital banking companies but also Airbnb
  • “Proof of provenance” provided by shared ledger can be used by insurance companies as a source of reliable information about the history, reliability and origin of a document, digital good or physical good with digital credentials.
  • Blockchain could also unlock the ability to provide, “Certification of identity attributes and credentials” (e.g. name, address, age, phone number) on shared ledger (blockchain) system which is absolute necessity currently.

Einstein famously once said,”If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.” Thanks to blockchain those facts might not be easily swayed anymore!

PS: Views are my own, and not necessarily my employers. Feel free to contact me from my Home Page

Key Issues Plaguing Digital Identity Services

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Sachin Mahajan, (TELUS & MobileLive)

The Internet without high assurance identity services is akin to a house without plumbing and electrical wiring. As we collectively start launching services (Mobile Connect, Identity Verification & others) the hope is we build a strong foundation to allow Digital Banking, IoT and other services to unleash their true potential with a friction-less user experience.

From my perspective here are the top 3 issues with Identity today:

Issue #1: None of the existing products largely address the markets needs

In February of this year, I went to Barcelona to attend MWC, where over 150,000 telecom professionals from around the world congregated. It was the perfect place to discuss the latest developments and trends in Digital Identity & IoT.  I had one evening free to myself, so I decided to walk around the city. Given Barcelona’s reputation, right before I left my hotel room I took all my important identity documents i.e. passport, credit card, driving license and locked them up in my room’s locker….and dually walked out with my prepaid euro chip and pin card. So the point being the things that were important to me were locked up in my room- safe and secure, as they should be but I had no access to them….which is the exact issue or problem with the digital world.

Issue #2: There is an immediate need for a High Assurance or Trustworthy Digital Identity solution

Often done to death, but worth a quick mention is the fact that the terms “digital world” vs “real world” are becoming so intertwined that soon we will be unable to distinguish between them. Terms such as “Away from Keyboard” (AFK) might become more prevalent. Given that I sleep with my cell phone 3 feet away from myself…AFK never really happens, until and unless my device runs out of battery these days.

Issues #3:  We want everyone else to provide their police clearance certificates to prove their identity in the online world but do not want to do the same at their end.

An interesting episode from my life a few months back, highlights the most important issue I believe plagues our digital world. I have a 10 year old niece, and she and I discuss all things important. She along with her friends were setting up a musical concert in the neighborhood and wanted to promote it online. In a bid to engage more people she was contemplating discussing it on 2-3 chat groups, which she thought were relevant. The moment I found out, I told her she had to keep 2 things in mind:

  1. Not to trust people in chat rooms. They could very well be perverts, criminals, frauds, cheaters or who knows what
  2. Giving out real name and contact information was an absolute No No

Here in lies the paradox…we want others to provide all their identity related information, but do not find the web safe enough to share our own….. this is a log jam!

PS: The intent of writing this quick piece is to engage my stakeholders, so please comment and help me better understand your needs.

Digital Identity: Peeling back the onion…..

Sachin Mahajan, (TELUS & MobileLive)

Five months of heading the portfolio and it is becoming glaringly evident that “Digital Identity” has dramatically different affect on people. For a large majority it seems to be the code word for “now the eyes glaze over and I read emails” but every now and then I run into a handful of others whose ears perk up and a warm smile engulfs their face saying, “about time someone did something about it”.

What is Digital Identity?

There are way too many definitions & perceptions about digital identity, which partly is the problem.  For me, it is as simple as “a mechanism for an individual or a business entity to identify themselves on the internet with some level of assurance (trust).”

Some of the others include:

  • Digital Footprint left behind when one surfs the internet

Companies such as Google and Facebook create online profiles of people to provide a focused, relevant and contextual experience. For e.g. if I searched google images for the key word “Jaguar”, I would instantly be shown images of a car whereas my wife would be shown images of the almost extinct Panther species.

  •  Online persona adopted or claimed by an individual.

