Data, Trust, and Transparency: A COVID-19 Vaccine Story

Data is at the center of everything we do. Yet, how can we trust it in a world where more "organic" food is consumed than produced? In this episode, Jason Kelley—the Global General Manager for Blockchain Services at IBM—talks about how data trust and transparency are applied to COVID-19 vaccines.

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Charles Lowell: Hello, everybody, and welcome to The Frontside Podcast. My name is Charles Lowell. I'm a developer here at The Frontside. And today we're coming to you with a special pandemic episode. With us to talk about this is Taras Mankovski also of Frontside. Hey, Taras.

Taras Mankovski: Hello. Hello.

Charles: And Jason Kelley, who is the global general manager for blockchain services at IBM. Welcome, Jason.

Jason Kelley: Hello, Charles, Taras.

Charles: Now, I didn't even know that IBM had a special unit for blockchain services so maybe you could talk a little bit about that and how that all came to be.

Jason: Great question because I guess we could say you ask that question about any technology that comes to the forefront. It's almost a misnomer to say it's a special unit because we've tried to make sure it's part of how we engage all of our clients when we talk about data because it is a consideration. It's also a buzzword, so we can get to that because it's a bright, shiny thing.

So, how did it come about that we decided from a corporate level, a CEO level throughout the organization to focus on blockchain? And it could go back now I think maybe six years, seven years. Of course, as an AI company when you think about this thought of having artificial intelligence or, in this case, augmented intelligence, because ultimately it's the intelligence that's helping humans, is that in the middle of that it's data. And if we go from AI to then even forward-looking things that are being worked on here at IBM such as quantum capabilities, what's in the middle of quantum computing? It's data because we're just moving data faster and with this thought of data being at the center of not just what we do as IBM because it's less about us, and it's all about our clients and the greater needs of the world. Data is at the center of all that we do. And so we said, "Hey, here's something, some capability that adds what we believe to be trust and transparency to data." And what is in the middle of all that we do as consumers and human beings? We transact in one way or another every day whether it's transactions in communication, transactions in financial, transactions in all that we do. Looking forward, we said, "Well, if data's in the middle of it, how do we add trust and transparency to those transactions?" And then you start to see an equation coming together: data, trust and transparency, transactions, and this new capability called blockchain. So it's something the market had pulled us into saying, "Look, can we get trust?"

Now fast forward, we didn't know that trust was going to be plastered across everything that we do like it is now when we're in the middle of a pandemic and we're trying to gain trust and transparency in vaccines and being able to move it from point A to point B and ultimately, into each one of those that want to receive it with equity, with trust, with transparency. So that's how we landed on that, making a guess that it was going to be an important capability that would help tie together many of the things. And that's why I started with it, Charles, and said, "Look, it doesn't stand alone because it helps AI, it helps quantum, it helps IoT, it helps deep analytics." All of those things come together when you can have sheer, trusted, and transparent data.

Taras: And it seems like right now, the one thing we could really use a lot more of is trust.

[Laughter]

Jason: Yeah. I have often said here that I would love to get rid of the buzzword part of blockchain and almost get rid of the block and put trust in front of it and just call it a trust chain capability. Think about that. Because I use supply chain because a lot of people will identify that and they'll often to go to different industries and they think supply chain is like in manufacturing or in consumer goods. And I say, "Well, no." Actually, in every type of industry, every company, we all have a supply chain because you have a source and you have an endpoint, which is a consumer. And we're trying to get a product or service to that consumer. And we have thought about that supply chain as being very linear, that it's sequential step by step by step, and there's a bunch of handshakes, if you will, going through those steps. Well, we've always allowed others to broker that trust between those handshakes. Did it actually come from where we think it came from?

And Taras, in this thought about trust I love to talk about one of the examples that was really given to me by a client and he said, "Jason, I love this point because a little known fact is that there's more organic food consumed every year than is produced." [Laughs] Which was head-scratching because I was like oh wait, yeah, that doesn't add up, does it? So this thought we put things in our body every day and with a lot of trust. So yes, it's there, and it's really there when we put it in context of this thought of, wow, this is very important to have that transparency. And there's nothing like looking at this huge challenge which I've now called the biggest data puzzle of our lifetime which is getting a vaccine out to help solve and cure COVID-19, the challenges that we see around it. And that's getting it out with equity and with an assurance of trust and most importantly as we now see, in a very rapid manner. So you hit it Taras with this thought of trust is at the center of it. It's right there squarely in the cross hairs of the capability of what we're talking about here.

