The Blockchain Revolution

Posted on : 28-08-2015 | By : richard.gale | In : Cyber Security

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We’ve been excited by the potential of blockchain and in particular bitcoin technology and possibilities for a while now (Bitcoins: When will they crash?  More on Bitcoins..  Is someone mining on my machine? ). We even predicted that bitcoins would start to go mainstream in our 2015 predictions . We may be a little ahead of ourselves there but the possibilities of the blockchain, the underpinning technology of crypto currencies is starting to gather momentum in the financial services world.

Blockchain technology contains the following elements which are essential to any financial transaction

  1. Security – Blockchain data is secure as each part of the chain is linked with the other and many copies of that data are stored among the many thousands of ‘miners’ in an encrypted (currently unhackable) format. Even if a proportion of these miners were corrupt with criminal intent the voting of the majority will ensure integrity
  2. Full auditability – Every block in the chain has current and historic information relating to that transaction, the chain itself has everything that ever happened to it. The data is stored in multiple places and so there is a very high degree of assurance that the account is full and correct
  3. Transparency – All information is available in a consistent way to anyone with a valid interest in the data
  4. Portability – The information can be available anywhere in the world, apart from certain governments’ legislation there are few or no barriers to trade using blockchain technology
  5. Availability – There are  many copies of each blockchain available in virtually every part of the world blockchains should then always be available for use

The blockchain technology platform is flexible enough to incorporate additional functions and process without compromising it’s underlying strengths.

All major banks and a number of innovative startups are looking at ways blockchain can change the way transactions are executed. There are significant opportunities for both scale and efficiency using this technology. Areas being researched include;

  • Financial trading and settlement. Fully auditable, automated chain of events with automated payments, reporting and completion globally and instantly
  • Retail transactions. End to end transactions delivered automatically without the opportunity of loss or fraud
  • Logistics and distribution. Automatically attached to physical and virtual goods with certified load information enabling swift transit across nations
  • Personal data. Passports, medical records and government related information can be stored encrypted but available and trusted
There are still some significant challenges with blockchain technology;
  1. Transactional throughput – limited by banking standards (10’s of transactions per second at present rather than 10,000’s)
  2. Fear and lack of understanding of the technology – this is slowing down thinking and adoption
  3. Lack of skills to design and build – scarce resources in this space and most are snapped up by start-ups
  4. Complexity and lack of transparency – Even though the technology itself is transparent the leap from the decades old processes used in banks back offices for example to a blockchain programme can be a large one. In the case of time critical trading or personal information then security concerns on who can view data come to the fore.
  5. Will there be something else that replaces it – will the potentially large investment in the technology be wasted by the ‘next big thing’?

We think blockchain could have a big future. Some people are even saying it will revolutionize government, cutting spending by huge amounts. If blockchain transactions were used to buy things then sales tax and various amounts to retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers could be paid immediately and automatically. The sales person could have the blockchain credit straightaway too.

Blockchains could remove huge levels of inefficiency and potential for fraud. It could also put a significant number of jobs at risk reflected in John Vincent’s article on the future of employment.

Innovation and the impact on future jobs

Posted on : 28-08-2015 | By : john.vincent | In : Innovation

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For those of us who started our careers last century, the pace of change and innovation over the past decade is astounding. After life settled down somewhat following Y2K, the first internet bubble and a heightened period of world turmoil, we are “back to the future” full steam (click here for any film fans that missed the hoverboard release a while back).

Innovations in robotics, blockchain technology, the internet of things, automation and so on is transforming our world to a point that in 20-30 years the way we live and interact within it will be a step change away from today.

So, rather than opine about where these innovations may end up, let’s have a think about one of the side effects…most notably, on jobs.

Those of us that are lucky enough to enjoy our work (and are of a certain age) are probably doing something not that dissimilar to when we left education. Indeed, when I took my first role in technology at a bank it was still considered to be “a job for life”. I could happily start planning for a life on the greasy pole and a final salary pension in a max of around 4 decades of grafting.

Fast forward to today and for those entering the employment market things are very different. That concept now seems so old fashioned. The characteristics possessed by careers of being stable, linear and mainly singular are gone. So what can the next generation of workers expected? Renowned futurist Thomas Frey of the DaVinci Institute is quoted as saying;

60% of the best jobs in the next ten years haven’t been invented yet.

This naturally has a huge impact. Careers will become a polymorphic thing, increasing in complexity, reducing in predictability and will evolve for many into a “portfolio of micro-careers”. Innovation and commoditisation will mean that being able to move laterally between roles and industries will be the norm, with an entirely different mindset and skillset being required to maintain personal “career currency”.

We are already starting to live in the world of the freelancer. Shorter term, output based contracts are on the rise with estimates that by 2020 half of all workers in the US will be freelance and even now, some 20% of UK graduates are joining the labour market in the same capacity. Assuming this trend continues, the impact on traditional employee management, such as performance, reward, culture etc. is something that organisations will need to overcome. Indeed the word “employee” may be used sparingly in favour of “workforce”.

