March 15, 2018

APAC Blockchain - in review

Is the 'blockchain' revolution really upon us or is it all 'good in theory'? #APACblockchain18 in review

APAC Blockchain - in review

What happens when you collect a few hundred blockchain fans, government officials and school girls together in a room? You have an incredible meeting of minds, showing us that yes, the future is going to be different - in an epic way.

An inspiring start

It's not every day you get the opportunity to hear from Robert Khan, one of the team who created TCP/IP - the backbone of the current internet. Although I have to say, while super smart, an inspiring speaker he is not. That mantle went to the speakers up next. 3 amazing young women from Melbourne Girls Grammar.

These 3 women took us on a journey of curiosity as they shared about their projects created at the Smartcities Hackathon in 2017. From events to the classroom they shared how blockchain is just one of the emerging technologies they are encouraged to explore.

Their 3rd speaker, a year 10 girl, talked through an ongoing project that leverages blockchain technology to solve frustrations in finding great tutors. From identity to trust, this project had all the characteristics of a blockchain project. However a big takeaway was listening to her outline the 6 key elements of the project, the 4 they would tackle and the 2 they would not tackle, an impressive approach - know what you can and can't achieve.

With women like these 3 embracing the world of STEM the future looks bright!

Blockchain in production

All too often we hear "well that's good in theory" or "show me a product in production" in relation to blockchain technology. Thankfully Nigel Dobson from ANZ got the ball rolling by talking not about what the bank is experimenting with (and they are doing lots of that), rather he shared an in market solution that solves issues around guarantees between banks, tennants and commercial landlords. This was followed quickly by a number of Australian government speakers sharing about projects they have in market, the ASX talking of their trades platform on blockchain and Civic Ledger sharing projects they have in production with local body governments.

Blockchain technology is here and now and I suspect there is a lot more of it in production in Australia than we realise.

The key message that rang through from all of these production examples was this, blockchain technology doesn't happen in isolation. ANZ explained, they had to bring another bank (a competitor - Westpac), a commercial landloard and the technology to the table in order to develop and test. Now as they expand they are brining CBA and NAB into the fold - resulting in a joint venture between the four main banks.

To unlock the potential efficiencies for the bank, they needed a standard guarantee format and that could only be created by talking to their competitors. Almost every successful production example shared during the conference had this key element - communication between competing parties, to realise efficiency for all.

Australian government is ready

There were a number of speakers from various government agencies, sharing insights into the work that is happening at federal level. (look for an article next week exploring this more).

Australia is recognised globally as being proactive towards blockchain technology, realising benefits in cost reduction, increased transparency and ultimately the ability to put the citizen at the center. From delivering their own projects on the blockchain to empowering Data61 to become a world leader in this technology the Australian government is actively embracing innovation in this space.

NEO, NEM, Wanxiang - China is alive

This year ADCA invited a large delegation from China to participate and share the impact of blockchain technology there. Da Hongfei the founder of the Neo Blockchain sharing the incredible vision of NEO to the funny Vincent Wang discussing building a city wired with the Wanxiang Blockchain (from infrastructure to garbage classification (using IOT)) the pace at which China has embraced blockchain is incredible. Both the government and their national bank have rolled out 5 year plans with blockchain technology forming a critical part of development.

A core message throughout these presentatons (and this was reflected by local speakers such as Lucas Cullen) was there is a time and a place for blockchain. Not everything can be put on the blockchain and nor should it. Wanxiang uses different technology to augment and support blockchain projects. Lucas talked of the ramifications of trying to store huge amounts of data on the chain.

A sledgehammer is not always the right tool

Blockchain empowers

The ever amazing Katrina Donaghy highlighted that when technology works (regardless of blockchain or not) people win. Katrina has just taken over as CEO of Civic Ledger a blockchain platform this a people centric vision.

To make peoples interactions with government easier, faster and more transparent

Many of the interactions with government (federal or local) is about entitlements. A bit of paper that allows a person to do something, a license, a permit, a contract. Civic Ledger puts these on the blockchain, empowering the citizen and putting them back at the center and in control. Civic Ledger already has solutions in market helping everyday Australians interface with the local government.

OECD, governments, regulation and standards

There was a lot of discussion around the need to bring a little structure to the wild west that is blockchain technology and Greg Medcraft from the OECD did a great job outlining what governments can do.

  • Be positive and look forward - look for the opportunities, not just the negatives
  • Keep up to date - experiment, learn and listen
  • Co-ordinate - bring industry (big and small) and government together both local and international for discussions. Identify and work with key stakeholders, not just the big players, find the startups and bring them in
  • Allow startups to thrive & compete - governments owe it to startups to level the playing field and foster innovation
  • Spend time in innovation - take the time to understand the frustration and the innovation that is driving the disruption. Your job is to guide and communicate with these teams.
  • Talk & share with other governments - the OECD is there to help share knowledge, thinking and best practices between governments

Everyone agreed that there needs to be more regulation and the emergence of standards in this space. The conversation often focused on ICO's, but the reality is the entire blockchain space needs governance and regulation. Some governments are imposing regulation, others are waiting for industry standards to bubble up. This is not new, with every great technology it takes time for a standard to emerge (VHS vs Beta anyone?).

The OECD wants to see innovation flourish in and around blockchain technology, in a safe way and so they are encouraging government and key stakeholders to keep the conversation open.

A distributed world

It's hard to boil a conference so full of knowledge down to one article. There is work to be done, standards to be hashed out, regulation to embrace and innovation to foster - however blockchain is well and truly here, it is already around us and in use. From banking to city infrastructure, transparency of data to ownership of data. The use cases for blockchain permeate so many industries and activities.

It was fitting to open the conference with the co-founder of the foundation of today's internet, followed by 3 shinning examples of the next generation's thought leaders. Blockchain is the foundation they are already be building on.

So are you ready for this new world? Are you following the OECD's recommendations?