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Blockchain seems almost as top of mind as cloud or AI in 2018, but it's more than the trend du jour. The underlying technologies have been percolating for years, but blockchain's connection to cryptocurrencies tends to overshadow enterprise applications. So far, the most practical enterprise use cases have been around logistics and supply chain management. As ecosystems develop, other applications will follow, including those in the unified communications space.
To better understand the potential for blockchain in communications, let's define the concept. In short, blockchain is a distributed ledger that is shared in the cloud via a peer-to-peer network of computers. It's a decentralized model for sharing information in pieces -- or blocks -- and when linked together, like a chain, they comprise a complete record or transaction.
Because each block is encrypted and only contains one element of a transaction, it has no intrinsic value until linked and validated with the other blocks to complete the chain. The technology is complex, but powerful. Blockchain is incredibly secure by design, making it an attractive model wherever a high degree of trust is required when sharing information.
From here, it's not a big leap to see use cases for blockchain in communications where parties need assured privacy, or sensitive information needs to be shared among teams. Major unified communications (UC) vendors are looking at blockchain in communications, but baked-in applications aren't here yet. As with other UC applications, once blockchain becomes better understood, the use cases will develop -- especially if, or when, existing models for ensuring trust and privacy become real pain points. Given how those scenarios are more likely than not to materialize in today's environment, here are two use cases for blockchain under the UC umbrella.
1. Companywide collaboration
When team members are in the same office or department, there's a built-in familiarity and trust that makes collaboration fairly seamless. People know each other, so identity validation isn't really needed, and project-related information is accessible to all. Many organizations, however, tend to be a collection of silos where information is closely guarded, even internally.
More progressive organizations are trying to build cultures of transparency, especially when aspiring to become customer-centric. In these environments, silos present a major obstacle for achieving companywide objectives, which usually include improving collaboration and knowledge sharing. Depending on the culture, it may not be realistic to eliminate silos, but even breaking them down a bit can go a long way to supporting cross-functional teams.
Here, blockchain would be a prime use case for collaboration. Think about scenarios in which sensitive information within a department could be beneficial for a companywide collaboration initiative, such as customer records, payment histories, financial data and software code. Using blockchain, departments could securely share their most guarded information without having to tear down silos or expose any data for misuse.
2. Voice security as a communications channel
Because voice communications is a cornerstone of UC, if IT groups secure voice applications tightly, then the UC deployment will be more effective. As cloud technology advances and speech recognition makes AI voice technology almost indistinguishable from the human voice, voice platforms will become increasingly vulnerable to malicious activity.
While routine uses of voice are rather benign, scenarios do exist where the caller's identity needs to be known with total certainty. This applies equally to one-on-one communication, such as two executives discussing a merger, as it does to team collaboration, such as various departments formulating a strategy to counter a new competitor. With just a little social engineering, it can be surprisingly easy for bad actors to compromise these scenarios.
Until recently, direct inward dialing (DID) -- those ubiquitous 10-digit phone numbers -- has been our dominant identifier for real-time communication. Considering how we use DID for voice and messaging, our identity, personal privacy and data security are at risk.
Now, consider the dominant voice technologies of the public switched telephone network, voice over IP (VoIP) and cellular and how each has distinct security shortcomings that make them easy targets for hackers. Also, consider the fact that VoIP is prohibited or unsafe for private conversations in many countries.
Blockchain wasn't designed with voice in mind, but clearly use cases exist for one-to-one and team-based communications. With DID, validating identity is becoming more difficult, as calls can be easily spoofed or eavesdropped, and callers can be impersonated using AI.
These dark scenarios are routine parts of the cybercrime toolkit. In cases where privacy and caller identity must have absolute certainty, blockchain in communications is more secure than the DIDs we've been relying on before the internet came along. In that context, it's probably a good idea to establish these links to blockchain.