I came across a company from the UK, whose tag line is, “When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting’”.  It is somewhat of a controversial app that updates an individual’s Twitter feed in the same style as they would normally tweet. In essence ones digital persona would continue to live even beyond the grave. A very interesting thought indeed.

  • It comprises of characteristics, or data attributes, such as Username and password, Date of birth, Social security number etc.
  • And a million other BORING definitions

Why should one care about it?

Two simple reasons: Economics and superior quality of experience!

  • Did you know that MasterCard and Visa charge anywhere between 1.5-3.5% of the transaction value in the physical world vis-à-vis 6-9% in the online world!!! The reason for the disparity is as simple as the inability of companies to authenticate people digitally in a secure, reliable & robust manner!
  • Did you know that between Google, Facebook and other online giants, they collectively make an average of $200-250/North American broadband user annually? What that means is that “Digital Identity” has let them unlock $50+ Billion of annual revenue….and growing!
  • Did you know in 2012, the average cost of recovering from identity fraud was upwards of $20,000 with almost 50% people admitting that if their identity was stolen they would not have the means to manage the recovery process

What are the different levels of assurance of digital identity?

The following chart helps provide a framework to begin to better understand and categorize the various levels of assurance & Strength of Authentication across multiple digital channels:

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Source: Consult Hyperion/Telus

Levels of assurance:

  • Level 1 – Little or no confidence in the asserted identity’s validity an example of it would be registration requests on a news website
  • Level 2 – Some confidence in the asserted identity’s validity
  • Level 3 – High confidence in the asserted identity’s validity to enable accessing sensitive personal data online
  • Level 4 – Very high confidence in the asserted identity’s validity. A typical use case would be providing remote access to a law enforcement database

Digital identity is evolving quickly and is becoming a key enabler across multiple portfolios; be it IoT, Security, mobile wallets or e-commerce.  Consumers are being presented with a greater variety of low assurance authentication methods as the competition to become the de facto identity provider among some of the world’s biggest companies is heating up (Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon etc.). On the other hand Telcos(AT&T, TELUS, Vodafone, O2), Banks and Governments are focusing on higher assurance authentication methods, where its imperative to know the identity of the person on the other end (Medical Insurance, Drivers license renewal, Access to medical reports, Registry services etc.)  It clearly is a fascinating space right now and I can’t wait to see how we help it evolve over the next few years!

 


Who among today’s front-runners is most likely to dominate the Consumer IoT ecosystem? (Part 2)

AmazonGoogleApple-300x185Sachin Mahajan, TELUS & MobileLive

Twenty eight months of being immersed in the IoT domain has had me convinced that it is no different than a typical Bollywood potboiler. It has tragedy (Wink’s untimely demise), drama (Apple-Google-Amazon cold war), thrills (Multi-billion dollar acquisitions), romance (Homekit & Weave partner programs) and much much more. I seem to be watching the story unfold from the front row, with popcorn and 3D glasses in tow, and it has been a riot!

Unable to control my euphoria about the big 3 (Google, Apple & Samsung) in the Consumer IoT space, I wrote a blog about them and it had me wax eloquent about their investments, strategy and product development. It was mid-2014, the race had just begun and the verdict was still not out but clearly these three were positioning themselves best to their capabilities. A quick recap of it:

  • Samsung already had tablets, phones (aka remote controls of our lives’) and appliances (washing machines, TV’s, ovens and refrigerators). With the acquisition of SmartThings they were completing their portfolio of products & services and what remained to be done was integrate the experience, UI and make them all talk to each other.
  • Apple had just then announced HomeKit & Healthkit and it seemed obvious that they were doing what they always did best- create a framework for 3rd parties to develop applications. They had a billion paying customers- generally on top of the food chain, with deep pockets and a propensity to spend on anything made or supported by Apple. Their mantra was to do more of the same and it seemed to be working.
  • Google on the other hand seemed to be trying to dig deep through acquisitions (Nest, Dropcam), active product development in its now world-famous XLabs (Glass & Driverless car) and rollout of Google Fibre

