IBM bets on growing blockchain usage during COVID-19 pandemic

user, May 6, 2020

This article was originally published on Silicon Angle

As the world becomes more digital as the coronavirus pandemic forces many to work remotely, companies and individuals need to share more and more data. This sharing can be more efficient if the data and the sources that provide it are confirmed, verified and trusted.

That’s why computing giant IBM Corp. is betting on blockchain as a solution for now –and for the future.

“Blockchain brings a platform for trusted data exchange while preserving privacy,” said Jerry Cuomo (pictured), vice president of blockchain technology at IBM Corp. and an IBM fellow. “And that provides a foundation to do some amazing things in this time of crisis.”

Cuomo spoke with Dave Vellante, host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile livestreaming studio, during the IBM Think Digital Event Experience. They discussed the importance of blockchain in the digital world, as well as some applications of the technology during the coronavirus pandemic. (* Disclosure below.)

Combating supply shortages using blockchain

IBM was one of the first blockchain providers and has more than 1,000 customers now using its IBM Blockchain Platform, which is powered by The Linux Foundation’s open-source Hyperledger Fabric. Among these users, more than 100 have created production networks, according to Cuomo.

“It’s been great to see some of the proprietors of those networks now repurpose the network’s towards hastening the relief of the COVID,” he said.

One of the applications of blockchain during the pandemic has been to combat supply shortages. Because of the lockdown caused by the crisis, some suppliers were left without key goods, and buyers realized the need to expand the network of providers of these products very quickly. However, current laws and regulations can cause a new supplier’s integration into the network to take many weeks.

“In IBM, for example, we have over 20,000 suppliers to our business, and it takes 30 to 40 days to validate and verify one of those suppliers,” Cuomo said. “We don’t have 30 to 45 days … think about a healthcare company or a food company.”

To shorten this process, IBM used the Trust Your Supplier blockchain-based identity platform built by Chainyard Supplier Management Inc.

“If they [suppliers] are part of the Trust Your Supplier network, and they’ve already onboarded to IBM, they’re well on their way to being visible to all of these other buyers that are part of the IBM network,” Cuomo explained. “And instead of taking 40 days, maybe it only takes five days.”

Aggregating data to help fight the pandemic

Another blockchain use case focuses on aggregating valid data to help authorities fight the pandemic. The idea is to tackle one of the main problems that scientists and researchers face when trying to map and contain the crisis, which is the lack of integration of verified data sources that can be used with confidence.

To help solve this problem, the IBM Blockchain team joined the MiPasa project, from enterprise-grade blockchain platform Hacera, in creating a verified data hub.

“With MiPasa being a data hub for verified information related to the coronavirus, [it is] really laying a foundation now for a new class of application that can mash up information to create new insights,” Cuomo explained. “Perhaps applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to really look not just at any one of those data sources, but now to look across data sources and start to make some informed decision.”

A third application of blockchain in this pandemic is for digital identity verification. “You’re working remotely; you’re using tools like Zoom; there’s a huge spike in calls and online requests from telehealth or government benefit programs,” Cuomo said. “So, this is all happening and everything behind the scenes is: ‘Is this user who they say they are?’”

The Verified.Me solution by SecureKey Technologies Inc., which runs on IBM Blockchain, aims to facilitate identity verification. It allows users, through a mobile application, to invite institutions to represent and verify them. Users control their own information and the terms and conditions under which it will be used.

“The provider doesn’t know who the requester is, requester doesn’t know who the provider is — that is double blind. And then the network provider doesn’t know either,” Cuomo explained. “But somehow trust is formed, and that’s the magic of blockchain, allowing that to happen.”

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