Charles: So, what does that look like? What does it look like to introduce trust into this? What does that actually look like in the infrastructure and in the solution that you guys are introducing? I'm really curious what that actually looks like practically if possible.

Jason: Let's talk about that practically because I think that people think that you can walk around with a bucket of blockchain and just spread it on the current situation. We get that, you know, "Oh, well, it's the silver bullet that's going to solve all the challenges." Well, it's not, and it can't be because it can't stand alone. And we say many times and people smile and nod because they don't get it, but I say, "It's a team sport." And they're like, "Oh, I like that. It's catchy. Blockchain is a team sport.” So I say, "Not just blockchain, solving the challenge of sharing the data in landscapes that currently exist is a team sport. It's a team sport."

And I'll give you an example, there are some conversations we're having with a U.S.-based company, a wonderful company actually which is very successful in the current pandemic. And when we look at a great company like that which has a very complex supply chain, you start to think wait, it's not just the external supply chain. But if you think of any company, I'm using them as an example because they are like many companies where they have an ecosystem that's right inside their own company. Now, they are like many companies. We look around any industry or any company around the U.S. or even globally, and globally it gets even more complex because those companies have their own lines of business inside: Who sells to our commercial clients? Who sells to our retail clients? Where do we get products X, Y, and Z from compared to A, B, and C? So now what you have is this thought of federation of information. And so people say, "Wait a second, federated data, that's what you mean when you say a common ledger, this centralized ledger." I say, "Yes, and," because what you have is legacy applications and sometimes many of them, not just one enterprise app where you're saying, "Okay, here's my ERP, but wait a minute, we have different versions of that. And oh, by the way, we have many different operational data stores with that." How do we make that? It was always, well, why don't we get one big, fat data lake and we'll throw it all in there and while we swim around, we'll get some kind of continuity? Well, it doesn't work that easily. What you do have though with blockchain is the capability to have a common data thread that can pull from your existing legacy applications. And so think of it as a way to integrate trusted data because once it's in there, once it's on the chain, it can't be changed nor manipulated without knowing who has changed and manipulated it.

And so effectively you have to put it in context of our earlier example of what we're talking about here with regards to a vaccine. And we'll look at North America, think about the natural challenge that we're seeing now where you have federal entities working with state entities working with even local entities. And we've gone across just the three layers that then get into maybe even communities. But then also what about the industries? Because there's a pharma industry producing it. And then there's a travel transportation industry moving at the 3PLs, third-party logistics providers. And then it can stop into a healthcare space where that might be the point of administration or it may even go to retail if it's in the drug-side like Walgreens or CVS. So now think of all those industries you've gone through and you have to federate that, and that's where you get this opportunity to say, "Can we come up with a lingua franca that allows us to share the data in a permissioned way with trust?" So that's practically the challenge that we're allowing with this capability to solve.

Charles: When you say data, there was obviously a lot of different places, a lot of different entities, and a lot of different industries as you described having custody of this vaccine. What is the data that needs to be collected at each point? How is that federated?

Jason: About the data that's important, let's start with that with regards to different types of data because I think to keep it practical for all of us, it's the outcome. And so let's start with the outcome, and I'm going to assume that maybe when it comes to your round of vaccines, that if you haven't received it you can say -- let's just assume you're going to receive the vaccine, Charles. Now, if you were to get this vaccine, what would you want to know about that vaccine? Let me flip it back to you.

Charles: Well, so I would want to know one, that it was an authentic vaccine and not sugar water to start off with. I would want to know that it hadn't been opened in any way, that it was fresh and hadn't been tampered with, that the conditions that are conducive to transport had been maintained from the moment it was manufactured to the moment that it goes into my arm, to name three.

Jason: Okay. So that's great. So the authenticity, integrity, if you will, that it is what it's supposed to be and then transport that that was sound as well. And then I'll add another that you'd also want to know that if in fact the person that was sitting next to you that you knew and two days later may have had an adverse reaction, you'd want to know is it because of that person, or is it because of the vaccine? Because I was sitting right next to them. So you'd also want to know, wait a second, do we have some remediation or some way to understand, connecting the data about the data? And so I'm adding yet another challenge here. I would assume you'd want to know that anyway, Charles.

