Enspir(ation) Blog

Regular updates from the team

Blockchain and Its Effect to the World

Once information is updated on the blockchain, no one can attempt to alter or forge the records.

Blockchain is a disruption that will have the greatest impact to the financial industry. Big banks and some governments are already using the blockchain to revolutionize the way data is stored and transactions are processed. Representing the second generation of the Internet, it holds a huge potential to transform the industry and the world extremely. Whether we like it or not, we simply have to embrace the technology.

As a distributed ledger, the blockchain aims to increase security, lower costs, and eliminate errors and failures. It enables a reconciliation of digital records in real time. Unlike the first generation of Internet, it will transform:

  • insurance
  • risk management
  • funding and investing
  • moving value
  • authenticating identity
  • reputation
  • lending and borrowing
  • exchanging value
  • storing value

The technology does not only store and move information securely, but also money, titles, equities and other values.

It is already known that the blockchain keeps a permanent record of all transactions over the network. It can be used to verify transactions and cryptographic keys. It does not only allow us to store information but also gives us complete control over it. It also helps us verify the timestamp, validity and status of entries on the register. Furthermore, it makes it impossible for anyone to make changes to any information in the blockchain without explicit permission from the entry or the creator.

Through the blockchain, trust is established with clever code and mass collaboration. It is a platform of transparency with regards to structured recorded information.  It is an open source code, which everyone can download for free and develop new tools to manage transactions online. In a word, it holds the potential to unleash numerous new applications and unrealized capabilities to transform many things.

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Do Zombies eat blood oranges?

by Michael Grabert, CTO and co-founder, Enspir Solutions

I’m hoping for some feedback on this article. Let me know if I’m not alone.

Given the time of year it’s not too surprising that I would have zombies on my brain. But not the kind of zombies you are likely to think. Over the last several months there have been a number of articles about Zombie Companies in the financial press. A zombie company is an indebted business that, although generating cash, after covering operating costs, they only have enough funds to service the interest on their loans, but not the debt itself. They are dead, but not….

But I keep running into what I believe may be zombie companies, but I am not looking at their financials. Actually, the financials often look OK. I’m looking at their technology based products.

The concept of tech debt isn’t new. Simply defined, tech debt increases as shortcuts are taken in delivering software. I’m talking about something more insidious and pervasive that I call Product Debt. What I have seen is a type of debt that infects the entire Design, Build, Operate lifecycle of a software product. It impacts product management, software development, infrastructure operations, and support.

Stephen King (not that one), HSBC’s senior economic adviser, quoted in a Business Insider article said “Zombie companies preserve inefficiencies and dampen enterprise,”.

I believe there are a lot of companies that aren’t zombies in the financial sense, but are Zombie Product Companies. They can no longer respond efficiently to their customers and the market.

I keep running into these companies and what concerns me is that the mountain of product debt is being ignored. Interestingly, the investors in these companies, so called “adult supervision”, largely ignore this problem as well. I believe it may be because Product Debt is so hard to quantify. Still, in my opinion, product debt cripples or kills more companies than we imagine.

How does Product Debt affect a company?

  • The software stack is 2+ major versions behind the latest stable version so when customer demand a new cool feature you can’t deliver it because it depends on a newer stack, so you develop some horrible UI to implement a bastardized feature to kind of check the box.
  • And when you go to hire the best developers they walk away to go work on something that improves their skills instead of flogging code from ten years ago, so you hire from the ‘B’ team if you are lucky.
  • The development team you have can’t keep up, won’t give you an estimate for the next release, and struggle to fix bugs. They have never gotten around to implementing tools and processes that could make them more productive
  • Support staff spend more time making excuses than resolving issues. They can’t get answers to the problems cause the guy who new that software quit.
  • The hardware is running an older OS to support the software and the Infrastructure team is scrambling to plug security holes that have already been plugged on newer versions and reacting to failures that should have been avoided.

