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When blockchain makes sense

By JIM HOLLAND, regional director at Lenovo Data Center Group EMEA

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Blockchain technology has become the technology solution of “trust” and a key driver for digital transformation. But before businesses can develop a blockchain adoption strategy for their organisation, it’s important to understand what makes this shared digital ledger so unique, how it can be used outside of crypto use cases to support specific business needs and the capabilities it can offer to some of the fastest-growing sectors in the industry.

Increasing Efficiency by Cutting Out the Middle Man

Disruption is all about increasing efficiency by cutting out the middle man and directly connecting two individual people or companies who want to do business. Blockchain was originally developed to support cryptocurrency, which removes banks from the middle of a transfer of funds between two parties. Today, blockchain is eliminating a third party in an astounding assortment of industries by establishing an unprecedented level of trust.

Greater Trust Means Greater Efficiency

Imagine what the business world would be like if everyone completely trusted everyone else to deliver exactly what they said they would. There would be no need for cumbersome validation processes. With blockchain, there is no chance of human error or false identity. When a bank, a manufacturer or a supplier knows that they can absolutely trust the identity of the person they are transferring funds to, the data they are getting from a sensor is valid or the amount of electricity a consumer is using and being charged for is correct, it eliminates a giant, unwieldy, human-led part of the transaction process and allows everyone to get business done faster and more efficiently.

With blockchain, all participants in the ecosystem are vetted. The blockchain ledger cannot be changed, except by consensus, and it is immune to tampering. For example, if two parties agree upon a smart contract to ship 100 items, blockchain technology ensures that 100 items are shipped, there is automatic confirmation that 100 items are received and payment to both the vendor and the shipper is transferred instantly. Processes that could take days or weeks to reconcile, involving a large number of human participants, are resolved in moments.

Blockchain as a Stepping Stone for Digital Transformation

Because all participants are vetted and their identity is confirmed, blockchain is ideal for high-security environments like banks. One government bank in Europe wanted to implement blockchain as part of their digital transformation, so Lenovo has been working with the government to establish a digital identification system that will be used by governmental agencies and commercial banks throughout the country and has already implemented the architecture of a new blockchain platform.

Advancing the IoT Revolution

Blockchain has ramifications for other aspects of business, especially when incorporating the Internet of Things (IoT). One of the issues with IoT is the increasing security risk of the billions of devices that will inevitably be deployed and operational within the next year. It is much harder to secure devices on the edge, especially with so many of them. A decentralised security system like blockchain is what is needed to make sure those devices aren’t hacked. With blockchain, the IoT revolution can continue, safely.

At Lenovo, we are working with a drone company that is combining a blockchain solution with artificial intelligence (AI) in an IoT context. The drones scan sensors on things like wind turbines and transmit that data back to a central office to be analysed. Blockchain technology guarantees that data is accurate, time-stamped and secure. The end user’s insurance company no longer needs to insert itself into the process to validate the data, and a human doesn’t have to go near dangerous equipment such as wind turbines to inspect it.

Business Transparency Enhances Consumer Trust

While blockchain uses trust to enhance security and safety, some companies also see a business opportunity to create a better customer experience. Providing transparency into business processes makes customers feel like they can trust that business, especially when combined with giving the customer more control. Blockchain makes both of these things possible. For instance, a company in Germany is developing blockchain-powered refrigerators that will allow consumers to not only monitor their refrigerator’s electricity usage, but also choose where that electricity comes from (wind farms, solar, etc.).

Transforming the Supply Chain

The supply chain is yet another area where blockchain is cutting out middle men, speeding up the process and giving more control to the consumer. A company in Seattle, Washington is using smart contracts to let consumers track their coffee from the bean in the field to their cup. This not only ensures that consumers are getting what they paid for, it even allows them to choose which farmers to buy from. Coffee bean farmers will be able to watch the same process, seeing where and for what price their coffee is actually being traded, eliminating fraud and confusion. At Lenovo, we’re using blockchain to transform our enormously complex supply chain and make it more efficient.

We’ve only just scratched the surface of blockchain’s potential for business. The key to transformation is knowledge of how this technology works and is evolving. As customers consider embarking on a blockchain journey or adopting new solutions to bolster existing capabilities, they should always be thinking about how solutions can be customised to fit the future needs of their business for an ever-increasing competitive edge.

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Tech promotes connections across groups in emerging markets

Digital technology users say they more regularly interact with people from diverse backgrounds

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Smartphone users – especially those who use social media – say they are more regularly exposed to people who have different backgrounds. They are also more connected with friends they don’t see in person, a Pew Research Center survey of adults in 11 emerging economies finds.

South Africa, included in the study, has among the most consistent levels of connection across age groups and education levels and in terms of cross-cultural connections. This suggests both that smartphones have had a greater democratisation impact in South Africa, but also that the country is more geared to diversity than most others. Of 11 countries surveyed, it has the second-lowest spread between those using smartphones and those not using them in terms of exposure to other religious groups.