[Laughter]

Jason: And so with that, when you say what data is important, I think we've just outlined that. So think of what we've just talked about, and I think we can boil it down to three simple areas, one is identity. And one would say, "Wait a second, where'd that come from? Why do we care if Charles is Charles?" And we'll get into that because that's how we circle back, but it's not just you, but it's identity of the entity of: Is that the vaccine that it's supposed to be? Did you get the one that's one dose or two-dose? And did it have to be at certain temperatures? All of that. So first the identity, so entity identification is one thing. Then there's also the provenance so there's provenance of what was its origin? In your words, Charles, is it sugar water, or is it the real vaccine? So you have that. And then the one that I throw in that sometimes causes people some confusion because we use the blockchain, it's in the context of blockchain, but I say tokenization and that's just digitization of a physical asset into a digital asset, so being able to track a physical entity in a digital way. So think of all the paperwork that's signed in and confirm how we currently broker authenticity is typically that way. So can we tokenize? So I always put the vowel in the middle and you get a little acronym (TIP) Tokenization Identity Provenance. And so those three things then say how we can make sure that this data through each one of those handshakes is maintained. So when the vaccine's produced, it gets a birth certificate in a sense, a digital birth certificate that's on the chain. I know when, where, how it was produced, and which type of vaccine it is.

Charles: And we're talking every single dose gets the birth certificate?

Jason: Well, ideally, we would love to have that. I think most as we've found in the current environment, as I said, we start with the current landscape, it's typically by lot number. You have a lot number in there; they're kept in lots. But even at that level, you're monitoring that no different than if you buy a container of strawberries. It's by that lot of strawberries and not necessarily each individual strawberry, not that we can't get there someday, but I think that's another conversation.

Charles: [Laughs]

Jason: You want to have that amount of data, so you give it a birth certificate and then as it goes through each handshake, and I'll stick with my same analogy, that's where you have an opportunity to put data on the chain but also data in context about that vaccine. So, yes, what does that start to pull in? You heard me mention internet of things (IoT). Well, we have many devices that are talking to each other right now. There's a great company called AeroSafe that has the refrigeration containers, and guess what? They have a GPS on that and a thermometer, and it's constantly communicating. So now you're collecting data about the transport. Your other concern, right? And so not just transport but the integrity: Was it at the right temperature? Where did it go? What were the different handshakes that it went through? Is it authentic? Did it really stay in the chain that we think it did or did it step out? Is this a black market? Has there been some fraudulent activity with this? Those are the things that you wanted to know.

So keeping all of it in context of the end-user, that's the data that is important, and that's where that data is then loaded into this common thread of safe, secure, trusted, and transparent data on the chain. That's what then at each step you would want to happen. And that's why, when I said it's a team sport, I truly meant that that means that each one of those places can simply go online and say, "I don't have to buy..." You'll start to hear some buzz words here. "I don't have to buy all this infrastructure." It can be a nice cloud infrastructure that now exists. And they say, "Why haven't we done this before?" Well, we didn't have, all of us, didn't have the capability. We didn't have a blockchain that was prevalent and proven and in a production way. We didn't have the speed and capability that we have across clouds in a hybrid cloud environment. We didn't have all of this capability even from a can I sign on to the chain on my cell phone and simply scan? Yes. All of these things have come together as we've seen in other industries to say the stars have aligned. And in an unfortunate time and an unfortunate event like we have now, we fortunately have technology that was ready to go on the shelf, ready to bring forward and solve the big problems that we're doing now.

Taras: It's fascinating. I have so many questions.

Charles: Yeah.

[Chuckles]

Taras: It's interesting because it's really time-sensitive. Because usually, you see adoption of fundamental enterprise or technologies like this that span the entire spectrum of supply chain and usually those things evolve and are maintained over a long time. But in the same way, we had to fast track the vaccine itself, you actually have to fast track this infrastructure because in some ways, now that you've described this, I do want to know did someone at some point open the case that had the vaccine? Was there an opportunity for that vaccine to be swapped out with something else? I would want to know that. And it makes me think when you think about transparency, you think about transparency being ubiquitous, it's transparent to everyone. And so how much transparency can you expect? What's a reasonable amount of transparency? How much information can you actually get and should be able to get about every step along the way?

Jason: And those expectations are becoming more and more the standard. I'll step out of the life-threatening type. I should focus on the positive, life-saving opportunity we have with the vaccine and not the threatening part of the virus itself. And I'll step into fashion, something that we always talk about with regards to authenticity. However, there's a company that we're working with now called Covalent at C-O-V-A-L-E-N-T. It's a fashion brand whose products are made with AirCarbon, a biomaterial that's made by microorganisms. It's meltable; it can be used in alternative fiber to plastic and leather. So it's carbon negative, certified by Carbon Trust. So as we look at this, you start to say, "Wait a minute, can we trace the authenticity or at least the carbon production or offset of these products that are being made?" And on the other side, when we look at another -- and I'm just calling out real examples, so it's not just what-ifs. There's a consortium that we work with called the Responsible Sourcing Blockchain Network, think of automotive players such as Ford as they look to control some of the minerals and metals that go into their batteries such as cobalt, some very sensitive minerals. So when you look at that, you say: "Has that mineral been sourced properly? Did it come from the right mine? Is it really making it into the battery? And then also another buzzword, buzzword alert, in a circular economy, does it go from that battery back into the recycles so it can then come into another battery?"