These are just a few examples. I see these symptoms in most companies I interact with. I have gotten hints of these issues in job interviews. In the cases where I have consulted with companies they usually have some or all of these symptoms. A lot of these symptoms can be dismissed as growing pains, and rightly so. In my experience, there are way too many companies that can’t stand to ignore this problem and their products are in fact Zombie Products. They are un-dead, but only for so long.

Most of the people working in these companies are aware that Product Debt is growing and beyond their capability to tame. They are frustrated that the warnings of growing Product Debt are not being heeded.

In companies where a software product is peripheral to their core business, it seems unlikely that they will understand the problem, much less react to it. The app stores are full of abandoned software, zombie products, victims of Product Debt.

If you’ve read this far you probably get it. I have personally seen these issues often enough that I can go in to a company and in a pretty short time get a feel for how deep in Product Debt they are. At least to the level of “pretty good”, “needs attention”, “eeewww” or “wtf!”. But that doesn’t help really get a grip on the bigger problem.

I am contemplating developing an assessment that would help companies get a better grip on how deeply in debt they are. There are technology assessments in various audits, but having been through a number of them, they don’t get to the bottom of it. I imagine a tool that software development and product management could use as needed to gauge their own situation and help quantify for investors and leadership what level of attention the product debt deserves.

If you think this might be valuable, I would appreciate your liking this article, and let me know if you would like to participate in developing a tool to quantify Product Debt. Or if you are aware of some tools that would help let us know. Your feedback and participation will help me get an idea of how valuable this would be.

Blockchain Revolution: Can It Solve Security Problems?

There has been a great discussion about the potential of the blockchain as a distributed ledger and as a secure solution for small and large business transactions. Some visionaries see the technology as revolutionary as the Internet itself, but others are restrained by its legal and compliance frameworks.

The blockchain has a potential to become an important tool in building stable, secure and well-connected enterprise systems. At this point, however, it is yet to be tested in terms of regulatory and compliance requirements. For instance, many hospitals are not ready or unwilling to sign some documents digitally because of HIPAA mandates that may need to be corrected manually.

Blockchain Weaknesses
Although often suggested as the answer to the security problems of the financial industry, recent news point that blockchain is vulnerable to security problems too. Two separate hacks happened in a span of 3 months this year.

  1. Ethereum and DAO
    $55.4 million worth of Ether cryptocurrency were stolen through a smart contract in June. The smart contracts were created by DAO (Decentralized Anonymous Organization), which uses Ether as its primary payment currency. In immediate response to the attack, Ethereum published a public plea to suspend ETH and DAO deposits and withdrawals.
  2. Bitfinex
    $72 million worth of Bitcoins were hacked at the Hong Kong cryptocurrency exchange in August. The bitcoin was stolen from users’ accounts. The company reported the theft immediately and cooperated with top blockchain analytics to track what was stolen.

There is still validity to the idea that the blockchain can solve security problems. The technology itself is very secure. Since there is no central authority in its system, participants exchange transactions over a peer-to-peer network. This means that they keep copies of the file and only agree on changes by consensus. The latest transactions are wrapped in a new block of data to be added to the chain. Alongside that data is a block that contains a cryptographic signature of the previous block and itself, creating an immutable record.

Blockchain for Food Supply Chain
A significant percentage of the global population still has no secure access to plenty amounts of food. Despite this context, recent studies still show that approximately half of the US and about 30% of the world waste food. Thus, many companies have begun to exploit the opportunities offered by the blockchain to tackle complex systemic challenges in the food supply chain.

Retailers demand for perfect products, leading to food waste. They also seek lower prices, resulting to the industrialization of food production processes. Because of the increased cases of foodborne illnesses, many consumers have less trust on food. These challenges created the demand for more information on food production processes. When paired with sensors, the blockchain could make food data more transparent throughout the supply chain and reduce the amount of food wasted.

 Blockchain records information and holds data through a secure and immutable distributed ledger. The distributed nature of the network makes the ledgers resilient, and transparent to all users. Of course, it also has its limits. There are challenges that comes with blending a digital representation and a physical product. But, there is still reason to believe that it could secure an effective food supply chain in the future.