Companies have been talking about being “customer first” for years, but blockchain experts say the distributed ledger technology behind blockchain may soon turn everyday people into micro-businesses who lead the way in selling access and use to their financial, medical and other data.
Speaking at an event Monday night in Toronto organized by consulting firm the Burnie Group, blockchain experts said information that has traditionally been managed exclusively by enterprises could be monetized in unprecedented ways using the “trust protocol” that brokers cryptocurrency exchanges. Though best known as the technology behind Bitcoin, blockchain allows multiple parties to verify almost any kind of transaction, which opens up business models where customers set the terms around their personal information.
Take medical data, said David Jaffary, executive vice-president of technology and innovation at University Health Network. Blockchain could unlock data that is often distributed across providers, insurers and other third parties to lead to better medical decisions and advance research, he said.
“The machinery has never been there to do that,” he said. “You realize there’s an opportunity for everybody to participate in the ownership in the flipping bits of life, including the data that’s collected in the interests of health care . . . We se this shift where people own their data.”
Chris Owen, vice-president of enterprise shared platforms-blockchain at TD Canada Trust, sees a similar change coming in financial services. Just as every customer has their own “medical fingerprint” of health issues and treatments they’ve experienced, he said their collected financial transactions over a lifetime could become part of systems that analyze where economic trends are headed and even what might come next.
“You should own it, and you should grant permission to anyone who’s an authorized party to that accumulated data,” he said. “The principle is essentially the same (in finance as in health care).”
Of course, individuals have other “fingerprints,” including professional degrees they’ve accumulated or government services they’ve used. According to Atefeh Mashatan, professor at the Ted Rogers School of Information Management, Ryerson University, blockchain experts tend to see the greatest potential in areas with high levels of manual processing or where there are different versions of information to be reconciled.
“All have their own version of the truth. All of them are storing the data. They all have to reconciled,” she said. “Signed papers are being manually couriered the day of the transactions.”
The use of blockchain could reduce some of the manual work, costs and even eliminate the need for some intermediaries, such as title insurers.
Another overlooked area is first responders, who may be trying to get to a fire or terrorist attack and use citizen information on Twitter or other social media to improve their timeliness or accuracy. Blockchain could authenticate a lot of that aggregated data, she said.
This shift to customer-driven data use won’t happen overnight, the blockchain experts said. Besides regulatory and security concerns is the propensity for human error.
“I gave my grandmother an iPad, and it was great but within half an hour she had forgotten her password. Imagine if that was her health record,” said Marek Laskowski, Blockchain Lab co-founder at York University, adding that organizations also have to be willing to empower customers to control and monetize their data. “To discover those golden points where there’s economic sense and its’ feasible to share that data so the entire ecosystem benefits — it takes work.”