GE’s Kim Harrington has been working with blockchain at home on personal projects, experimented with software for writing smart contracts in blockchain and built some mining computers for blockchain. Mining is the review that approves each block in a blockchain before its inclusion.
Harrington is also senior digital program manager in GE Aviation’s services organization. GE has been doing proofs of concepts for using blockchain for industrial and other applications. An enthusiast, Harrington believes the IT innovation could be “transformational,” in the aviation aftermarket, but that there are a lot of steps to be taken and questions to be answered before the transformation takes place.
For example, firms must develop standards on how to manage engine and other data across their businesses.
They must also figure out how their legacy systems can write data into blockchain and then read it out from the distributed ledgers.
Security is a requirement, so an aftermarket blockchain must be a private or permissioned ledger. But Harrington says there is a lot of infrastructure out there for the public or ‘permissionless’ blockchains, and she would like to be able to take advantage of that infrastructure.
Regulation is a challenge, and Harrington says advocates must work carefully with regulators to gain acceptance. But she notes that blockchain is “one-time write, 100% auditable on demand,” and that should in the long run offer many benefits for safety and regulatory purposes.
“This is a transformational technology that will require a lot of collaboration,” Harrington summarizes. “We will need to change a lot of business processes, change our mindsets on how we do things and figure out what the new world looks like. It’s a paradigm shift. We may not see much change for a while, but then all the pieces could fall into place very quickly.”
Applying blockchain to industries like aircraft engines and other parts is still very “nascent,” the GE manager says. “We need to focus on learning how to build the capability for our business and use it for our needs.”
Harrington expects Blockchain benefits will be real, especially in transferring aviation assets, much of whose value depends on documentation. “That can be a painful process today. Even if you have the data, it can be hard to call up.”
GE is evaluating blockchain now for a variety of uses, both short term and long term, in the aftermarket and elsewhere. It wants to learn about the technology and also build out its own capabilities to use the new tools.