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UK Firm Gospel Sees Bright Future in Blockchain Data Storage

The Salesforce-backed startup believes blockchain data storage can help kick-start a new era of inter-enterprise collaboration.

“If enterprises want to be relevant in the next 10 to 15 years, they’re going to be able to do two things,” said Ian Smith, chief executive officer at Gospel Technology in an interview at Dreamforce. “One of them is built to make data-driven decisions,” he said. “And the second one: Enterprise businesses need to be able to collaborate.”

Smith and Gospel Vice President of Technology Reuben Thompson are quick to admit that those simple-sounding objectives are often anything but. Whether an organization chooses to deploy predictive analytics, edge processing, robotic process automation software or something else depends on the nature of the business. But data-driven strategies require some sort of trust — an assurance that the data is accurate, that it is being used for its intended purpose and that it checks the right regulatory boxes.  

As you might expect, the reason for Gospel’s existence is to help provide that assurance. By using blockchain data storage, the company says it can ensure data is being used as intended. “It is cool stuff. I’ve been working for years to try to solve this problem,” said Thompson, referring to a string of positions in which the theme was “moving large amounts of data around.” “The thing that has always woke me up in the middle of the night is: ‘How do I know that everybody's doing what they said they are going to do with this data?’” he said. Then there is the related question of: “How do I ensure that nobody is doing something with the data they shouldn’t be doing?” Mining it. Selling it on the dark web. Sharing it with competitors.

The other fact is that many enterprise companies are simply not equipped to share data. While the methods of consuming data have become highly decentralized, “in the past 20 years, consumption models and apps have massively evolved,” Smith said. “But those back-end centralized architectures haven't.” In the case of internet banking and integrated financial services, for instance, the back-end data architecture has remained centralized while the consumption of data has become more decentralized. The problem has also been a hurdle for many enterprise IoT projects. In any event, enterprise companies “don't share data well together,” Smith said. Processes that do are often cumbersome. And the data frequently ends up in the wrong hands. And so we continually see headlines describing data breaches affecting tens of millions or more people.

Gospel’s approach to providing trust in a chaotic world is to leverage blockchain data storage and its ability to create an immutable ledger of transactions. “Blockchain is a list of everything everybody's written. With Gospel, we’ve extended that to reads, as well as writes,” Thompson said. “What that means is that we have a history of everything anybody's ever done.”

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Blockchain also offers Byzantine fault tolerance. “That is a horribly complicated phrase,” Thompson said. “What it means in English is: ‘You ask several people the same question and you get the same answer back.’” For enterprises collaborating with each other, this would mean that if one party lies and gives the wrong answer to a question, they would simply be excluded. “Therefore, nobody can unilaterally do something they are not allowed to do,” Thompson added. “So we know the people aren’t allowed to do anything they aren’t allowed to and we know everything everybody's done. So in the zero trust environment, we have trust.”

On a similar note, the company’s technology also supports context-based access control, meaning the system can limit the potential attack surface for hackers. “We are in all of these companies so we know what people are doing and why they're doing it,” Thompson said. “A lot of the time we don't need to expose data.” Instead of providing data, the system could provide only the information relevant to answer a given question. “Or maybe I'm working on a help desk looking at a failed IoT device. I need to see that IoT device — not all of the IoT devices,” Thompson said. “So, therefore, our attack surface becomes one device rather than all of the devices. And there's no better way than preventing a data breach by not having very much data around.”

To date, the company’s approach to inter-enterprise collaboration has won support from notable investors including Vivek Kundra, the first chief information officer for the U.S. federal government and creator of the website data.gov, as well as IA Ventures, LocalGlobe and Salesforce Ventures.

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