So I'm lightening up the topic to say there are many things in everyday life that if you jumped into a car anytime soon, many of us haven't left the house in weeks. [Laughs] But if you have and it's electric, you're thinking there's a battery there. If you're looking at the computer as we're doing this now, there's a battery in there. So we're experiencing all of these things that you start to say, "Wait a second, I really would like to see that." And we know that from work that we've done with the National Retail Federation, 72% of people would say, "I'll pay more to know that what I'm buying and consuming reflects my values, which currently sustainability is one of them." So how do you keep score? It's all based on data. And how do we trust the data? As you said, I think Taras you mentioned it's back to that big trust thing. How do you do that? So yes, vaccines have brought to the forefront what I've just mentioned has been working with regard to trust and transparency and product in food and things that we consume as well as those things that have driven big ideas such as sustainability into the forefront with credibility and trust. How do I make sure I'm keeping score on those things with some level of trust and transparency? And we're back to where we started with this thought of data that's on the chain.

Charles: Yeah. I can think of a couple. I'm already thinking of a bunch of different applications both in the computational sphere but also in practical life. You could maybe do something like apply this to the chain of custody for crime scene evidence or something like that where you might have multiple different law enforcement entities and labs and stuff doing analysis and just transporting. But that kind of leads me to the next thing. So we're talking about huge amounts of transparency to your data and being able to say, "Okay, this data has unassailable integrity, and I can see everything about it and know everything about how it came from the moment it entered the world until it arrived in front of me. And I know this because I'm by no means a blockchain expert, but it's because it's distributed and anybody and everybody can verify it for themselves without having to rely on any central authority. So does that introduce any privacy issues? If everything must be transparent, everything must be out in the open, how do you hold back certain data or say this is for your eyes only?

Jason: So, Charles, and I knew we'd get to this because a little foreshadowing, I said, "Hey, I wanted to come back to this thought of you being able to verify that you received that vaccine." And that starts the talk about wait a second, if you have received the vaccine first, you'd want to validate and verify it to anyone if there was a way or if there were, first, a reason for you to do that. Let's say that it could be you physically returning to a place of work that you needed to go or for entertainment; you wanted to go to a theater or for travel. As we've just seen, many of the airlines now are going to have that requirement to say, "I've either received the vaccine, or I'm COVID negative." Well, the only thing you want to be able to do Charles or Taras, the two of you, you just want to say positive or negative or positive meaning I’ve received the vaccine. I've positively done that or I'm COVID negative. They don't need to know your age. They don't need to know your home address. They don't need to know your social, so there is a sense of privacy. And the assumption that just because something is decentralized everyone can see it is not true. And that's part of the beauty and the way that a permissioned blockchain works.

And I throw that name out, some people say public and private, just say permissioned. And what does that mean? That means that you own your data, Charles. You own that validated and verified health pass, which is (you can Google it) IBM Digital Health Pass. That's what we've pulled together in this thought of identification, remember I said TIP. And this is the identification that does apply to you individually. It says that when you receive that vaccination on your smart device, you can then at the same point, validate and verify on the chain that yes, I have received the vaccination. And with that health pass, that data is yours. Now, in the permissioned chain, you say, "The only thing I'm going to give anyone permission to see is, have I received the vaccine?" That's it. Now you may offer other permissions, and we start to think about what you're opting into here. It works the same way on the chain.

The beauty is that the chain is a lot more secure than other forms of data storage because of the level of encryption as well as we've said this thought of transparency if someone does try to access something, you can see it, or if they change it, you can see it. You by owning that could say, "With my employer, I do want to share my location because I work -- and I'm making things up here, Charles. But let's say you work in an office that has multiple floors or maybe even multiple buildings, and you want to make sure that you do share where you've been because there's a reduction in the number of people in the building at this time, and they want to make sure who's come in contact with whom. So then it becomes a permissioned chain with permissioned, trust, and transparency that gives the outcome, and that's why I said it's not about the technology, it's the outcome. It gives the outcome that we're all hoping to have.

