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        Can blockchain provide transparency with security? Researchers search for answers

        February 23, 2021 By Joe McAdory

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        "We propose the setup of reading and writing privileges for the users of the blockchain along with the cryptography system can help ease the tension between confidentiality and transparency.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                        — Pei Xu, Assistant Professor in Business Analytics 

        The Harbert College is dedicated producing research that advances the academy, extends business thought and shapes best practice.

        Four Harbert College researchers believe blockchain can simultaneously help organizations preserve security and increase transparency – a necessity among consumers and organizations along the supply chain. 

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        Dr. Glenn Richey


        Glenn Richey, Eminent Scholar in Supply Chain Management, Pei Xu, Assistant Professor in Business Analytics, Jim Barth, Eminent Scholar in Finance, and Joonghee Lee, a doctoral student in Information Systems Management, explored how blockchain can be further implemented within the supply chain without revealing proprietary information. Their work, "Blockchain as supply chain technology: considering transparency and security," was published by the International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management.

        Researchers noted though integrity and availability are positively associated with transparency, confidentiality is not.

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        Dr. Pei Xu


        “Blockchain is so important because of all the important features it carries,” said Richey. “We have real-time access to the data. You can obtain it regardless of where you are, and you become part of the chain. I can assign this information to various people at various writing levels within an organization, but when I do, many people have the opportunity to impact the integrity of the data. Thus, different privileges must be assigned when dealing with a data set.”

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        Dr. Jim Barth


        How can transparency and security work effectively, simultaneously? Within the blockchain, data is shared and synchronized across a network – the distributed ledger -- so that all participants of that network have a copy of the same data. The other important features of a blockchain are decentralized consensus and encryption algorithm mechanisms that validate new data and allow only verified data to be added to the network. This way, an uncredentialed intruder cannot access, or change, sensitive information.

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        Joonghee Lee


        “The blockchain technology allows only certain people to have access to the information,” said Xu. “For example, you don’t want to disclose information about who certain suppliers are along your supply chain. This should be available only within your organization, or certain people within the organization. Thus, we proposed the setup of reading and writing privileges for the users of the blockchain along with the cryptography system can help ease the tension between confidentiality and transparency.”

        Richey noted while blockchain technology has its advantages, it hasn’t become prevalent within the supply chain. “The difficulty right now is getting it implemented,” he said. “The problem is related to relationships. If company data fails to match across the blockchain, then the relationships fall apart. That’s what we’re trying to do – get major brands together with major retailers with major manufacturers and get them on the same page while maintaining proprietary information.”

        Dr. Glenn Richey, Chair of Harbert College's Department of Supply Chain Management, has published more than 80 articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals since 2003, including Decision Sciences, Business Horizons, the Journal of Business Logistics and Industrial and Marketing Management.

        Dr. Pei Xu, who has been published in the Journal of Management Information Systems, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, and Information & Management, focuses on the understanding of economic and social impact of emerging information technology.

        Dr. James Barth, former U.S. Chief Economist of the Office of Thrift Supervision, was listed among the world’s top one percent of cited researchers by the Social Science Research Network, authored more than 300 journal articles and co-authored a number of books, including “The Great Savings and Loan Debacle,” “Rethinking Bank Regulation: Until Angels Govern,” and “Guardians of Finance: Making Regulators Work for Us.”

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