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Distributed Ledger Technology to define the future: Hashgraph, a fast emerging DLT

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Mohua Sengupta

(Authored by Ms. Mohua Sengupta, EVP & Global Head of Services, 3i Infotech Ltd)

The most popular questions in the technology world today is most definitely the one on whether Hashgraph is better than Blockchain. The life and credibility of the Blockchain is being questioned and Hashgraph is being predicted as the technology of the future.

While it is difficult to predict whether Blockchain is a thing of the past and whether Hashgraph is the final answer, one thing is sure, Hashgraph definitely addresses a lot of the critical challenges that Blockchain has been grappling with, the challenge of speed of processing, the challenge of fairness, and the huge challenge of requiring multiple industry regulators to come together.

Mohua Sengupta

Mohua Sengupta

Hashgraph can process 250000+ transactions per second as opposed to Blockchain’s 7 transactions per second.  Hashgraph is fast because it uses Gossip protocol to spread messages to the network and also performs some optimization of the gossiped messages to reduce the communication overhead.  One other reason behind this speed of Hashgraph is because Hashgraph today uses private, permissioned networks.

Coming to fairness, the main challenge of Blockchain is its dependence on miners.  There could be forking and delay because of the actions of the miners, who can manipulate the process.  Since Hashgraph is based on consensus and time stamping, it’s faster and more accurate.  The Virtual Voting Consensus Algorithm of Hashgraph, which was invented by Dr. Leemon Baird, makes it straightforward to know how a node would vote and this data can be used as an input to the voting algorithm and to find whichever transactions have reached consensus quickly, thus making it more fair.

According to me, one of the biggest challenge for Blockchain to be a commonly used technology, is the need for multiple industry regulators to come together and set regulations which will cut across industries.  As I have said before also, a Blockchain, or for that matter any DLT is beneficial only when the chains are big or integrated to each other.  While it’s not really a technical challenge, given the water tight compartments of today, it’s an enormous roadblock to overcome for a DLT.  Hashgraph is planning to overcome or partially address that challenge by way of their 39-member council.  If run properly it will take care of enabling cross-industry discussions and regulations.

Added to this, Hashgraph’s security is also claimed to be better than that of Blockchain.  Hashgraph has been proven to be fully asynchronous Byzantine. This means that it doesn’t make any assumption about how fast messages are passed over the internet and this makes it resilient against DDoS attacks, botnets, and firewalls.  While the security in Blockchain was never a challenge, the Byzantine Consensus of Hashgraph makes it stronger.

While Hashgraph does seem to have quite a few advantages over Blockchain, we cannot say that Blockchain is a thing of the past and Hashgraph is the new technology of the future.  I can only predict that Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) is the way to go, but whether it will be Blockchain or Hashgraph or Tangle or any other DLT, only time can tell.  They are all evolving and evolving very fast.  As Distributed Ledger Technologies move beyond the POC stage to actual implementation stage, we will see even faster evolution.  So it’s very hard to predict which DLT is here to stay because tomorrow is truly another day!

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Solving the Challenges of the Modern Retail Industry with SD-WAN

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Solving the Challenges of the Modern Retail Industry with SD-WAN 1

Three key benefits of SD-WAN can help retailers solve new and old challenges and prepare for an uncertain future

By John Tait, Global Managing Director, TNS Payments Market

As customer needs and preferences change, and as technologies disrupt formerly effective strategies, retailers are confronted by continuous challenges in the modern era.

But no year has been quite like 2020. Mandates ordering the public to stay at home crippled foot traffic earlier this year and, even when physical stores were able to open, social-distancing measures have limited the numbers of customers permitted indoors, while fears of the virus have driven others away.

With new and old challenges impacting the industry, it’s time to think differently. Retailers need to look closely at how technology can support their operations and their customers, secure customer payments and business data, and help them adopt the digital strategies that will be vital in an uncertain future.

