The reality of the contemporary business environment is that virtually every large organisation has to deal with the challenge of processing, structuring and analysing Big Data and doing so accurately and efficiently. Given dynamic nature of the marketplaces, it is difficult to respond to business pressures in a timely manner without accessing the Real-Life Data. Therefore, invention and rapid development of the Blockchain technologies appeared to be exactly what ‘’the doctor ordered’’.
Benefits of using blockchain technologies for Data Management have been well-publicized. While it is common to attribute growing popularity of the blockchain to security benefits, it should also be commended for delivering Data Quality. The blockchain-enhanced data is not only consistent but is also accurate. Furthermore, collection and validation of the data blocks is becoming a routine and relatively cheap process. However, there is a significant range of challenges that we need to acknowledge when adopting the blockchain technologies for data analysis & management. The blockchain will not solve all of the data-related issues ‘’by default”, so before crowning it as the ‘’ultimate solution to all of the data processing, analysis & management problems’’, we need to make sure that the following 3 challenges are addressed:
- The ‘’Human Factor”
- The Garbage in Garbage Out Syndrome
- Data-powered Integration
The ‘’Human’’ Factor
No matter how sophisticated, helpful, reliable and user-friendly a technology is, by no means can it compensate for our erroneous judgements, irrational decisions and failures to handle business & emotional pressures effectively! While definitions of the ‘’Human Factor’’ vary, in the context of technology adoption and usage – it refers to the irreplaceable role of the Humans (aka us) in ensuring successful delivery of the technology-powered solutions. In the end of the day, it is quality of our decisions that determine how much value the blockchain is going to deliver.
The rapid pace of the blockchain technologies development and adoption appears to be significantly faster than our ability to understand ‘’how it works’’. Many organizations are eager to start utilizing blockchain for data storage, analysis and management simply because they are being ‘’told’’ how great it is. However, they need to be able comprehend the blockchain concepts and challenges fully, or else there will be little benefit in engaging the technology even if it is going to be a state-of-art one.
The novel nature of the blockchain technologies is likely to lead to many data management and processing decisions that are questionable if not erroneous. One example of difficult choices to be made is the challenge of outsourcing the blockchain technical infrastructure management and support. Non-IT organisations are highly unlikely to build their own blockchains and as far as the outsourcing is concerned, the blockchain solutions are still difficult to find reliable providers for. Likewise, if there is Data Torturing going on, there is little that the ‘’blockchain’’ can do to prevent it from happening.
The Garbage In Garbage Out Syndrome
Garbage in garbage out is yet another challenge to be considered. If we are not able to secure high standards of data inputs/collection/management, we are not going to be able to obtain accurate results that are fit for our purposes.
While many hail blockchain as the ultimate solution to data management, it is not clear how it prevents organisations from poor data filtering, inappropriate data collection practices and most important - lack of understanding of the data structuring issues. As of now, the data management challenges above are having a significant impact on quality of the data management activities. If managed poorly, the blockchain could possibly aggravate these problems even further as human controls over the data quality may decrease as they often do when new technologies are implemented.
One of the best-promoted benefits of the blockchain (along with the high security standards) is ability to handle very large amounts of data at a low cost. Data storage-wise, the benefit is obvious but data management-wise, if the data is not handled properly – having many chunks of the big data as parts of the same database may result in greater difficulties with formatting and implementations of quality controls.
Integrating data derived from different sources and owned/co-owned by a wide range of organisations can be considered yet another ‘’hot’’ feature of the blockchain technologies. Blockchain can support such data-powered integration (aka integration by the means of data sharing) at a low cost. However, it may trigger Data Availability issues. In an integrated environment, blockchain-powered solutions may result in restrictions to data access as well as difficulties in establishing and managing access rights. It can also lead to a diametrically opposite problem of inexperienced organisations ‘’combatting’’ security restrictions and access difficulties by giving each of the stakeholders a ‘’copy’’ of the data set. In other words, in an ideally-managed environment, blockchain technologies may deliver near ideal Data-Powered Integration solutions but from a practical perspective, the organisations involved have to make sure that the operational rules and requirements are understood and followed by all.
Last but not the least, while blockchain can not only empower the entire organisations but (and this is its ‘’best-selling’’ benefit) individuals within these organisations to increase security at both organisational and personal levels, we should not forget the Story of the QuadrigaCX Users who lost 190million dollars when the company’s founder passed away…or possibly even earlier as due to the lack of transparency (the downside of the high security), the investors and the investigators are still struggling to understand, where the money is gone? While Data analysts work with data rather than money, sudden failures to access the data/disappearance of the data/unexpected changes to the data would still be hard to take.
To sum up, I am not trying to discourage Data Analysts from adopting the blockchain technologies. I am very sure that blockchain can enhance the data centers and improve efficiency dramatically while reducing the operational costs. However, just like with any other new technology, we need to be fully aware of the risks and challenges ahead!