Blockchain is a hot topic in 2017. It gained attention for operating as a ‘digital ledger’ that securely supports the use of cryptocurrency Bitcoin in online transactions, essentially offering a safe haven in which to store digital assets. And since 2013, Google searches for “blockchain” have risen 1,900 percent.
In recent times, blockchain has started to move beyond ‘just’ servicing financial transactions, with people beginning to think where else in the digital world blockchain might be useful.
Dubai – a three-pronged approach to blockchain
In my home of Dubai that same realization was had by the government, which identified blockchain as a technology that could be used in many other areas relating to personal data. In eHealth for example, blockchain’s characteristics could make it ideally suited to managing patient health data, while also fulfilling the requirements of consent management and regulatory compliance.
Since then, Dubai has been at the forefront of blockchain technology development, with government agencies establishing pilot projects for the start of 2018. They form part of an initiative to have all government entities using blockchain technology by 2020. The plan falls under the umbrella of the Smart Dubai project, which has a mission to make Dubai the smartest, happiest city in the world by leveraging the latest digital technologies.
The Dubai blockchain strategy is centered around three pillars: government efficiency, international leadership and industry creation. The government efficiency pillar will focus on using blockchain to create a paperless digital layer for all city transactions, supporting Smart Dubai initiatives in the public and private sector. This extends to documentation like visa applications, bill payments and license renewals, and is expected to have a huge green impact via CO2 emission reductions.
The industry creation pillar will focus on utilizing blockchain to enable Dubai citizens to innovate and create new businesses using the technology. Industries targeted for this strategy include real estate, financial services and banking, healthcare, transportation, urban planning, energy, digital commerce and tourism.
Thirdly, Dubai’s focus on international leadership is designed to use its blockchain platform to help global partners through enhanced safety, security and convenience for international travelers to Dubai. Guests in the city will benefit from faster entry via pre-approved passport and security clearance and visas, greater mobility thanks to approved drivers licenses and car rentals, and an improved tourist experience through pre-authenticated temporary digital wallets and payments – all enabled by blockchain technology.
Desired outcomes and benefits
The planned benefits of blockchain in Dubai include some ambitious targets. Dubai plans to use using blockchain for all government transactions by 2020, and a thousand new start-up companies using blockchain technology by the same year. Twenty-seven countries have already been included in the plan for international participation in Dubai’s travel sector, all using blockchain too.
According to the Dubai Future Foundation, just a couple of the benefits Dubai can expect to see from implementing blockchain across the various initiatives include saving 25.1 million hours of work time spent on handling paper documents, and cutting 411 million kilometers of travel per year. Smart Dubai also estimates that: “By adopting blockchain technology, Dubai stands to unlock 5.5 billion dirham in savings annually in document processing alone - equal to the one Burj Khalifa worth of value every year.”
Orange investing in blockchain
At Orange we are focused on innovation technology, and find ourselves very much aligned to the Smart Dubai strategy; we believe blockchain can be of huge value across sectors like healthcare, government administration and public services.
In healthcare, blockchain can be an effective tool for managing personal medical data for example. That is one area where Orange is working with blockchain and developing it as a potential next generation consent management solution. Using "Blockchain-as-a-service" platform in a cloud as framework for Votechain Service is another area we are currently testing. We are also working closely with some local government organizations to test and explore where implanting smart contracts using blockchain technology can add value to their supply chain operation.
Our work in this area builds on the innovation done by Orange Silicon Valley on projects like Chainforce, where blockchain programmers and startups are brought together with corporations to identify and develop solutions for real-world commercial use cases. Blockchain is an exciting technology and one that we think is going to contribute significantly to Dubai’s 2020 goals.