One network technology, software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN), can offer a host of benefits for retail businessesAt its core, SD-WAN is a way of simplifying the management and operation of a network by decoupling the networking hardware from the way it is controlled. This gives a business the ability to manage network traffic to and from data centres and retail sites or offices, which alleviates network congestion and keeps the network from becoming overloaded. It can be layered on top of any connectivity solution to securely connect users with applications, including apps in the cloud.

But that’s not all it is. Here’s how it can help retailers navigate an ever-changing business and economic climate.

It can support new strategies and modernises operations

Many retailers will have heard the term ‘digital transformation’ and their stores may even be working towards it. The basic premise is that all businesses can boost their overall agility, flexibility, and customer service experience by adopting digital initiatives and technology-based strategies.

For retailers, this can mean creating online storefronts to connect with customers, instead of face-to-face interactions, with cloud-supported e-commerce options and curb-side pick-up options for pandemic-friendly buying experiences. Alternatively, it could mean adding chatbots and customer data management solutions to a website for ways to support customers with a leaner staff. Or implementing contactless mobile payment options for the first time, supported by secure, high-speed connectivity. It can even be as simple as adding a separate Wi-Fi network for customers to use then they’re in a store.

The possibilities for digital transformation are practically endless within the retail space — it all comes down to how daring retailers want to be and how much tech they want to add. But even the more accessible parts of digital transformation incorporate devices and apps that can strain traditional networks and add new levels of complexity around network management. Even simply adding digital displays to stream promotional videos in a store can stretch a network’s bandwidth.

That’s where SD-WAN can come in. Because it can improve network uptime, performance and redundancy, it gives a business the ability to support new strategies and add the latest cloud-based apps while also prioritising business-critical applications like payments. In other words, retailers don’t have to worry that their payments terminal might slow or go down just because they’ve added in-store digital features that also require connectivity, such as customer-facing tablets that let them place orders or view different options, or customer Wi-Fi.

For shops that have shifted to more of an e-commerce/delivery/pick-up strategy, SD-WAN supports secure digital payments while connecting an inventory management system to a payments system and online/mobile ordering portal, so customers can have a smooth experience, and their data remains protected.

It helps retailers embrace and secure the cloud

The cloud is a big part of digital transformation. Retailers’ own operations, like their databases or servers, might not yet be based in the cloud, but they almost certainly use services that are. Tools such as Office 365 and Google Drive, or payments apps like Square are all cloud-based.

Even if retailers aren’t there yet, their vendors are most likely going to push them there. Plus, cloud isn’t just good for the vendors they use; it’s good for retail businesses, too. Many of the aforementioned digital services like e-commerce and chatbots need the cloud to run optimally.  Once they’re in the cloud, retail organisation will have a world of possibilities, but to adopt cloud, they need to solve any connectivity issues they may have.

While cloud services allow business-critical applications to be accessed from anywhere, it does add security concerns. A recent IDG survey found 98% of businesses surveyed said securing applications, data and infrastructure in the cloud is “very” or “somewhat” challenging. Almost all of the organisations that IDG surveyed (95%) feel that their current security infrastructure hinders their ability to protect data — including payments data — as it moves to and from the cloud.

SD-WAN allows retailers to lock down cloud access at a branch or location by securing direct access to the public cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps like Office 365. SD-WAN also adds the ability to boost capacity during times of high network traffic, or failover to a broadband or LTE network. Retailers can quickly deploy new cloud-based apps with secure, reliable internet connectivity.

It boosts security, including customer payments security

SD-WAN allows retailers to deliver alternative payment options such as self-service kiosks and mobile POS. For example, outdoor terminals can be used for restaurants serving patio diners, or tablets that allow staff to check out shoppers from anywhere in a store.

This flexibility regarding where and how payments can be processed is ideal for the consumer, but it can create cybersecurity risks because of more devices and more points of interaction to and from apps or internet breakout. No retailer wants to be featured in the next headline about data breaches or other cyberattacks. This means properly security controls, especially for payments, are critical.

SD-WAN gives retailers a way to securely connect all types of payments options — POS terminals, cash registers, e-commerce gateways, mobile devices, automated fuel dispenser (AFD) pay-at-the-pump systems and more, as well as any other devices and networks within a retail environment.