So that's where you and Taras could start saying, "Well, if you could do that, then you could do this." And so a lot of those ideas start bubbling up and you say, "Well, the technology is there. Why can't we move faster? I think let's go faster." And that becomes some of the things that we're seeing now with people getting what this thing is technically. They're away from the weeds. They're saying, "You don't have to explain it. I don't need to understand blockchain. Don't tell me what a hash is. I get what it does. When I flip the light switch, the lights come on. I don't know how the electricity got from the production facility to my light bulb, but I'm good. So now, how do I use it to do other things?" That's what we're seeing.

Taras: Let's say we take an airline, for example, and they want to know about my status if I've taken the test or had the vaccine. Is there a trusted app? Maybe the Canadian government would provide a trusted app that I would install on my device that would show that information. How do I access this permissioned blockchain and then allow others around me in the real world to trust that information?

Charles: So a practical application with our digital health pass can be downloaded. The actual app can be downloaded on the Apple store. So you can download an app and then that app accesses the chain. So we'll call it the blockchain; we'll get rid of the buzzword, and we'll just say the network. And so it ties into that secure network. And then in your example, the airline would also be on the network, and now there's a common linkage, there's Taras, there's the airline and you're both able to access the same chain. And now you have -- I'll borrow from Charles your example of the crime evidence. I liked your chain of custody, but I'll change it. It is kind of like a dead joke version, the chain of trustedy if you will.

[Laughter]

Charles: And so you take that chain of trustedy, and you say, "Okay, now the airline has it. I'm Charles, and I have permissioned to see just what I want them to see." It's that simple. Is there hardware involved? No, it's no different than you signing up for your next ride-share app that you're going to download. You're on the network when you sign up. The technologies behind all this, and that's the goodness, not only is it behind it, it's also behind it with the airline. And I say that because many of the airlines are already starting to put together their own applications, the technology behind it. And that's where when we talk about IBM, that's where we sit. It's not something that's oh, everyone's going to use the IBM solution. No, we just want it to have the IBM capability behind the trust and capability that we've invested in and we're making available to many at this point so that they can use what they already have. They don't have to change their branding; they don't have to change their UI UX because that's very valuable. They have invested millions and sometimes hundreds of millions into the user experience, and what we want to make sure is happening in that user experience is that we're getting the right user outcomes. In this case, it's that everyone is safe and secure and that they're able to distribute that safety and security with a sense of equity so that it does help us all move forward together. So that's the thought of the network and why you hear me say it's a team sport. I'm giving some meaning to that, and that's how it comes together.

Charles: I'm wondering where the vendor tooling like the stuff that you all offer fits into the ecosystem because if I understand it correctly, it's not something like Amazon Web Services where each one of those handshakes within would say, "Post that data to some centralized service that then everybody could agree on. Everyone can access the entire thing any time. No one really owns the chain itself. They can download it from anywhere. So what kind of tools then do you provide if there's no opportunity for a centralized service? Is it in terms of libraries? Is it in terms of, I don't know, application components that you can use and utilities?

Jason: So the quick answer is yes, those libraries can exist, and there is a centralized management capability that you would want in the blockchain. And when we think of examples that I've given, if we're talking about a single entity, it's easy to say that when we're working with a single client, their blockchain is their network. And often either they will want to manage it or they say, "IBM, we'd like for you to manage it," which is fine or collaboratively -- and sometimes we've delivered projects to the federal government and it's been in collaboration with Walmart and KPMG and a pilot that we did there. So now you have maybe IBM and KPMG working together. So I wouldn't just call out one name because I will contradict my team sport. But you have this thought of someone managing the network. And so when you often have a consortium type of environment where there's many entities coming together, there is a central managing body.

I've had some wonderful conversations with Brian Behlendorf and some of the things that they're doing at Linux Foundation, where they're saying, "Look, let's look at some of these centralized management capabilities," things that they do day-to-day. They would say, "Yes, there is a centralized management capability that allows for that consolidation of tooling so that it can be developed, but it's also open." And that's why I throw out Linux. And we also think of Hyperledger as one example where you say, "Look, there is an open source community that allows these tools to be developed as they're needed in the market. So that's what's good, the start of a centralized trust with a very open environment with many, many capabilities that are developed based on market need. I think that's some of the uniqueness here, when you start saying, "Wait a second, this really could and should move quickly," as we've seen. And when I say as we've seen, what have we seen? This thought of blockchain is something that's experimental. And I love when people say, "Oh wait, people are just doing pilots or it's not real." And I say, "Wait a second, it's in production." In many industries around the world, people are transacting using this, and it's been 10 years if we call it that and the internet took 30 years. So in one-third of the time, we've gone from concept all the way to production-ready. And how can we make this work in the most effective way with vaccines? So that's the reality of what we have and the opportunity in front of us that should make us all scratch our heads and say, "Look, how do we do this together and make it move faster?

