19 July 2019
Blockchain Gang Forefront Real-Life Applications Over Developer Hype
- Photo: Blockchain: It’s not all cryptocurrencies and dodgy dealings on the Dark Web, apparently. (Shutterstock.com)
- Photo: Dubai: A smart, happy city in the making.
- Photo: Bitcar: Virtual auto-ownership.
- Photo: Blockchain for Business: Where digitally minded delegates meet captains of the crypto-industries.
This year's London-hosted Blockchain for Business Summit saw speculation, hype and unsubstantiatable claims banished to the bar, while delegates tussled with the real-world applications of this versatile and little-understood technology.
Delegates attending the Blockchain for Business Summit – a London-hosted event said to focus on real-world applications of this emerging technology – were welcomed by an opening address from Chair Eric Van der Kieij, Chief Executive of the Frontier Network, a London-based blockchain thinktank. Keen to emphasise how blockchain technology was now evolving from niche potential to real-world change agent, he said: "Today we will be moving on from the hype, speculation and cryptocurrency fixation and focusing on real issues and case studies from professionals, many of whom are already reaping the benefits of blockchain in a variety of industries."
The first speaker, Jolanda ter Maten, a leading player in the Euro Blockchain Observatory & Forum, and the Dutch Blockchain Coalition, however, posed a question to delegates, saying: "Is it all just hype? Can it work without successful governance? Can we trust it? Regardless of that, though, one thing is clear – blockchain is here to stay."
Citing a case study from the Port of Rotterdam as proof of the utility of the technology, she said: "Samsung Electronics is now using real-time data to run the entire logistics chain from South Korea to the Port of Rotterdam, which sees it tracking containers using blockchain.
"Up until now, document fraud has been a major problem for the port, but Samsung has overcome this by using decentralised identifiers [DIDs) to create a hash – a digital fingerprint that can't be tampered with– that they then store within the blockchain."
She also cited two other commercial examples of the successful implementation of blockchain technology, again from the Netherlands – HanzNet, a peer-to-peer energy partnership trader, and the Dutch pension sector. The former using blockchain technology to store and distribute data for the sharing of collected energy within neighbourhoods, allowing Individuals to buy and sell their energy without reference to a central authority. In the pensions market, meanwhile, traders now use real-time data as a way of reducing administrative costs and then re-invest the savings in pension funds.
Drawing on his own experience of blockchain, Maarten Ectors, Chief Innovation Officer for London-headquartered insurance giant Legal and General, next took to the stage. Singling out the moment he became a convert, he said: "I first came into contact with blockchain when I was working with a company called Slock.it. They became famous when, after successfully investing US$150 million in an ISO, they were hacked and $60 million just disappeared. They then had to rewind all the transactions to recover it. That single 2016 event changed history, with the security benefits of blockchain technology suddenly very clear.
"After that, feeling I needed a new challenge, I joined Legal and General as their Chief Innovation Officer. Upon taking up the role, the first thing I asked them was: 'What is your Harry Potter problem?' For those that don't know, a 'Harry Potter problem' is one that can't be solved by throwing people or money at it – it requires a magic wand to be waved or for someone to come up with some crazy innovation.
"For Legal and General, that problem was its Bermuda office as, due to its location, it was difficult to hire the right people. Ultimately, using blockchain, they were able to scale their reinsurance business automatically, without having to throw more people at it. It's now being used for reconciliation and, as it's tamper-proof and some parties only have part of the information, if someone on the other side of the world makes changes, you can see it in seconds."
This year, the role of keynote speaker fell to Sohail Munair, Acting Director of Smart City Enablement for the Dubai Government. Given his background, he was well-qualified to deliver genuine insight into the topic of the day – Creating a Smart City with Blockchain as the Key Building Block.
Opening his address with a bold declaration, he said: "My single most important KPI is to make Dubai the happiest city on earth. Along the way, I've been tasked by the government of Dubai with ensuring that all state-level transactions are conducted via blockchain by 2020, followed by a shift to going totally paperless soon after. In fact, a target date of 12 December 2020 has been set for all government services to be 100% digital.
"Back in 2017, we looked at a number of use cases and pilot schemes as we considered how we could best introduce blockchain into the public and private sectors, including housing, economy, health, energy, transport, tourism and education. Our biggest problem, however, was bringing these organisations together.
"An interesting sector for the introduction of blockchain has been the real estate market, especially with regard to the whole life-cycle of a property. It all starts with a parcel of land that somebody owns. A developer then buys it, secures planning approval, completes construction and then markets and sells the property. Somebody buys it, the sale is registered and then, maybe, it is rented to a third party. All of this can now be managed via a Dubai Digital ID application.
"Using blockchain, smart contracts can be signed digitally, smart cheque payments made and utility connection / activation managed online. The whole life-cycle is within blockchain."
Very much part of the team when it comes to Dubai's commitment to smart city technology is IBM, with the New York-headquartered information-technology giant having recently launched a blockchain platform in partnership with the country's government. It was understandable, then, that the company had significant presence at this year's Summit. Affirming its support for the technology, Technical Sales Specialist Mark Charlesworth said: "We see blockchain as being just as important to businesses as the internet was to communications."
Elsewhere on the showfloor, Michael Geci, Head of Innovations for Decent, a Geneva-based blockchain specialist, was looking to beguile attendees with a real-world case study of its work for Token4Hope, which is said to have delivered the ultimate in transparency when it comes to charitable donations. Commenting on its success, Geci said: "Ultimately, it has demonstrated how blockchain can have a positive social impact by allowing for complete openness with stakeholders, donors, recipients, charities and retailers."
Finally, looking to upgrade the Bitcoin concept with something a little more tangible (and drivable) was Singapore-based Bitcar. Introducing this high-octane concept to attendees, co-founder John Bulich said: "Courtesy of blockchain, we are now offering fractional ownership – with an entry point as low as $25 – of premium collectable cars, the best performing asset class of the past decade.
"In conjunction with Ledger Assets [an Australian specialist in digital verification technology], we run a dual-token economy. Our asset token – CAR – is backed by hard-metal collectable cars and pegged to the value of the US dollar."
All in all, it sounds just about perfect for anyone keen to help drive the burgeoning digital economy. Terms and conditions, however, no doubt apply.
The 2019 Blockchain for Business Summit took place from 12-13 June 2019 at London's ExCel and formed part of the wider TechXLR8 expo, London Tech Week's flagship event. Over the course of two days, more than 15,000 professionals from 90 countries attended the event.
David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, London