Blockchain for data security: A resource guide for IT Ops teams

Many people are familiar with blockchain as the underlying technology behind bitcoin. But the reality is that blockchain has the potential to store any information securely, in the cloud—or in the data center.

Insurance claims could be stored on blockchain. So could personal records and title records for your home or automobile. The access and permission scheme can ensure that the right people know the right things, allowing groups to eliminate the middle person. That includes banks, brokerages, clearinghouses, and insurance companies.

Blockchain could be coming to help your business, or to disrupt it. Professionals who understand the potential of blockchain on IT operations can lead the way.

Sadly, information about blockchain tends to involve a fair amount of hype. Some sources seem more interested in repeating the claim that blockchain will radically disrupt commerce as we know it, without saying how, and certainly not how to implement it.

Here's a resource guide to some of the best information about blockchain out there, starting with blog posts—easy investments of time—and ending with college certificate programs.

The Forrester Wave: Enterprise Service Management 2018

Understand the prerequisites

Think of blockchain as secure information; the simplest example is coins, but the tokens can represent anything. When someone sends you his or her public key, it allows you to add to that person's account. With your own private key, you send money to others.

The issue of public/private key cryptography is core to supporting blockchain in your business. Before looking into blockchain, learn about public and private key cryptography, preferably including how to implement it in code with support of a library.

Blogs

It’s unlikely that a simple blog post can provide more than a cursory understanding of blockchain, but it might tell you what is possible, or where to go for more information. These links also might be helpful to share with colleagues, including those who may not listen to you but might be interested in what the folks at MIT have to say.

  • In blockchain we trust. MIT’s Technology Review explains how blockchain can work as the trusted source, instead of banks or other intermediaries.
  • Why blockchain could mean so much for the future of work. Send this to employees and friends to help them understand how blockchain could affect careers. It talks about how, by creating a way to track items in a virtual economy, blockchain does for business what freelancing did for the individual.
  • The Blockchain. This site gives a taste of just how big this technology will be as an industry—and how big it is right now. Drill down to learn what people are doing with blockchain technology now, and how it is affecting business.
  • Coinbase. This is the most popular online exchange to buy and sell cryptocurrency in the United States. Get an account, deposit $10, and get some bitcoin or ether, a rival currency to bitcoin. While you're at it, consider getting your own bitcoin wallet. That way, when someone asks for your public key, you will at least be able to answer, a sign of credibility.

Podcasts

If you've got time on the drive, in the gym, or on the track, plug in a set of headphones and listen to a blockchain podcast. Many of them are interviews with entrepreneurs who are doing something new with the technology.

These podcasts can give you a feel for what is happening now, who is funding it, what their expectations are, and how they plan to get there. Popular blockchain podcasts include Blockchain Dynamics, which focuses on coins, and The Blockchain Show, which has a broader business scope. The Ether Review focuses on Ethereum and smart contracts, for everyone who wants to use blockchain for more than coins and currency.

Videos

All three of these are freely available on YouTube.

  • How does a blockchain work—simply explained. This six-minute video describes the technology behind blockchain. Forward this to friends who won't read a blog or a book.
  • The Blockchain Explained Simply. This 15-minute TED talk is most useful for its example of exactly what a ledger is.
  • Blockchain Technology Explained. This two-hour online course introduces all the terms you'll need to know, although it doesn't always explain things in easy-to-understand language. Watch the video to learn the terms, but then study them independently. Learning them may require going to a new level.

Books

  • Mastering Bitcoin (O'Reilly; $15 Kindle version, $21 paperback). At this point, you want to understand how blockchain works and how to access it as an API. This book is highly rated on Amazon. If you are a reader who writes code, start here, as this book provides the open-source reference implementation of a bitcoin wallet. (Yes, bitcoin is so secure that the core code is open source.) It also goes through how to clone the repository from GitHub, along with a walkthrough. Most examples are in Python.
  • Master Ethereum: Building Smart Contracts and Dapps (O'Reilly; $56 paperback). If your organization wants to store more than coins as tokens, this may be the book for you. In Ethereum, tokens can represent items in the world or digital items, such as a ringtone. They can also use smart contracts to decide, for example, when to charge for a ringtone. As of press time, this book is on pre-order.

Online courses

  • Bitcoin & Blockchain Essentials. Half an hour of introductions to blockchain, with examples in bitcoin. Do this simply to have a reference on your résumé that you did a little work. (Udemy; $19.99, but discounts available if you buy multiple courses or depending on when you sign up.)
  • Build a Blockchain and a Cryptocurrency from Scratch. Six hours of materials that walk you through implementing your own blockchain technology, using open-source code and a little bit of JavaScript. This course includes all the introductory information above, plus working code examples. Note: The course does expect some programming fluency. For example, the first example has you, the programmer, running “npm init”; npm is the package manager for node.js. The course never tells you to install node.js. (Udemy; $199.99, but deep discounts available if you buy multiple courses or depending on when you sign up.)
  • Formal business courses. MIT, Oxford, and IBM offer paced, classroom-like multi-week online courses; you'll need to invest between 60 and 120 hours of time. The MIT course ($3,500) and Oxford course (about $3,800) are more about business strategy— preparing the enterprise for what is coming next. The IBM course (free of charge) includes implementation.
  • Formal computer science courses. The University of California at Berkeley has a professional certificate program ($178.20 for two courses) offered as part of its computer science school that should take between 36 and 60 hours to complete. Note: This course does not include actual programming or implementation.

Power of knowledge: Go beyond buzzwords

Years ago I sat in an insurance company meeting, the only technical person in a room full of executives. We spent the entire hour talking about enabling "real-time claims processing." That is, the doctor's office could submit a claim and get a balance for the customer to pay before the person left the office.

After about 50 minutes of listening, I commented, "You do realize that all our claims are processed in batch overnight—that attempting to process during the day would lock up the system so customer service could not make changes? Moving to real time would require a new architecture and a system conversion." 

Everyone in the room knew we were only weeks away from finishing a three-year, $11 million system conversion that was not even close to providing real-time claims processing. I was uninvited from the next meeting, where the executives decided to not pursue it any further. 

My point is this: Knowing the truth about what's possible, going beyond the buzzword, is incredibly powerful. Once you know, start focusing less on being smart and right and more on being valuable. Talk to leaders before the meeting so they can go in prepared and effective.

If you can do that, don't worry. Your career will take care of itself.