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How Blockchain could transform the digital experience

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PHOTO: Martin Pettitt

Much of the conversation on the digital experience stack is about data integration. It is the central conflict in the ongoing debate "buy against construction". When you have dozens of point systems that make a specific subset of things and you need everyone to work together, you need to integrate them.

Integrating software in reliable, cost-effective and scalable ways is really difficult. It requires a mix of general system architecture, the business environment of the systems you are integrating and specific knowledge of how these systems work. Not to mention, you'll need to be competent enough with operations management, so you can support that integration once installed.

Technology supporting integration has evolved significantly in the last decade, mainly for the better. The broad adoption of REST API architecture has provided enough common language for systems to communicate with each other. Initiatives such as OpenAPI will continue to push forward.

We are improving each year the definition of Web services interfaces and the provision of tools to connect these interfaces together to share data. But all these advances are based on the concept that data must exist in the silos. It must be owned and shared selectively.

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What happens if we have decentralized data?

Lately I've learned about the blockchain and I'm thinking about how this decentralized digital book can improve digital experiences. The general scheme means that we might be able to radically rethink – perhaps even go further – the hardest part of the DX stack: integration.

If customer data, transaction records and content did not exist in separate databases, enclosed by proprietary APIs, software that participates in the digital experience may have equal and unrestricted access to it. Integration would not be necessary, at least in the same way. It could simplify DX stack implementations and ultimately increase opportunities to create incredible digital experiences for consumers.

Think about how this would change customer data management, as an example. In theory, it is less likely that you should work with the challenges of data normalization, because the blockchain aims to enforce a "single source of truth" for the data. The customer data platform could be fundamentally elevated by working on a single source of truth instead of trying to create one through configuration and data integration.

And about privacy? Companies have found themselves in a considerable amount of hot water when sensitive data has been violated or when they have not applied enough clarity on what data to share or with whom.

At first glance, thinking of decentralizing and democratizing something like customer data seems a more striking violation of these data sharing principles. But blockchain actually gives you the opportunity to "pseudonymize" this data in ways that could actually strengthen your privacy.

Privacy should certainly be taken into account, and regulation will certainly have an impact on whether something like a pseudonymous customer platform is acceptable. As with many verticals, it remains to be seen to what extent the blockchain will push these regulatory systems. There is still no guarantee that the regulatory needle will move.

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A new approach to an old problem

The digital experience concerns the whole context. And sharing sufficient information between the various technologies to create the right amount of context is really difficult. Blockchain could provide a backbone to be able to create that context while providing the right amount of protection for personal and sensitive data.

There is a lot to bust in this conversation, but with the increase of the blockchain in its adoption, commercial applications of it will continue to emerge. Many of the problems that have led to the creation of blockchain are present with those looking to build stacks of digital experiences that drive growth.

Certainly it could be a solution to finding a problem, but thinking about how the blockchain could have an impact on digital experience initiatives is certainly an interesting exercise for reflection. Although this idea is far from a fully developed idea, you can begin to see how the blockchain could begin to radically change the way we look at that problem.

Ryan is Chief Operating Officer of nChannel, where he oversees the entire distribution of products and services, allowing retail and e-commerce companies to unify their technologies into a single omnichannel platform. He is also the author of Adobe Experience Manager: Classroom in a Book, published in 2013, by Adobe Press.

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