Category Archives: Technologies

Blockchain and Bitcoin – an introduction for beginners written by a beginner

I am pretty interested in finance and economics (often useful as a professional accountant) and I have worked with enough tech companies over the years to feel vaguely competent in understanding at least the business models of most technology businesses and the markets they operate in. It has however taken quite a while to get me to the point of feeling like I understand anything at all about blockchain, bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and the whole related world which seems to have become really prominent recently.

Talking to fellow professionals and business owners I realised that it wasn’t that I was a long way behind the curve on this – it was simply that this stuff has usually been really badly explained by the specialists who are all over it and generalists like me can’t keep up. I decided to try and shed some light on this whole topic and if some tech expert finds I have misunderstood it, please just correct me!

So first of all, “blockchain” – this really is a set of data “blocks” linked together in a way quite similar to a chain. Each data block is encrypted and the way the encryption works is that part of it is linked to the previous block in the chain.  Even if you can’t read the data (because you don’t have the key to the encryption) you can tell that the data in the previous block is unchanged because the link to that previous block in your current block still works – i.e. the chain is unbroken.

These data blocks are stored on a large number of independent computers linked together in a peer to peer network (no-one computer is in charge of the network) and the common feature is that they have all agreed to run the same protocol (i.e. programme). Because the computers are all linked any change to any block would be instantly highlighted – the “chain” on one computer would no longer work and would be different from the chain on every other computer from that point on.

This is therefore a very flexible and resilient way to store data transparently – and the fact that the data is encrypted and only the people with the key know what it actually means makes the process very private as well.  A really clever way of squaring the circle.

Bitcoin is a specific blockchain. An individual Bitcoin is a particular number that meets a set of criteria. There are only around 21 million numbers which meet these criteria and so there is a restricted supply of Bitcoins. Identifying numbers which meet the criteria is a very computer processing intensive exercise – this process is known as “mining bitcoins” and there are untold thousands of computers devoting processing power to it all the time. When you read that “bitcoin mining is using more power than the entire state of Mexico”, it illustrates just how much effort is being put into this computing.

So an individual number which meets the criteria is a bitcoin and forms one of the blocks. The block is encrypted but if you have the key to the encryption then you “own” it and have the capacity to transfer the key to someone else – this transfer of the key is the transfer of value and the encryption keys are therefore the real Bitcoin currency.

The potential of blockchain however goes well beyond Bitcoin. There are other cryptocurrencies (the most prominent of which is probably Ethereum) and a whole host of other applications which people are devising for using the squared circle of transparency and privacy that blockchain offers. An interesting idea I have seen is a register of all large diamonds – you can put the details into blocks in a blockchain with the physical details unencrypted and ownership and cost details attached but encrypted. This would allow much easier verification of the ownership of valuable assets.

I think the key value of blockchain is that it allows some transactions and relationships to be conducted very quickly, without needing to take the time to build trust as has previously been needed. In lots of ways, in the world we live in now, there is already a huge degree of trust and the extra admin of using blockchain is completely unnecessary. In other cases, it can be a game changer.

And if you think I am going to tell you what the future value of Bitcoin is, think again.  I am an accountant, not a prophet!


UK Firms Face Digital Skills Gap

shutterstock_399952573The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has warned that there is a divide in the UK economy, with many firms lagging far behind when it comes to digitisation.

Despite the fact that Britain is the world leader in e-commerce and sits in fifth place for availability of technology, it ranks a disappointing 14th for companies adopting digital technology. The CBI and global consulting firm IBM clarify that research indicates that only 55% of companies were adopting cutting edge tech, whilst 45% lag behind. Furthermore, research from Barclays has found that companies are investing an average of £109 per year on digital skills training for each employee, yet 43% of employers still have trouble implementing initiatives to upskill their employees.

The research also highlighted produced some interesting findings which uncovered that there is a perceived advantage of youth when it comes to digital skills. Following this, 45% of employers added that older employees were slower to pick up new tech skills and 59% of those employees claimed that they were concerned about being replaced by younger, more digitally advanced employees.

Also, 27% of bosses added that data security was an issue and was found to be a highly regarded skill in employees. Security of data is becoming a major business risk issue and it is vital that business owners are aware of the risks and what can be done to manage them.

Despite the research, only 19% of businesses surveyed intend to increase their investment in new technology and training over the next five years. In response to this, the CBI has urged firms to appoint a chief digital or technology officer to the senior executive team to promote enhanced awareness, investment and training.

For more information on what procedures can be put in place to digitally protect your business date, please get in touch with our Technologies team on 01254 679131 or email Colin Emmett (

Microsoft End Support of Windows XP


It’s been over 12 years since the release of Windows XP and now that support has come to an end businesses using XP may have issues with reliability and performance. Whilst most Microsoft software has a lifespan of 10 years, Microsoft increased support for a further 2 years due to the popularity of the software.

Microsoft, along with their partners, will now turn their focus on the likes of Windows 8 and the soon to be released Windows 10. If your business is currently operating XP you may experience some problems with the newer accountancy and payroll software updates from Sage. Other software programmes may also be affected and your computer will be vulnerable to viruses, spyware, and other harmful software that could steal or corrupt data, potentially causing your business a more costly problem in the future.

It’s important to be aware that if your business continues to operate on Windows XP, you are risking company data and your systems will be vulnerable to viruses.

For more information on what to do next if you are using Windows XP click the help sheet button below, or if you would like some advice, please call 01254 682248 to speak to a member of our Technologies team.

Twitter: @pmm_tec

Help Sheet