SD-WAN can also protect sensitive card data. Retailers should opt for best-in-class security protocols like next-generation stateful firewalls (NGFW) (including IPSEC VPN tunnels), anti-virus features, URL filtering and SSL packet inspection. Regulatory compliance with PCI DSS security credentials is, of course, also critical within a retail environment, and some SD-WAN solutions available today have been designed to incorporate PCI DSS requirements.

While SD-WAN does offer an upgraded, secure technology that can bolt on to another connectivity layer and reduce the complexity of network management, retailers that don’t have in-house IT staff may still be challenged to successfully implement one. Fully managed solutions remove the hands-on work while giving a business access to all of an SD-WAN’s capabilities. They also add an extra layer of security: with a provider actively monitoring threats and keeping an eye on the network peripherals — all the data going back and forth, and what devices are using them — retailers can keep their network, and their customers’ card data, locked down.

Solving existing and future Challenges

This year has challenging in many ways and surprises are likely to continue for the next year or so. This uncertain new reality is understandably unsettling for many retailers, but it’s also an opportunity to rethink the way they do business to ensure long-term survival and drive growth, even in a volatile environment.

Implementing an SD-WAN solution can help retailers support digital initiatives and new strategies, deploy and secure modern cloud applications, and secure payments data. With the option of a managed service provider behind the SD-WAN, stores can focus on boosting the customer experience and modernising retail operations instead of managing payments terminals or troubleshooting a network. This will save time and money at a time when everyone needs more of both.

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The case for AI technology adoption in financial back-office roles to improve efficiency

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The case for AI technology adoption in financial back-office roles to improve efficiency 2

By Tomas Gogar, AI CEO, Rossum

In this era, digital transformation isn’t anything new. Nonetheless, it can still cause a lot of confusion and resistance for some companies, many of which are often slow, unwilling or unable to implement the necessary changes to embrace technology. As a result, entire industries are barely scratching the surface when it comes to shifting to the digital world, and many, from the insurance industry to logistics and delivery are still catching up on the digital transformation.

The banking and financial sector have been notoriously slow in adapting to the online world. They paid the high price for it, giving way to a flurry of incredibly successful new disruptive players, built on cutting edge tech from the ground up. From Transferwise, Revolut or Venmo, to GoCardless, this new generation of fintech companies addressed consumers changing expectations in a way that traditional retails banks simply couldn’t.

To catch up, incumbent players have prioritised the user interfaces, giving the appearance of a digital offering, and oftentimes leaving the back end infrastructure untouched, and hence the processing power, accuracy and speed unaffected. Back-office functions, although they are essential to the smooth running of a business, have seen very little change and as a result,  too many people in these functions are still tied up typing information into spreadsheets and software forms – in fact, manual data entry is a prime example of how much resources the offline legacy wastes. Take Accounts Payable for example, invoice data entry in this sector is estimated to eat up roughly 100 human lives worth of time every single day.

Tomas Gogar

Tomas Gogar

With the significant increase in the number of employees working from home due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the back-office challenges have suddenly come to light, and finally, companies that got away with minimal changes so far, are realising that they need a structural digital overhaul, and fast. We believe the solution to this is artificial intelligence backed software solutions.

Previous technology based solutions essentially did half the job, heavily depending on human fact checking. Consequently, these solutions were actually quite cumbersome and time consuming and costly to implement and maintain, and offered only incremental improvements. Now with AI, automises data processing completely removing the need for human fact checking (and human error!). Additionally, deployment is massively simplified with an average setup time of one week, compared to about 6 months for previous technologies.   AI solutions are also highly adaptable to new formats and scenarios, allowing businesses to test them in say one department and to quickly roll out a single unified solution across all functions of the business.   Data can be extracted from any invoice layout with no template or rule set-up, saving significant and effort. Rather than trying to change and standardise a highly fragmented environment (there are about as many invoice formats as there are businesses), AI can work with it, and optimise the overall process and offer a unified answer to a fragmented ecosystem.

