SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Pat Romanski, Gary Arora, Zakia Bouachraoui, Yeshim Deniz, Liz McMillan

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Smart Contract Management Platform (Enabling Enterprise Blockchain)

Metadata For Blockchain

Smart Contacts : We  all  know  that  the  Blockchain  technology  is the underlying  platform  for emergence  of  Bitcoin and  crypto  currencies.  Because  of  it's  secured distributed database and associated  philosophies  like  immutability  makes  blockchain  a growing technology with the  increased adoption  by  various  verticals, especially  finance, Governement .

However  the  industry  finding  the  biggest  use  of  Blockchain  technologies  in  the  form  of Smart  Contracts.  Smart Contracts are  software defined  version  of  existing  paper based contracts, in the sense that  they are basically  set  of  compiled  code  that  runs inside a  block chain network. By inheriting the  qualities  of  blockchain  like  distributed  leger, cryptographically signed, immutability etc.. , smart  contracts enable  enterprises  to  get into  trust  based  legal  agreements  which reduces the  cycle time  of business  operations  and reduce the cost  of  executing  them.

Consortium Blockchain Network: As  evident  blockchain  technologies  and  smart  contracts facilitate the execution  of business agreements  between two business entities,  however in a  typical  business use case there are a  set  of  players that involve as stake holders with respect to that  transaction. Hence it makes  sense that  blockchain  network  is not  just  built  with 2 members,  but  with a set of  like minded  organizations who are the stake holder in that  particular  transaction. Some of the examples  being.

  • Set of financial institutions manage common contracts like customer's KYC details or manage inter bank transfers to prevent activities like money laundering.
  • Health care providers, insurance agencies, Government Welfare bodies share patient treatment information to prevent fraud and to improve the quality of health care.
  • Manufacturing, Logistics, Part OEMs share supply chain related smart contracts for best utilization of inventory management.

At  its simplest  form  a  consortium network  is  also  a  Private  blockchain network,  however  considering the  involvement  of  selected  stake holders it  is  correct to use the term  Consortium blockchain network.

Smart Contract Management Platform: As  enterprises  adopt  Blockchain in to their landscape, especially  with their  participation in  consortium  networks,  they  require  additional layer of management  solution  on  top of the  base blockchain  layer.  This  layer  is  termed  as  "Smart Contract Management Platform"  (SCMP). A SCMP is  defied  as  a  additional layer on top of the  base underlying  block chain network,  which  provides a  business friendly features  for  enterprises  to  pilot,adopt, execute  and expand  their  smart  contract initiatives.  SCMP  also  help  enterprises  to add additional  features and  usability  aspects  to  smart contracts  which are not  available in the base technology itself.

The  following  are  the  key  features  of  a SCMP  which  makes  them  useful  from  an  enterprise context.

One Enterprise Part Of Many Private Consortium: Due  to  the  very  nature  of  consortium blockchain

network   consists  of  interested stake holders,  it  is  quite possible that  one enterprise  will  be  part of multiple  private consortium networks. For  example  a  health care provider may be  part of a healthcare consortium  to  share the patient  treatment and insurance claim information and at the same time  the same enterprise  can be part of a  vendor  network  that  supplies  hospital  equipment for better transparency. There is  no  need  for  these  two  set of information  exists in the same blockchain network. However  a   SCMP can  help  a health care provider to manage  both  of these networks seamlessly. So  that  business users can  submit  transactions,  view  transactions, modify transactions  from  any  of  the  networks that the  organization  is  part  of.

Multiple Blockchain Platforms  In Place: Ethereum, Hyperledger, Monax,Ripple  to name a few are currently available  as blockchain platforms  that  implement  smart contracts and  this list can grow. There are  no  uniformity in the  application interface and implementation of these platforms. Considering the  point 1 above  with respect  to one enterprise   being  part of  many private consortium, this can further be complicated  by the fact that  each  of  these consortium can be implemented  using a different  platform. SCMP can help  enterprises to  adopt  and  use multiple different  platforms.

Smart Contracts are Inherently Complicated For Business Stake Holders : The primary stake holders of smart contracts are business people like CFO, Purchase Managers, Government Regulators, Auditors and more,  however  smart contracts in itself  are  basically a  software code. And  even in  popular  platforms like ethereum, implementing  a  smart contract involves  bytecode, ABI, compilation and deploying  them to  network.  Also  to get to the handle  of a  existing contract, businesses need to  get to the hexadecimal  address for  the  same. This  means that businesses  cannot  derive  and  understand  the  usage unless it is  simplified. SCMP abstracts  the technical  complexities  of  smart  contracts and  provides a simple  and  easy to  use  interface  for  businesses  to  adopt.

More security  controls  needed in  smart contract,  beyond what is supported today : The programming languages and  constructs for  creating  smart contracts like solidity are evolving, which means that  there may  be  some  limitations  which businesses  cannot  afford to  leave in their implementation.  For  example  ethereum  smart  contracts  have the concept  of  addresses, which means that  we could  restrict a  smart  contract  to be created  only  by  certain sender addresses. But  how about  the  need to  have  further  organizational  controls  like  Only  CFO  within  an  organization can create certain  financial  contract.  SCMP can  help  enterprises  to  provide  these additional layers of  security  controls.

