Building the base for blockchain

ConsenSys, Dubai’s official Blockchain City Advisor, is creating the ecosystem for blockchain roll out across government and private sector

Tags: BlockchainConsenSys ( Foundation ( Arab Emirates
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Building the base for blockchain There is a growing interest in blockchain from government entities worldwide, says Lubin.
By  Mark Sutton Published  January 15, 2018

Blockchain technologies are gaining momentum, with a huge amount of interest coming from government organisations and the private sector in the potential of the distributed technology platform. As the technology matures, the supporting ecosystem is gradually building up too, with technology majors and big consultancy firms all moving on the blockchain space.

A recent survey by Juniper Research suggested that that among companies of over 20,000 employees, more than half (54%) had reached Proof of Concept stage with blockchain, while a survey of financial service professionals conducted by Infosys found that over 80% expect to see the commercial adoption of the technology by 2020.

Closer to home, the public sector in the Middle East is staking a claim to blockchain leadership, with organisations as diverse as Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange and DEWA launching pilot projects, and Dubai Land Department going live with blockchain-based service. Last year, Dubai launched a Blockchain Strategy, which aims to have over 100 million government transactions on blockchain by 2020.

Supporting Dubai’s efforts as the official Blockchain City Advisor, is ConsenSys, a US-based consultancy, developer and proponent of blockchain and decentralised applications. Joseph Lubin, CEO of ConsenSys explained the role: “We were given this appointment by Smart Dubai and their Director General, Her Excellency Dr Aisha bin Bishr. Smart Dubai’s aim is to have Dubai be the first blockchain-powered city by 2020.

As the Blockchain City Advisor, the company has organised workshops and education sessions, with support from Smart Dubai, to identify processes that could be “blockchainified”, Lubin added. The process has usually involved explaining what is possible with blockchain, holding ideation sessions and working through pain points for each entity, to come up with ideas that can be expanded into RFPs and put out for tender. Thirty-one government agencies have participated in the advisory process so far, and ConsenSys is now working with several government entities to develop the RFPs.

Jeremy Millar, chief of staff for ConsenSys, added that the engagements with the government entities had worked well, in part due to the fact that they were highly focused and involved well-prepared government teams.

“One of the impressive things of the initiative is the breadth, and the number of different use cases that were explored and developed from ideas, to something that could be prototyped, over the period of six months. A lot of credit needs to be given to the Smart Dubai Office for the amount of stimulation they put into the ecosystem,” Millar said.

ConsenSys is also supporting the development of the blockchain ecosystem in a number of different ways. The company describes itself as a venture production studio which creates blockchain-based applications and developer tools primarily based on Ethereum, and associated business ventures. ConsenSys was mainly built around Ethereum, an open source blockchain-based platform — Lubin was a co-founder of Ethereum, and Millar is a founding board member of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA), which was created to develop a blockchain for enterprise and surrounding ecosystem.

One of the methods of building this ecosystem is the ConsenSys Academy Developer Program, a program to create developer skills around the Ethereum platform. The first group of 150 developers, including 25 participants from the United Arab Emirates, graduated in October — and received their certificates through ConsenSys’ uPort, an Ethereum-based digital ID application.

The plans for the Academy are intended to bring blockchain skills to all sectors, Lubin said: “This version of the Academy was specifically intended to take software engineers who are already reasonably skilled and turn them into blockchain engineers. For the next phase we have targeted entrepreneurs, and we are a fair way to creating a blockchain course for lawyers, and we are doing the same for insurance and accounting professionals. We are going to run cohort after cohort of engineers and entrepreneurs.”

ConsenSys has also developed a robust methodology, Millar said, for ‘blockchainifying’ a process — creating blockchain based solutions or moving systems to blockchain. The process has combined design thinking, management consulting and deep understanding of the technology, so that cross-disciplinary teams, who are skilled in ideation, strategic consulting and technical architecture can rapidly develop solutions and use cases with demonstrable business impact.

Blockchain has a huge potential for government, Lubin said, both in delivering better services and more efficiency, and to create new ways of conducting processes. There is a groundswell of interest in blockchain from governments around the world, he added, with a number of countries taking a top-down approach to lead on the technology. The US government has also “woken up” to blockchain, Lubin added, prompting the company to open a Washington office with a policy and regulatory team focusing on government consulting and government solutions.

The two parallel tracks for blockchain adoption, are developing, Lubin said, with the moves to replace existing infrastructure with blockchain progressing faster than the adoption of entirely new, blockchain-based solutions, but there are already some ‘killer apps’ emerging that indicate the direction for this decentralised blockchain future. Identity services are one early win, with adoption in several projects, such as the Swiss city of Zug which is using uPort for a citizen identity app.

In future, these blockchain-based systems will be the base for faster, more efficient services which will be essential to maintain the pace of change, Lubin added:

“There is the notion that as we move the foundational elements of our society from their current forms, where they are realised in pieces of paper, centralised database entries and rubber stamps; things like identity, money, agreements, government certificates — they all introduce friction or delays into transactions. So if you can move all of those things into native digital form, in registries that are easily accessible, you basically reduce the friction, and in many of those transactions, you reduce the clearing and settlement into the instance of the transaction.

“You can build layers and layers of financial instruments on these. In that context you basically build an economy that operates at the speed of light. You can squeeze the delays out of lots of different transactions, you can have an economy that moves a lot faster and creates a lot more value too. Blockchain will be the foundation.”

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