So much of the conversation about your digital experience stack is about how to integrate data. It’s the central conflict in the ongoing “buy versus build” debate. When you have dozens of point systems that do a specific subset of things and you need them all to work together, you have to integrate them.
Integrating software in ways that are reliable, cost effective, and scalable is really hard. It requires a mix of general system architecture, business context of the systems you’re integrating, and specific knowledge of how those systems work. Not to mention, you’ll need to be pretty competent with operations management, so you can support that integration once it’s in place.
The technology to support integration has evolved significantly over the last decade, primarily for the better. Wide adoption of REST architecture for APIs has provided enough of a common language for systems to talk to one another. Initiatives like OpenAPI are going to continue to push that forward.
We’re getting better every year at defining web service interfaces and providing tooling to link those interfaces together to share data. But all of this progress is predicated on the concept that data must exist in siloes. It must be owned and shared selectively.
Related Article: What Should Your Digital Experience Stack Look Like? It Depends
What if We Decentralized Data?
Lately I’ve been learning about blockchain and thinking about ways this decentralized digital ledger could improve digital experiences. The overall pattern means we may be able to fundamentally rethink — perhaps even move past — the hardest part of the DX stack: integration.
If customer data, transaction records, and content didn’t exist in siloed databases, wrapped with proprietary APIs, the software that participates in the digital experience could have equal, unfettered access to it. Integration wouldn’t be necessary — at least in the same way. It could simplify DX stack implementations and ultimately grow the opportunities to create incredible digital experiences for consumers.
Think about how this would change customer data management, as one example. Theoretically, you’d be less likely to have to work through data normalization challenges, because the blockchain aims to enforce a “single source of truth” for data. The customer data platform could be fundamentally elevated by working off of a single source of truth instead of seeking to create one through configuration and data integration.
What about privacy? Companies have found themselves in considerable hot water when sensitive data is breached or when they’ve not applied enough forthrightness about what data they will share or with whom.
At first blush, thinking about decentralizing and democratizing something like customer data sounds like a more egregious violation of these data sharing principles. But, the blockchain actually gives you the ability to “pseudonymize” this data in ways that could actually enforce strong privacy.
Privacy would certainly need to be considered, and regulation will definitely impact whether something like a pseudonym-based customer platform is acceptable. As with many verticals, it remains to be seen how far blockchain will push on these regulatory systems. There’s still no guarantee it will move the regulatory needle at all.
Related Article: How a Unified Customer Identity Supports Digital Experiences
A New Approach to an Old Problem
Digital experience is all about context. And sharing enough information across siloed technologies to create the proper amount of context is really hard. Blockchain could provide a backbone for being able to create that context while still providing the proper amount of protection for personal and sensitive data.
There’s a lot to unpack in this conversation, but as blockchain increases in its adoption, the commercial applications of it will continue to emerge. Many of the problems that drove the creation of blockchain are present with those trying to build out digital experience stacks that drive growth.
This certainly could be a solution in search of a problem, but thinking about how blockchain could impact digital experience initiatives is certainly an interesting thought exercise. While this is far from a fully developed idea, you can start to see how blockchain could start to fundamentally change how we look at that problem.
Ryan is the Chief Operating Officer for nChannel, where he oversees all product and service delivery, enabling retail and eCommerce companies to unify their technologies into a single omnichannel platform. He is also the author of Adobe Experience Manager: Classroom in a Book, published in 2013, by Adobe Press.