Taras: I imagine in this team sport you have all these different companies that are participating in this whole process. What does it look like -- For a company of any size they're going to, at some point, want to say, "We want to use this. We want to be part of this network." How does this actually work? Is there an SDK or something that they would download? How do they actually become part of this system?

Charles: So we'll use health pass as an example, if they want to become part of that, yes there's an SDK that they can download and that makes it available to them so that in a sense, you get this thought of oh, it's a white-label capability that they can incorporate into what they're already doing. And that's why I said it's that painless, and it's complementary to what they're already trying to do. It gives them that layer of trust and transparency. If you're looking at a single entity, and I'll stick with the same example of Home Depot, where they have worked on their own capabilities in blockchain. And you say, "Wait, what is it that they're going to do?" Well, they take their current environment and in that current environment, they then stand up a blockchain network that works with the data that they want to put on chain. And so it enables them to move quicker, faster, easier within their ecosystem. But quickly, what you can see happen is you say, "Okay, if I'm going to work in my ecosystem, but I'm also going to use it to work with my suppliers," quickly, you can start to say, "Wait a second, if those suppliers are going to be on that blockchain network, perhaps that blockchain network would expand to the suppliers of those suppliers assuming that some of them have even a second or tertiary tier suppliers to them." And then you start to understand this thought of how the value of a network is increased exponentially by the number of players in it.

Is it a necessity to start with all of the players? I say, "No." It starts the other way around is you start with a minimal viable ecosystem. In our case, you say, "Look, let's start with a manufacturer of a vaccine. Let's start with a government entity. Let's start with an administration point and someone who may want to make sure that they can validate and verify that they have received the vaccine." Then you have a minimal viable ecosystem. And that's what it starts to look like where you say, "Look, I can now work together." So yes, for an individual company, that SDK is there. You put and pick it up. You now use that to tie that capability into what you already have, and you're ready to move fast forward. And then you'd want that to iterate in that if there are capabilities or needs, and this becomes the value of the network and an open network where you say, "Wait, I want to be able to make sure that on my AWS cloud, it does this. Wait a second, I'm not on AWS; I'm on Azure. Oh, well, wait a second. I'm on IBM's cloud." Forget the flavor. And you start to give real meaning to brand names like OpenShift when we talk about it's open. So now you're multi-cloud or hybrid if I'm going to be on my premises as well as in the cloud. So these buzzwords and marketing terms start to get real meaning when you put it in context of solving the big problems we're talking about here.

Taras: A lot of times when we talk about technology, the thing that we want to focus on is what it unlocks, but there's always a caveat. And it's often in exploring the caveats is where you start to really understand the problem, and you can't really until you ask the question. So I'm curious what is the caveat? What's the thing that people need to be worried about or thinking about, or what are the limitations of technology that we have today that you see as being an obstacle that companies have to overcome?

Charles: This is a great question and this thought of what's the catch? Because I like to call myself an optimistic pessimist at times. I go wait, there's got to be a catch here somewhere. And what we know as a company, and I'm about to make another IBM statement, but it's a true statement. Part of our values and belief is that we believe in innovation that matters for our clients and for the world. And so yes, it is a Tech for Good type of thought and whether it was putting the backbone for the modern U.S. social security administration systems to make sure that we could do that during the great depression or putting people on the moon and bringing them back safely. We signed up for big, big things. And so now we're in the middle of this pandemic, and we're saying, "Look, we are signing up for that." But what's the catch? It's not the technology that is the catch, Taurus. What we find is the challenge in the team sport is the business process. It's the design of the organizations and, back to my original example, the handshakes in that supply chain, and I would call it a value chain though that's a buzzword. But you start to think about different layers when you say, Oh, well, if it's just moving something from point A to point B, it can't be that complex." But what about how someone pays for something, how the regulation is in this state versus that state or this country versus that country, the paperwork that has to be signed here, but not over there and tracking it. And you start saying, "Wait a second, we have technology that can solve it." Yes. But technology is a lot easier than the business process. So what we've seen is the catch in trying to say, "Wait, we have to actually change the way we do business in order to make this work," and I'd say that's the catch.

