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US Health And Human Services Looks To Blockchain To Manage Unstructured Data



By Benjamin Ross

November 29, 2018 | The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is making waves in the blockchain space. The agency’s Division of Acquisition (DA) has developed a new system, called Accelerate, which gives acquisition teams detailed information on pricing, terms, and conditions across HHS in real-time. The department’s Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Jose Arrieta, gave a presentation and live demo of the blockchain-enabled system at the Distributed: Health event earlier this month in Nashville, Tennessee.

Accelerate is still in the prototype phase, Arrieta said, with hopes that the new system will be deployed at the end of the fiscal year.

HHS spends around $25 billion a year in contracts, Arrieta said. That’s 100,000 contracts a year with over one million pages of unstructured data managed through 45 different systems. Arrieta and his team wanted to modernize the system.

“But if you’re going to change the way a workforce of 20,000 people do business, you have to think your way through how you’re going to do that,” said Arrieta. “We didn’t disrupt the existing systems: we cannibalized them.”

The cannibalization process resulted in Accelerate. According to Arrieta, the system functions by creating a record of data rather than storing it, leveraging machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and robotic process automation (RPA), all through blockchain data.

“We’re using that data record as a mechanism to redesign the way we deliver services through micro-services strategies,” Arrieta said. “Why is that important? Because if you have a single application or data use that interfaces with 55 other applications in your business network, it becomes very expensive to make changes to one of the 55 applications.”

Accelerate distributes the data to the workforce, making it available to them one business process at a time.

“We’re building those business processes without disrupting the existing systems,” said Arrieta, and that’s key. “We’re not shutting off those systems. We’re using human-centered design sessions to rebuild value exchange off of that data.”

The first application for the system, Arrieta said, can be compared to department stores price-matching their online competitors.

It takes the HHS close to a month to collect the amalgamation of data from existing system, whether that be terms and conditions that drive certain price points, or software licenses.

“The micro-service we built actually analyzes that data, and provides that information to you within one second,” said Arrieta. “This is distributed to the workforce, to the 5,000 people that do the contracting, to the 15,000 people that actually run the programs at [HHS].”

This simple micro-service is replicated on every node related to HHS’s internal workforce. If somebody wants to change the algorithm to fit their needs, they can do that in a distributed manner.

Arrieta hopes to use Accelerate to save researchers money at the point of purchase. The program uses blockchain to simplify the process of acquisition.

“How many of you work with the federal government?” Arrieta asked the audience. “Do you get sick of reentering the same information over and over again? Every single business opportunity you apply for, you have to resubmit your financial information. You constantly have to check for validation and verification, constantly have to resubmit capabilities.”

Wouldn’t it be better to have historical notes available for each transaction? said Arrieta. This would allow clinical researchers to be able to focus on “the things they’re really good at,” instead of red tape.

“If we had the top cancer researcher in the world, would you really want her spending her time learning about federal regulations as to how to spend money, or do you want her trying to solve cancer?” Arrieta said. “What we’re doing is providing that data to the individual in a distributed manner so they can read the information of historical purchases that support activity, and they can focus on the objectives and risks they see as it relates to their programming and their objectives.”

Blockchain also creates transparency among researchers, Arrieta said, which says creates an “uncomfortable reality” in the fact that they have to make a decision regarding data, fundamentally changing value exchange.

“The beauty of our business model is internal investment,” Arrieta said. For instance, the HHS could take all the sepsis data that exists in their system, put it into a distributed ledger, and share it with an external source.

“Maybe that could fuel partnership,” Arrieta said. “I can make data available to researchers in the field in real-time so they can actually test their hypothesis, test their intuition, and test their imagination as it relates to solving real-world problems.”

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