Off-chain meta data needed  for  efficient  usage  of  smart contracts : As  smart  contract is a legal contract,  it  may not  contain  meaningful  comments  or  tagging information  which are  useful to  search and identify  the smart contract itself.  In  blockchain  terminology, off-chain  refers  to  transactions  and  events  that  occur  outside  the  blockchain network. By  effectively  utilizing  the  Off-chain  concept  a SCMP  can  store important  information that  can be useful  in  searching and other  reporting operations on the block chain itself.  As with the current implementation performing  search operations  directly  in the  blockchain  platforms  like ethereum  are  quite  complicated and hence the  meta data assisted  search  will   simplify  this  process.

Security  Challenges  In  the  Current Block chain platforms : As  an  evolving  technology,  there are some inherent limitations in the platforms  which  may   prevent  its  successful  adoption.  For  example  geth  which  is  one  of  client  implementations  of  Ethereum  block  chain,  exposes  a  RPC  end  point which can  be  taken  advantage  by  any  one to access the network.  Though  the features like  address level  security  can  prevent  certain  things,  it  is  not  fully  protected. SCMP can  help  the  enterprises to over come  these  limitations  with  features  like  IP  Based  access security  and  avoidance  of  RPC  protocol etc...

Changes to  Smart  Contract and  Versioning : Due  to  current  limitation,  a  smart contract which is basically  a  set of  code,  cannot  be  changed  once  it  is deployed.  However in  practical scenarios there are always  needs for change. While the  new  versions  of  smart  contract  can  always  be  deployed,  what  about  transactions executed  on  the  old  version  of the code  and  how  about the  linking  of  those  records. SCMP can  provide  options  to  upgrade  a  smart  contract  from   version to a newer version.

Making  Smart Contracts  Really Smart : At  this  point,  smart  contracts  don't  have intelligent  beyond  what  is  programmed  in  it.  However  IoT  and  Machine Learning  can  be integrated  with  smart contracts   to  make  them  truly  smart.  Imagine  a  situation  of a  Purchase  Order  payment contract  is  fulfilled  at a  warehouse as soon  as  the  goods are received. SCMP facilitates  integration  of  smart  contract with other  technologies  like  IoT  and  Machine  Learning. Similarly  currently  self  executing  capabilities  of  smart  contract  are limited,  however  when  coupled  with  machine  learning   smart  contracts  can  think of  next  action  and  can  update  accordingly.

Dynamic User Interface For Smart Contracts : A private  consortium  network  will  keep evolving,  which means  that  new  contracts  will  be  added,  existing  contracts may be renewed.  Currently  there are no options  to  provide  dynamic  user  interface  to  contracts  without  redeploying  the user interface code. However SCMP can  attempt  to  provide  dynamic  user  interface to  smart  contracts, so that  addition  of  new  contracts  to the network  will be seamless.

Infrastructure  Operations  On  Blockchain Network : While  the  distributed  nature  of  block chain relieves  enterprises  from  traditional  database  management  tasks. There  are some  tasks  still needs to be performed,  for  example   in  ethereum  block chain  accounts  need  to  the exported  and imported to  be  available  in  new  nodes.  Also  several  network  operations  needs to  be  performed  when  adding  a  new  member  to  the  consortium.  Azure  Block Chain As  a Service  and similar cloud  providers  provide  building  blocks for  automating  the  infrastructure  management  of  block  chain  platform. SCMP can  provide  the   automation  and  infrastructure management  capabilities  for  smart contract  consortium  network.

The  above  are  not  the  complete  list  of  points  that  support  the  need  for a  SCMP, but  definitely  they  provide  a  start.

Our  organization  (www.gavstech.com)  has  got  a  proto  type  of   SCMP with the  below  features. You  can  write  to  me,  if  you  find  more use  cases  that  require  the  need  for SCMP  for  enterprises.

  • Built On Azure Block Chain As a service
  • Caters to a single organization , being part of multiple consortium networks
  • Support multiple block chain platforms like Ethereum, Quorum and work in progress on others like hyperledger
  • Abstracts technical complexities from business users, especially in deploying contracts
  • Provides role based security
  • Unified interface across multiple block chain platform
  • Facilitates easier search of past transactions with the off-chain meta data
  • Eliminates security limitations like RPC
  • Provides IP Level security for submitting contracts
  • Has the building blocks for integrating with IoT Edge Networks
  • Has the building blocks to integrate with Machine Learning algorithms.

References  & Links  for  further  thoughts :

The  Need for Ontology  for Smart Contracts Due  to Lack Of Metadata

CIOs  Prepare  for  a  multiple  Blockchain World

Ethereum  Thread  On RPC Security Challenges

17 Blockchain Platforms Brief Introduction

Using Microsoft Azure To  Create Smart Contract Enterprise Solutions

Difficulties In Implementing Role Based Access Control In Smart Contracts

 

 

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