And a great, great company example with the chain and I'll call them out because Walmart bought into this early on, bought into the idea of blockchain is a game-changer. And they teamed with us, helped us launch something years ago that we called Food Trust. And they said, "Look, foodborne illnesses kill way too many people year in, year out so let's address that." Not only are there deaths involved, but there's also wasted food. So if there is food, food is assumed guilty until proven innocent, so if we say there's a leafy green vegetable scare, then we're going to throw it all away. Well, Walmart was world-class -- in seven days if something was suspected -- So let's say that they had a scare in leafy greens, in seven days, they could figure out where that came from. But for seven days, they'd have to throw away all of that food. Some of it could be good, so that's wasted food. Why don't we put this on blockchain? And we could see each one of those handshakes with trust and transparency. They did it with mangoes in their first effort. And that 7 days went down to 2.2 seconds. So think about that. What they used to have the luxury of finding in 7 days, was now 2.2 seconds straight across the chain; we know where it came from. Well, that's technology.

But think about the challenge that they had and now they are moving very quickly. You start to say, "Uh-oh now I have to change my business to move that quickly," that's the gotcha. That's the catch is that you have to start saying, "Okay, now how do we make sure that we design?" And this has become a real differentiator in the work that we do. And it's not as I guess glamorous as some of us propeller-heads technology-fascinated people, nerds, whatever you want to call us, us people, but it's in the softer part of design. And we found this thought of business design has now come to the forefront. And that's where I use the buzzword, you know, people like so many MV things like minimum viable product. How do you decide what is that minimal viable ecosystem, and how do you decide that you're focused on the outcome that's going to drive the right uptake? Because as you can imagine, all of it sounds good until you actually have to change. And the best way to cause change is to show a positive outcome to make sure that Charles and Taras are happy, confident, and trust that when they receive that vaccine, that they're receiving it, they're telling everyone else. And they're now a proponent for getting things out quicker, better, faster, and everyone in that chain of trustedy, to use my bad joke again, everyone else has confidence. So think how quickly that then gets the speed of business moving along even more quickly than it was and more effectively I should say than it was before.

Taras: It's fascinating because it makes me think of something that I've observed with a lot of our clients is that because we focus on developer experience, we focus on the way software organizations work, you get to a point where you have an experience -- your system operates in such a way that it gives you new experiences. And it makes me wonder when you have this kind of change when you go from taking 7 days and throwing out a whole bunch of food to going 2.2 seconds to find out where the problem might be, what does that unlock for the kind of business that you can run? What is the experience of that business that it creates? I'm really curious to find out what that produces.

Charles: I'm with you, Taras. I would say this thought of everything being controlled, I think there's more and more control that people are now realizing exists at the point of the end-user. I'm just underlining something you're saying there because I think it's a key point here. It's because that end-user, in this case, the consumer, all of us, I mentioned the demand is there. We are starting to expect that type of experience where I want to know right now -- for example, I'm a coffee drinker, and I want to know if it's stamped organic or if it says that it's come from this location. I want to make sure it was sourced ethically and that it got to me in the right way. And so as an example, 1850 Coffee -- I'll do a real example here with Smucker's brand, if you're a coffee drinker. We worked with them to make sure that through something we joined with them called Farmer Connect that yes, you can see where that coffee came from. That experience, that level of confidence, it's not a vaccine, it's just your everyday coffee, and you want to make sure that yeah, I feel confident. And there was even an app that was added to that called Tip Your Farmer where you can say, "Yeah, the barista's great. I'll..." And then because it's more virtual now, maybe you can't actually drop that physical tip in there, but what about tipping the farmer? Because we have found, and we know that in many cases, the actual producer doesn't see as much of a cut of the profits as some of us would hope. And so how do we put it back into their pocket through this thought of transparency? And then what does that mean? Does that mean that Taras if you're a coffee drinker or Charles you go, "Well, okay if I'm already paying now..." when you start to look at it, you go "I just paid $5 for a cup of coffee. Well, okay. I'll pay $5.50 or $6, and I want it to tip the original person who helped get that good coffee bean into my cup. So those are the things you start to think about. As you said, you sit back and scratch your head and go, this starts to change the model now. It pulls things to the forefront. It puts you in touch as the end-user with the originator, the producer. You can now shake that producer's hand, and you don't have to wait for a series of sequential handshakes. So think of that model that used to be sequential you're crashing that now, and you're putting you as a consumer in touch with the producer. That starts to change many business models because that can also change relationships. And that's what's exciting about this thought of opening up new markets and new opportunity and also the thought of increasing inclusiveness and equity around many markets where we start to say, "Oh, that's where the value is actually coming from. Let's assign the payment or that capability that we have to reward where the value is created." And so that leaves us as consumers to decide and this enables it to happen with trust.