So what are the types of jobs that we might see in the future? Here are a few examples (that 10 years ago would have been considered daft);

  • Alternative Currency Speculator: With Bitcoin and other virtual currencies gaining ground, new more complex trading asset classes will also evolve
  • 3D Printing Manager: Expert roles in 3D printing to help consumers build new or repair current physical artefacts
  • Privacy Consultant: A role to reveal vulnerabilities in an individuals personal, physical, and online security presence
  • Drone Driver: As the deployment expands outside of the military to commercial and private drone use, experienced drone drivers (especially those with urban experience) will be sought after
  • Crowdfunding Manager: A expert on sites like Kickstarter and Crowdcube who provide clients services to promote and attain funds for a project
  • Digital Death Manager: Someone who manages or eliminates some digital footprint and creates a posthumous online presence
  • Meme Agent: We know all too well that we have agents for every kind of celebrity, so in the future, even stars on internet memes will be represented

(If you want to see a list of jobs that might disappear all together (and of course find yours…), click here for a list of 101 Endangered Jobs by 2030

And what about the impact of robotics? Whilst we are indeed moving faster than predicted, the iRobot world is still round a few more corners. Not surprisingly, the area that will succumb most heavily to the rise of the machines first is manufacturing. According to the Boston Consulting Group, they predict that robots will increase the proportion of factory tasks they perform from the current 10% to 25% by 2025.

That said, already a Chinese company Hon Hai (the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer) is progressing with plans to replace 500,000 workers with robots in the next three years.

According to a number of studies, jobs that need human beings to perform them are rapidly diminishing. In its recent paper ‘Creativity vs Robots’, the innovation charity Nesta quotes research by academics Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, which suggests 47% of jobs are at risk of automation in just “a decade or two.”

The big question is how society will evolve and support a population which will gradually diminish in its importance to a self-sustaining eco system? Will we see queues of human beings alongside drones at the job centre? Or indeed, will unemployment figures actually become irrelevant with nation states measured positively by an upward trend alongside the usual economic parameters?

Who knows…but at least for the time being, I’ve still got a job to do.

 

Is your small business the next target for hackers?

Posted on : 28-08-2015 | By : kerry.housley | In : Cyber Security

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Cyber attacks make great headlines but behind the headlines are the real stories affecting real business.  The fact is that smaller medium sized companies are increasingly more likely to be targeted than their larger counterparts.  SMEs are now considered the biggest target in the cyber threat landscape.

There are many reasons for this, smaller companies don’t think that that they have anything of interest to hackers “why would anybody want to attack us we don’t have anything to steal”. They couldn’t be more wrong,  even if they don’t have any information which is of interest in its own right they may well provide a way into a larger organisation in their supply chain.

Some worrying statistics are emerging which show hackers are specifically targeting smaller companies as they do not have the budget for people or technology to protect themselves. Key risks for smaller firms are:

  • Lack of security policies and controls
  • Low levels of knowledge of potential threats and methods to combat
  • Small or no budget allocated to cyber protection
  • Outdated technology and update procedures
  • ‘Ostrich’ approach to risk assuming it will happen to someone else

The impact of a cyber attack on an SME can be disproportionate to its size. Larger companies can absorb relatively large losses well and can call on external help to resolve  – Sony’s breach in the end was estimated at £35m which had negligible impact on a multi-billion dollar organisation. For smaller firms, any loss (whether cyber or other fraud) can put them out of business if it impacts cash-flow and could result in the loss of major clients if they are part of a larger firms supply chain.

It is crucial to understand that information assets are more valuable than you might think.  Although larger enterprises now appear to be taking steps to protect their organisations many do not look to their partners and vendors so they too are guilty of not understanding the effect on the supply chain.  There is no point in pulling out all the stops internally to protect information assets if the companies that you do business with are not doing the same.

Many commentators have described SME’s as the Achilles heel in the business world which will result in devastating financial consequence if they do not take appropriate action to protect their information assets.  The UK Government Information Security Breaches Survey 2015 found that 74% of SMEs had reported that they had suffered an information security breach. They also found that severe attacks can now cost up to £300k+ for a smaller business.  This would put many smaller companies out of business as they couldn’t afford to take a hit this big.

In response to this threat the UK government have launched a number of initiatives designed to help SME’s to understand the cyber security issues that they face. 2014 saw the launch of the Cyber Essentials Scheme which is designed to be a much simpler way for business to take steps to limit their risk of a breach.  Most recently in July a voucher scheme has been set up which will enable SME’s to apply for a maximum of £5000 which can be used to fund specialist advice from Information security specialists that they otherwise would not be able to afford.  These initiatives are designed to increase the resilience in the UK business community to cyber attack. Ed Vaizey digital economy minister has said “We want to protect UK business against cyber attack and make the UK the safest place in the world to do business online.”

It is imperative that all businesses of any size understand the cyber threat and the effect this has on their entire supply chain network. Always know who you are doing business with and take steps to ensure you know how they are protecting your information assets.

In addition to assisting many ‘blue chip’ clients we also provide information risk assurance to smaller organisations. Often this can be quickly assessed with our ASSURITY product. Please do get in contact if you need some advice.

Kerry Housley

Kerry.Housley@broadgateconsultants.com