Taking Accounts Payable as an example again, this is a sector that has relied by and large on Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software solutions in an attempt to remove some of the manual labour involved in reading processing and filing invoices. Although OCR did improve the processes to a certain degree, ultimately these types of solutions still required a long and expensive set up processes and a lot of manual labour to actually capture the data accurately with templates and manual data entry. Now, with AI software, like the one we have created, this is a solution that makes data extraction simple and easy, saving time and man power, as well as building on existing infrastructure. It has the ability to transform this industry.

In conclusion, for a sector that has been slow to adopt digital change, AI is THE technology answer that is finally fixing the invisible pain points that businesses had simply accepted as unremovable. AI applied in this way offers a viable way forward and businesses that were notoriously slow and resistant to embrace the digital transition, incentivised to make a change, may actually end up at the head of the pack. Skipping ‘older tech’ and jumping straight into AI solutions, the best scenario available by far, is indeed the smartest, fastest and most cost effective way to transition into the digital world.

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InsurTech is helping to drive the digital evolution of the UK motor retail industry

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InsurTech is helping to drive the digital evolution of the UK motor retail industry 3

By Alan Inskip, Tempcover CEO & Founder

If the last nine months have made anything clear, it is that the pandemic has fundamentally changed both buying and driving habits for UK motorists. The latest Tempcover research has revealed that online-only used car sales had increased fifteen-fold during the pandemic among 2,000 survey respondents.

Before lockdown, just 4% of used car sales were fully-digital. The vast majority of those surveyed opted for either a physical purchase (50%) or a digitally-assisted purchase (45%), relying on a combination of digital tools and an in person viewing or road test before buying.

While car sales overall are down on last year’s figures*, one in six (17%) of those surveyed had bought a used car during lockdown, with two thirds (64%) relying on a fully-digital purchase journey. Digitally-assisted purchases counted for one in five (20%) used car sales, while in person sales fell to just 15% – no surprise considering the ongoing social distancing measures.

And when it comes to arranging insurance for their recently-purchased vehicle, our survey participants displayed an equal balance between telephone and online as the preferred method (48% each). Nearly a third of those (28%) said they wait up to ten minutes for their policy to be confirmed, and a further 22% wait as long as 20 minutes to get cover.

The switch to digital insurance, driven by InsurTech

In the midst of rapid and significant market changes, many traditional insurers have lacked the agility and flexibility to adapt accordingly. InsurTech can provide immense value in bridging that gap, as the digital solutions are entirely scalable, with the flexibility to substantially increase in size and across multiple geographies, with minimal disruption.

Alan Inskip

Alan Inskip

The ongoing decline of physical transactions in the motor retail industry is a perfect example of how InsurTech is adding value. Several national blue-chip dealerships, with both physical and digital showroom floors, are already streamlining their online purchase process by offering temporary driveaway insurance policies to cover the vehicle for a fixed-term, usually between five to seven days, as part of the purchase journey.

The entirely online one-step user experience is the first of its kind in the traditionally outdated and inflexible driveaway insurance industry and it is dramatically simplifying the process of how insurance is purchased and consumed. Due to the flexibility and agility of the digital solution, each retailer has its own unique URL, where the customer can obtain a simple single-cost policy in just 90 seconds through an entirely digital process, which fits in line with the evolving consumer purchase trends.

For the dealers, this technology means more efficient stock clearance times and greater profitability. For the buyers, it takes the stress out of searching for annual insurance on the spot, and provides the driver with near instant cover so that they can immediately drive their new car, while giving them the opportunity to thoroughly research the best annual policy to suit their needs. An added benefit is there’s no risk to any existing No Claims Discount, as it’s a separate and standalone policy.

While there is a chance these trends will reverse to some extent post pandemic, it is clear that the consumer appetite for digital purchase and consumption is here to stay, and InsurTech will continue to lead the way in making motor insurance more easily-accessible across digital platforms, while offering consumers the best value for money.

* https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/cars/article-8615851/Used-car-sales-halved-lockdown-brakes-1m-motor-transactions.html

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