techUK launched its blockchain white paper on Monday 17 June. The event featured keynote speeches from Laura Bailey, Chairperson of Qadre, and Tom Rodden, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, quickfire presentations of live projects and a panel discussion moderated by Rodger Oates, Consulting Partner at Tata Consultancy Services.
techUK members delivered key messages to both the private and public sectors:
- the technology is already at work across many sectors including insurance, agriculture, education, music, food supply chains and financial services;
- blockchain can solve complex challenges in a unique way;
- the potential is vast and yet to be fully explored;
- education is key as misconceptions around blockchain are holding it back;
- there are a few regulatory areas that need to be reviewed to boost trust and widespread adoption.
They also highlighted some of the key benefits of distributed ledger technology:
- efficiency: distributed ledgers remove the need for many intermediaries and minimise risks associated with reconciling multiple ledgers;
- transparency: distributed ledgers can be accessed by all parties in real time, which means processes are clearer;
- traceability: blockchains create an audit trail showing critical information such as transaction history and the stops a product/asset makes on its journey;
- security: entries recorded on a blockchain are given a timestamp and a unique cryptographic signature, stored across a network of computers instead of on a single server.
The hype has died down, now what?
Ruth Milligan, Head of techUK’s Financial Services & Payments programme, gave insight into the why of the white paper. As the hype has dwindled, the real value of blockchain is becoming clearer. techUK members have been using distributed ledger technology (DLT) to develop innovative ways to use data and process payments. The white paper bears testimony to DLT’s potential, showcasing how it can address critical challenges in a wide range of industries.
Laura Bailey explained that, while we are still at a fairly early stage, we have seen blockchain bringing real change in business and trust models. What is happening is not a revolution but an evolution, and now is the time for DLT’s widespread adoption.
Tom Rodden highlighted the UK’s leading position in the emerging technology space. There are many opportunities in both the public and private sectors for the use of DLT. Many departments are looking into how blockchain can be implemented. He indicated that government is interested in learning about all the potential applications for DLT and seeing concrete outcomes and examples.
Building the business case
For Laura Bailey, the misconception that DLT is not market ready must be quashed. Panellists Gary Nuttall, Managing Director at Distlytics, Helen Disney, Founder of the British Blockchain & Frontier Technologies Association, and Fernando Santiago, Researcher & Project Manager at the Big Innovation Centre, agreed that the technology is already out there and functioning in the market; what is now needed is greater understanding of its true value.
They also discussed the importance of collaboration and how DLT could impact the way players within each sector communicate. Some of the most successful projects involve linking numerous players into a network on a blockchain – for example in the supply chain.
Presentations of live DLT projects:
Matthew Golby-Kirk, IBM, gave an overview of IBM Food Trust, which helps address fundamental issues such as food waste, mislabelled food and foodborne illness. With DLT, IBM Food Trust bolsters trust and transparency, thus improving food management and traceability. IBM found that it took over 6 days to trace a package of mangoes back to the farm using traditional methods; using IBM Food Trust’s DLT solution, it took 2.2 seconds.
Duncan Johnston-Watt, Blockchain Technology Partners, detailed how Sextant, a blockchain management platform, simplifies the development, deployment and management of blockchain-based applications. They partnered with Digital Asset to deliver smart contracts for Hyperledger Sawtooth, which will be used by Salesforce.
Aman Kohli, DXC Technology, explained how DLT can be deployed to offer identity checking services for emerging markets. The solution developed uses the CORDA network and offers digital banking services to the under-banked in South Africa. They designed an innovative solution which provides identity and document verification services through bank kiosks. It has been further applied in other jurisdictions spanning Bangalore, Chennai, Manila, Sydney and Vietnam.
Maria Vigliotti, Gradbase, gave insight into how DLT can help solve critical issues such as fake degree scams and the inefficiency of diploma and certification checks. With Gradbase, potential employers are able to instantly and seamlessly check academic and professional qualifications. It also allows professionals to keep all their career qualifications in one place and share credentials safely.
Damian Bell, Cygnetise, demonstrated how blockchain can be used to manage authorised signatory lists for companies, saving them time and money and increasing the reliability of the lists. Cygnetise built a decentralised application on the blockchain that mitigates risk and reduces cost for organisations.
Fighting misconceptions & addressing regulatory concerns
Participants pointed out that education and information is the main priority. Laura Bailey decried the common misconception that blockchain entails bitcoin and that most DLT projects are public/permissionless ones, meaning DLT is then wrongly associated with the fraud, scandals and the volatility in the cryptocurrency market.
Audience and speakers also discussed some of the current regulatory barriers to DLT. There is uncertainty over liability and insurance: who is on the hook when something goes wrong and under which jurisdiction? Existing models, such as international private law, require clarification. Participants also talked about privacy issues and the lack of legal certainty around GDPR, which needs to be clarified by proper guidance from regulators.
Overall, the panellists agreed the role for government is not to regulate the technology: a top-down approach would not benefit the sector. Government can however boost deployment by looking at the key regulatory issues mentioned in techUK’s report. The public sector can also help with education and awareness as well as funding opportunities. Participants welcomed government's experiments with DLT, which will help with the development of better policy for blockchain and called for the lessons learned to be shared amongst departments and with the private sector.
techUK’s white paper launch event demonstrated that blockchain is used to address critical challenges in many industries and sectors. techUK members fully embrace blockchain’s potential. Find out more information in the white paper!