The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique event that put the emergency response system of all counties to the test. These systems include public safety, healthcare, supply chain management, and many more processes which operate within an ecosystem of loosely connected organizations. Our technical term for these type of multi-party processes is “decentralized processes”.
As the pandemic goes through its phases, many people ask themselves whether we can improve the automation of these decentralized processes. For example, how can we better enable rapid inter-governmental collaboration, ramping up public safety measures, contact tracing, healthcare coordination, drug research, and manage dispersed supply chains for essential items.
Many of the existing systems to automate these processes are implemented in silos centrally (or distributed under central authorities). Organizations (like people) are creatures of habits. This is how many traditional systems are designed and implemented over many years. However, a centralized architecture is not the only option anymore. One might think that decentralized problems need decentralized technical solutions.
Decentralized processes rely on interactions between participants to establish order and coordination to achieve goals and objectives. This contrasts with a centralized or a distributed process in which a centralized controller instructs other participants or set the policy for delegated tasks. The challenges to share critical analytics or to reconfigure and speed up supply chains during this pandemic, may eventually make a case for finding an alternative approach to traditional manual coordination. An alternative is to consider a decentralized peer-to-peer protocol that embodies business process rules by implementing shared controls and records.
Blockchain can provide a decentralized computing environment for automating decentralized process activities using peer-to-peer protocols. These protocols enable multiple entities to participate in a peer-to-peer interaction to operate on a common asset state using standard control messages, trusted programs, and distributed ledgers:
• Control messages that may result in a state change of an asset
• Contracts that encode business rules to generate and respond to control messages
• Distributed ledgers that store asset state and record of operation
However, this is easier said than done. A key success factor is to rethink/remodel the process in a digital ecosystem context as shown in the following figure:
The key components to think about are:
• Assets (Tokens/Objects): Any digital entity that requires state management.
• Contracts: Terms/rules and conditions that govern accessing or changing the state of an asset.
• Control: A series of business functions and events as well as access rules.
• Interoperability: The ability of processes to interact and/or transact across P2P networks
• Actors: Users or agents that interact with assets and initiate functions
Also, participation in this type of decentralized processes may need adjustments in the operating model to establish a hybrid organization that includes a decentralized operating unit. These decentralized operating units specifically represent the organization in digital ecosystems that implement decentralized processes as shown in the following example diagram:
Note that there is much to consider and challenges such as availability, scalability, performance, privacy, and security, etc. The key point is that decentralized processes can leverage decentralized protocols for automation as an alternative using blockchain technologies. That may work for some processes and may not work for some others. Gartner’s general approach to blockchain solution adoption as shown below, can help with evaluating the feasibility and what may be involved considering the underlying complexity.
If you are interested to learn more, the following Gartner research reports provide further guidance (available to Gartner subscribers):
• Guidance for Blockchain Solution Adoption (Published 24 March 2020 – ID G00463865)
• Guidance for Assessing Blockchain Platforms (Published 27 March 2019 – ID G00361374)