nest_weave_yale_linus_cam_thermostat_world_domination_threadSince writing the blog a lot has happened! Google has currently captured pole position by coming at the IoT domain from every possible angle!!! Integration of Nest Thermostat- Protect-Dropcam, introduction of Brillo (IoT OS), Thread (A protocol for peer to peer interaction) and Weave (a common language for all IoT products)…and if that was not enough they went on to acquire Revolv and then commercialize its hub (called On-Hub now). Just ranting off their accomplishments, in the past year, has the Bollywood junkie in me wanting to do cart-wheels, clap in jubilation and whistle with my hands in mouth.  Let me explain why. What this really means is that Google believes that in the long-term in a hub-less house, your Nest thermostat will be the central device connecting to the external world. All IoT devices using Weave, and in essence Thread as the underlying protocol, will talk to each other and act as repeaters with possibly a single application wrapper for the end customer. Not to forget they have also created Brilo (a stripped down version of Android) for developers to use as the OS of their devices and then inadvertently become a part of Google’s ecosystem. Master Stroke!

Apple is playing the long game by ensuring that their Homekit certified partners adhere to stringent security requirements, use a proprietary chip and possibly a different frequency on devices; which really translates to being expensive, adds cycle times to product development & testing and ensures most companies either choose Google or the Apple ecosystem. Google on the other hand has chosen to enable startups to GTM quickly and be a part of it’s tribe, so to speak. There is no right or wrong answer; it’s just different strategies with different intents and different product lifecycles being targeted.

amazon The one glaring omission on my part has been to not really discuss Amazon, so far. To be honest they are taking rapid strides and are leap frogging companies who have been trying to carve out a niche. Their plays, in the sequence of appearance:

  1. Home Automation Section on Amazon.com: When I first saw this, I chuckled to myself, “Was a storefront focused on Home Automation products their IoT play?” Little did I know that they were chuckling too, they hadn’t even gotten started
  2. Launch of Amazon echo: At the heart of it, it is a device that plays music from one’s phone or the cloud. What is unique about the product is the fact that it comes with voice command services and your ability to interact with it. Inherently Microsoft’s Bing powers the intelligence through real-time search functionality. In a nutshell, I love it and so does my 3 year old son. Early in the morning, I find him talking to Alexa, asking “her” to play music! What is even more incredible is that fact that through Alexa, one could now shutdown their Philips Hue light bulbs or other Home Automation partners that Amazon has enable
  3. Amazon-Echo2Amazon acquires 2lemetry: This 4 year old startup, had capabilities to process and analyse high-volume data streams from any number of sources and in real time. The first indication that Amazon was going to come out with something much bigger in the near future
  4. Amazon offers Home Services: Amazon’s professional service play, as it offers installers and support staff to come down to your house and help with installation of home automation products and more
  5. Dash button: An extremely simple concept of having a physical button linked to a purchase of one product from a defined company. Press the button and Amazon would send you an email confirmation, charge your credit card and subsequently ship the product. No questions, no phone calls, no browser based shopping.dash button
  6. The Alexa fund: Investing $100MN in startups to fuel voice technology innovation. Essentially the fund is open to any startup with an innovative idea for how voice technology can improve lives.
  7. Amazon AWS IoT– platform to build, manage and analyze The Internet of Things: AWS IoT is a platform that enables one to connect devices to AWS Services and other devices, secure data and interactions, process and act upon device data, and enable applications to interact with devices even when they are offline.

As you can tell, there is never a dull moment when you have the awesome four-some jostling it out. To add to the drama we now are living through the cold war of them not carrying each other’s products. From Apple discontinuing the Nest line in their retail locations to Amazon doing a stop sell on Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast services. I personally am not sure who is going to be the end-winner of this fast expanding ecosystem- but this larger than life rivalry to out-do each other, rapid product development and commercialization, evolution of multiple protocols, standards and OS’ specifically for IoT can only bode well for the end customer. We are far from reaching utopia where the physical world moves away from just being “smart” or “connected” to developing a conscience and reacts to our unique needs but with these 4 companies pioneering the way has us all collectively head in the right direction!