Taras: So it sounds like what I'm hearing is it actually makes sustainability possible. When you can trace to the origin in a second, if that's available as something that anyone can apply this idea to their circumstances, it actually creates a possibility where a farmer could be sustainable because there is actually a connection there. They're not commoditized in the same way that so much of our products are today.

Charles: It makes sustainability sustainable in our opinion, to throw another soundbite out there because it's true. Now, if you can keep score, as a consumer, you're going, wait a second, it's not just because it's stamped on the product. I can actually with trust trace it back to where it came from and the origins. And yes, it is sustainable. It is organic, It was sourced property, and oh, by the way, maybe I can put a bit of coin in the pocket of someone who helped produce, design, or deliver it.

Taras: You can actually verifiably confirm that this is actually -- it creates a connection between someone who's completely disconnected from the farmer to the person who's consuming the product, and there's actually a chain of connection that can be trusted and maintained.

Charles: Exactly. And there's also this thought for the supply chain folks that would be listening in. There's a lot of other things that start coming out in these conversations because with that visibility, you start to see the actual roles in this old thought of a supply chain start to shift where -- and we'll keep it in context of the pandemic think of PPE and a lot of it being shipped -- First, let's talk about different roles. You had breweries that said, "Wait a second. I'm not selling a lot of beer out the tap because of the pandemic. Oh, wait a second, in the same place, I can produce hand sanitizer. And yes, it's going to smell a little different than everything else is, if you've had any of that, maybe in any establishment you go, "What's different here?" Well, they were able to shift quickly and go from producing beer to hand sanitizer. But wait a second, that ecosystem is different. How do I know it's really coming from them? How do I know it's up to standard? If I'm now a supplier of hand sanitizer and not beer, how do I quickly find the buyers in the same way? Is there a network I can join to make sure that we can trust each other? That's the first thing. I've gone from being a beer producer to hand sanitizer. So we started changing the thought of hybrid. Now I have a hybrid business because it's doing both of these things, and now I'm in a different type of supply chain. So now I'm going to keep using that word — and now I'm in a hybrid supply chain. And I ship my hand sanitizer to let's say a healthcare provider that was running short so they buy from me and everyone else. And all of a sudden this healthcare provider has more hand sanitizer than they've ever had. And they're going, wait a minute, now I have way too much. What do I do with it now? They've gone from a buyer to a supplier. How can they quickly pivot and step back into a trusted network and redistribute? And so I just thought of redistribution which is where I'm going, and it's because you've seen it with the vaccine as well where they say, "Wait a second, we have extra doses because we've already done our priority one; now we need to do priority 1B. Wait a minute, we might have too many because someone else needs it. Well, again, what holds that up is the transparency. People think about trust -- in the provenance piece when we were talking about TIP, but it's not just provenance; it's how do I identify where you have supply and where it's needed? So how do you match have and need? And so this again is a benefit of transparency, permissioned transparency. And you say, "Okay, I'm part of this network. I know I have this product or service, and now I can go from a buyer to a supplier with trust." And you're going to get what you ask for, and you know that I am trusted because I'm on this network, blah, blah, blah. So you get it. You get where this becomes a lot more dynamic in this system.

Charles: Yeah, absolutely. This is really fascinating. Jason, thank you very much. I'm really glad that we had a chance to have this conversation, and thank you very much for coming on and chatting with us about this. It's very timely, and I'm really glad to have a chance to talk about it.

Jason: Thank you. Thanks for the time. I really enjoyed it. It's one of the few times that I've had such an enjoyable conversation with two people on a podcast, typically it's one person. So you all made this very enjoyable. So anytime you want to jump on and the two of you want to have a conversation, I'm game. Thanks for the conversation and stay safe, stay happy, and we'll talk soon.

Charles: All right. Thank you everybody for joining in with this conversation. That was absolutely fantastic. And as we heard, it's very timely. It's often said that necessity is the mother of invention. Computers, I believe got their start during World War II as part of early cryptographic efforts, and the militarization of computers happened during the Space Race so that we could take these big vacuum tube things and put them on to things that we'd shoot into space. And there are technologies that are emergent during times of great change, and it sounds like this might definitely be one of them, so keep it on your radar, and we will talk to you next time.


Please join us in these conversations! If you or someone you know would be a perfect guest, please get in touch with us at contact@frontside.io. Our goal is to get people thinking on the platform level which includes tooling, internalization, state management, routing, upgrade, and the data layer.

This show was produced by Mandy Moore, aka @therubyrep of DevReps, LLC.

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