Mark van Rijmenam: On the ‘gestalt shift’ of big data, blockchain and AI convergence

James has more than a decade of experience as a tech journalist, writer and editor, and served as Editor in Chief of TechForge Media between 2017 and 2021. James was named as one of the top 20 UK technology influencers by Tyto, and has also been cited by Onalytica, Feedspot and Zsah as an influential cloud computing writer.

When emerging technologies, such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things converge, a ‘gestalt shift’ will occur, according to a new book. “The character of the experience will drastically change,” write Mark van Rijmenam and Dr. Philippa Ryan in Blockchain: Transforming Your Business and Our World. “All of a sudden, we can see the world through a different, more technologically advanced, lens and this opens up a completely new perspective.

“The convergence of multiple disruptive technologies will offer us new possibilities and solutions to improve our lives and create better organisations and societies, as well as build a better world all together.”

Organisations are increasingly taking the approach of exploring these technologies in tandem rather than in silos. Put simply, they all feed into each other. Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware, had it nailed down at the recent VMworld event. “Each [technology] is a superpower in [its] own right, but they’re making each other more powerful,” he told attendees. “Cloud enables mobile connectivity; mobile creates more data; more data makes the AI better; AI enables more edge use cases; and more edge requires more cloud to store the data and do the computing.”

For van Rijmenam, founder of Datafloq and a well-established big data thought leader, it was a natural trend. “The convergence of emerging technologies is the true paradigm shift organisations have to face,” he tells CloudTech. “Big data and blockchain have a lot in common and it will actually make data governance more importance – after all, blockchain makes data immutable, verifiable and traceable, but it does not magically turn low-quality data into high-quality data.”

This feeds into the central problem, that of data – what to do with it and how to utilise it best. But ‘twas ever thus. “When initiating your business intelligence project, you’re likely to be surprised at how bad your raw material – data – really is,” wrote Dan Pratte in TechRepublic. “You’ll discover that if you’re going to be serious about business intelligence, you’re going to have to get very serious (their emphasis) about data quality as well.” The article publication date? May 30 2001.

Today, artificial intelligence is redefining business intelligence at a rapid rate. Take the recent analysis from Work-Bench around the future of enterprise technologies. “Expect all modern BI vendors to release an [automated machine learning] product or buy a startup by [the] end of next year,” the report explained.

This will move down to the rank and file organisations who, ultimately, have to see themselves as a data-centric company going forward. “Organisations need to completely rethink the customer touchpoints and processes to be ready for the convergence of emerging technologies,” says van Rijmenam. “Only those organisations who are capable of seeing themselves as a data company will stand a chance to survive.”

Blockchain: Transforming Your Business and Our World focuses only its last chapter – 14 pages – on convergence. The remaining 180-odd pages explore blockchain’s potential in a variety of scenarios, from poverty, to voting, to climate change. The book describes these throughout as ‘wicked problems.’ Yet the third chapter, on identity, is the ultimate banker.

“We believe that we first and foremost need to solve the identity problem [with blockchain],” says van Rijmenam. “Once we have a self-sovereign identity, it will help make it easier to solve the other issues. That is why we first discussed that problem in our book before discussing the other wicked problems – thus a self-sovereign identity will be the biggest long-term change as it will empower individuals, but also organisations and even connected devices.”

Identity is not the only problem the industry needs to solve before blockchain can make its way truly into the mainstream. While a recent study from Juniper Research found that business leaders’ understanding of the technology is going up solidly, van Rijmenam categorises the issues into three buckets; technological, people, and culture. “Consumers will need to get used to a society where they have to control their own private keys,” he says. “That might be the biggest challenge of them all as it requires a culture shift.”

With this intersection in mind, van Rijmenam is currently working on a new book, focused on ‘the organisation of tomorrow’ and exploring how big data analytics, blockchain and AI will be transformative. “Organisations need to ‘datafy’ their processes, make data available using the cloud, collaborate with industry partners to optimise the supply chain, analyse their data for insights, and automate their business processes using AI,” says van Rijmenam.

Blockchain: Transforming Your Business and Our World is published by Routledge and is available for purchase here.

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