Across every country surveyed, those who use smartphones are more likely than those who use less sophisticated phones or no phones at all to regularly interact with people from different religious groups. In most countries, people with smartphones also tend to be more likely to interact regularly with people from different political parties, income levels and racial or ethnic backgrounds. 

The Center’s new report is the third in a series exploring digital connectivity among populations in emerging economies based on nationally representative surveys of adults in Colombia, India, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, the Philippines, Tunisia, South Africa, Venezuela and Vietnam. Earlier reports examined attitudes toward misinformation and mobile technology’s social impact

The survey finds that smartphone and social media use are intertwined: A median of 91% of smartphone users in these countries also use social media or messaging apps, while a median of 81% of social media users say they own or share a smartphone. And, as with smartphone users, social media and messaging app users stand apart from non-users in how often they interact with people who are different from them. For example, 52% of Mexican social media users say they regularly interact with people of a different income level, compared with 28% of non-users. 

These results do not show with certainty that smartphones or social media are the cause of people feeling like they have more diverse networks. For example, those who have resources to buy and maintain a smartphone are likely to differ in many key ways from those who don’t, and it could be that some combination of those differences drives this phenomenon. Still, statistical modelling indicates that smartphone and social media use are independent predictors of greater social network diversity when other factors such as age, education and sex are held constant. 

Other key findings in the report include: 

  • Mobile phones and social media are broadening people’s social networks. More than half in most countries say they see in person only about half or fewer of the people they call or text. Mobile phones are also allowing many to stay in touch with people who live far away: A median of 93% of mobile phone users across the 11 countries surveyed say their phones have mostly helped them keep in touch with those who are far-flung. When it comes to social media, large shares report relationships with “friends” online who are distinct from those they see in person. A median of 46% of Facebook users across the 11 countries report seeing few or none of their Facebook friends in person regularly, compared with a median of 31% of Facebook users who often see most or all of their Facebook friends in person. 
  • Social activities and information seeking on subjects like health and education top the list of mobile activities. The survey asked mobile phone users about 10 different activities they might do on their mobile phones – activities that are social, information-seeking or commercial in nature. Among the most commonly reported activities are casual, social activities. For example, a median of 82% of mobile phone users in the 11 countries surveyed say they used their phone over the past year to send text messages and a median of 69% of users say they took pictures or videos. Many mobile phone users are also using their phones to find new information. For example, a median of 61% of mobile phone users say they used their phones over the past year to look up information about health and medicine for themselves or their families. This is more than the proportion that reports using their phones to get news and information about politics (median of 47%) or to look up information about government services (37%). Additionally, around half or more of mobile phone users in nearly all countries report having used their phones over the past 12 months to learn something important for work or school. 
  • Digital divides emerge in the new mobile-social environment. People with smartphones and social media – as well as younger people, those with higher levels of education, and men – are in some ways reaping more benefits than others, potentially contributing to digital divides. 
    • People with smartphones are much more likely to engage in activities on their phones than people with less sophisticated devices – even if the activity itself is quite simple. For example, people with smartphones are more likely than those with feature or basic phones to send text messages in each of the 11 countries surveyed, even though the activity is technically feasible from all mobile phones. Those who have smartphones are also much more likely to look up information for their households, including about health and government services. 
    •  There are also major differences in mobile usage by age and education level in how their devices are – or are not – broadening their horizons. Younger people are more likely to use their phones for nearly all activities asked about, whether those activities are social, information-seeking or commercial. Phone users with higher levels of education are also more likely to do most activities on their phones and to interact with those who are different from them regularly than those with lower levels of education. 
    •  Gender, too, plays a role in what people do with their devices and how they are exposed to different people and information. Men are more likely than women to say they encounter people who are different from them, whether in terms of race, politics, religion or income. And men tend to be more likely to look up information about government services and to obtain political news and information. 

These findings are drawn from a Pew Research Center survey conducted among 28,122 adults in 11 countries from Sept. 7 to Dec. 7, 2018. In addition to the survey, the Center conducted focus groups with participants in Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines and Tunisia in March 2018, and their comments are included throughout the report. 

Read the full report at https://www.pewinternet.org/2019/08/22/in-emerging-economies-smartphone-and-social-media-users-have-broader-social-networks.

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Nokia to be first with Android 10

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Nokia is likely to be the first smartphone brand to roll out Android 10, after its manufacturer, HMD Global, announced that the Android 10 software upgrade would start in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Previously named Android Q, it was given the number after Google announced it was ditching sweet and dessert names due to confusion in different languages. Android 10 is due for release at the end of the year.

Juho Sarvikas, chief product officer of HMD Global said: “With a proven track record in delivering software updates fast, Nokia smartphones were the first whole portfolio to benefit from a 2-letter upgrade from Android Nougat to Android Oreo and then Android Pie. We were the fastest manufacturer to upgrade from Android Oreo to Android Pie across the range. 

“With today’s roll out plan we look set to do it even faster for Android Pie to Android 10 upgrades. We are the only manufacturer 100% committed to having the latest Android across the entire portfolio.”

HMD Global has given a guarantee that Nokia smartphone owners benefit from two years of OS upgrades and 3 years of security updates.

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