• June 1, 2018
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Don’t Try to Block the Blockchain

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Amazon has been at the forefront of nearly every customer service innovation since its founding in 1994. The online retail behemoth stretched the boundaries a bit more with its recent launch of special deliveries to car trunks.

Amazon in mid-April announced that delivery workers would now be able to place packages in the trunks of cars of Amazon Prime members in 37 cities if they own GM cars (Chevy, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac) with OnStar accounts or Volvo cars with Volvo On Call accounts. That, to me, sounds like a data disaster just waiting to happen and a potential gold mine for criminals just waiting to hack into Amazon's systems to unlock the cars of unsuspecting mothers whose only concern is making sure the bulk package of their baby's favorite brand of mashed sweet potatoes is delivered quickly.

I'd really be surprised if a company like Amazon hadn't already thought through the data security implications and taken steps to safeguard such valuable information. Amazon has, after all, invested heavily in blockchain technology, and in late April, its Amazon Web Services unit even launched blockchain templates to help developers create projects based on blockchain technology.

So what exactly is the blockchain? This month's cover story, "CRM Looks for Its Link on the Blockchain" (page 26), by writer Paul Korzeniowski, explains it well.

As noted in the piece, with blockchain technology, data is stored in blocks that are linked together and protected by a special form of cryptography that makes it nearly impossible for unauthorized people to access and alter the data.

The article goes on to explain that blockchain is fundamentally a way to manage data, and, as we all know, data is the driving force behind any CRM application.

Blockchain, when used to its full potential, will be able to fix many things that are wrong with CRM today. For CRM, the technology offers greater security, flexibility, and consistency of data; new methods of recognizing and rewarding consumer loyalty; greater transparency in marketing and advertising; and smarter contracting, among other benefits. The article also points out that widespread blockchain adoption in CRM is still a few years away.

But just because the technology hasn't garnered mainstream adoption just yet is no reason to do nothing about it. Companies really need to start thinking about blockchain and laying the foundation for it within their organizations.

The first step is to get rid of data silos. And this goes very far beyond the basic departmental walls that companies have put up over the years.

In essence, blockchain is formulated on a decentralized ledger that is not owned by any specific party—or even a single company—but instead is shared and controlled together by all participants. For companies, that means that data is shared not only among departments internally; authorized suppliers, business partners, and customers can all access and interact with the information as well.

That creates a fundamental challenge—we all know how hard it can be to get just one customer's and one supplier's accounting systems to trust one another and interface seamlessly. Now try to scale this process to many customers and suppliers. And if you really want to add some intricacy, competing companies within the same industries could theoretically share the same blockchains, so rival companies would have to work together to resolve larger issues like software and hardware integrations and interoperability, proper permissions and authentication, industry standards, creating and fostering the growth of development ecosystems, and a lot more.

These aren't problems that need to be solved right away, but they can't be ignored either. "After all, expectations are that in the coming months and years, the missing holes will be filled, so organizations will be able to build, deploy, manage, and secure next-generation blockchain CRM applications in due time," the article concludes.

Once that happens, say five to 10 years down the line, the blockchain won't even be mentioned anymore. It will be like the internet; you'll just assume it will always be there and functioning normally. It will become part of the fabric of everyday business.

Leonard Klie is editor of CRM magazine. He can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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