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IBM pushes blockchain, cognitive gameplay in Singapore

With its Bluemix Garage slated to open soon in Singapore, IBM is ramping up its efforts to position itself as a cognitive and blockchain market player in the region.

IBM has expanded its ambition to become a cognitive services provider into this neck of the woods, where it will soon open new hubs in Singapore and Tokyo to provide a startup developer environment for enterprises.

Executives at the IBM Solutions Connect 2016 conference held Thursday in Singapore outlined the company's plans to transform into a cognitive and cloud company. Raymond Wong, IBM Singapore's country manager for software, revealed that the vendor was exploring plans to open a Design Studio in the city-state which, if finalised, would make it the company's 30th of such facilities worldwide. The local site also would likely serve as the regional hub.

In addition, a new Bluemix Garage would soon be opened in Singapore, providing an environment in which developers could access design and support to build applications, specifically, in emerging technologies such as blockchain.

There currently are four Bluemix Garages in the US, Canada, and Europe, with another four to open soon including--apart from Singapore--Tokyo, Melbourne, and New York City.

"Cognitive is the next stage of digitisation," Wong said, noting that companies' move towards digitisation had generated huge volumes of data that could be harnessed and fed into machine-learning systems. These would then return critical insights and intelligence into the enterprise and facilitate better decision-making, he said.

Through new facilities such as the garage and design studio, as well as cognitive capabilities, he added that IBM would be aiming to help enterprises develop individualised experience for their customers.

These also would encompass the need to build access to digital assets, for instance, through the use of APIs (application programming interfaces) so others would be able to add value to an organisation's assets.

These should include providing meta data to others within an ecosystem so they could improve their own services. IBM, for example, offered its meta data to an ice-cream retailer, which then was able to match the information to its sales data and identify spikes across a certain temperature range. It allowed the retailer to launch promotional activities during days where temperatures were within this range and, hence, further drive up sales, Wong explained.

He added that an environment should be built within which digital assets could be exchanged securely between the public and private sectors, and enable better development lifecycle management.

Blockchain, too, could play a role. Alan Lim, IBM's senior IT architect and Singapore software client architect leader, said the technology had moved beyond its Bitcoin past and established itself in the fintech realm.

Noting that up to US$1 billion in investments had gone into blockchain technology over the past couple of years, Lim said financial services were a good starting point to build upon this momentum but its potential could be expanded beyond the sector.

He hailed the possibility for blockchain to be applied to business models across all industries, and supply chains, to gain revenue improvements and cost efficiencies. More importantly, he said, it could address the issue of trust, which was lacking in business networks today.

He noted that businesses did not work in silos and would connect within various business networks. An essential part of this was the transfer of goods to generate economic benefits and such movements, in turn, would be tracked and managed by a set of contracts and ledgers.

With trust often lacking within business networks, resulting in disputes and friction, one solution had been to build a central system of governance, This, however, created a single point of failure and the single source of authority could be vulnerable to fraud and cybercrime, hence, compromising the entire ecosystem.

Lim said blockchain could decentralise this, giving the different parties within the network equal influence of say, since it involved a ledger that was shared and replicated across the ecosystem.

Blockchains are formed by a growing list of data records, each containing timestamps and information linking it to the previous block. Transactions are not recognised until they are added to the blockchain and because every participant has a copy, tampering is evident, making it difficult to hack and steal.

This principle would help prevent repudiation, Lim said, since data that had been added to the blockchain could not be modified. All parties operating in the same business network would have a copy of the same shared ledger, which information would be kept secured.

According to Lim, IBM was looking to adopt blockchain internally and had applied the technology to its global financing business. The objective was to use the platform to resolve disputes between the company, its partners, and customers, he said.

He added that blockchain could be used for intangible assets such as patents, arts, and music as well as health records, enabling individuals a way to own their health data.