How the Dubai government is pioneering blockchain with ConsenSys

Dubai is bringing its ambitious blockchain venture to life, planning to move all government transactions to the system by 2020. Vision speaks to Daren Frankel and Faisal Khan of ConsenSys, one of Dubai's technology partners, about how this groundbreaking plan is being achieved 

It is rare for a new development in bookkeeping technology to be one of the most contentious subjects in both technology and finance – but thanks to its potential to revolutionise industries from the ground up, blockchain has become just that.

As Vision explored recently, the powerful record-keeping system known as blockchain has already caused a stir through its use in controversial cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. But blockchain’s potential is far greater than its use in currencies, and governments are looking at the technology as a way to improve and streamline services.

Dubai is a pioneer in this sector – along with the emirate’s development of a private blockchain ecosystem, the Government of Dubai has announced plans to move applicable government transactions to blockchain-based systems by 2020.

“What’s unique about Dubai is they’re not taking a slice of Dubai government – they are looking across all the government entities and saying ‘what can be on blockchain, what’s the cornerstone of a blockchain-powered government?’” says Daren Frankel, senior blockchain advisor at ConsenSys, one of Dubai’s technology partners, along with IBM, for its blockchain programme.

“There are other benchmarks around the world, like Estonia, doing bits and pieces, experimenting and building services on blockchain – but this is really the first time we’ve seen this cross-sector approach.”

“Government entities are exploring a variety of applications for this technology,” Frankel explains.“As part of the Smart Dubai Office’s strategy, they are building the infrastructure for these entities and equipping them with a technical roadmap for a blockchain-as-a-service platform, to help accelerate the process.”

The real value of blockchain is cutting out the middle-man... You can interact directly with people and trade assets without knowing who’s on the other side, without worrying they’re giving you something fraudulent

Faisal Khan, Enterprise manager at ConsenSys

Faisal Khan, enterprise manager at ConsenSys describes the Smart Dubai Office’s approach as intelligent and reasoned. "[The approach is] to start building something today, create proof-of-concepts, to iterate and see what works best," he says "[We] take lessons from each cycle as we move forward to accomplish this mandate.”

Khan explains blockchain’s potential with the phrase “don’t disrupt, disintermediate”: “I think the real value of blockchain is cutting out the middle-man, by having a trusted, verifiable shared source of truth that is available to everyone. You can interact directly with people and trade assets without knowing who’s on the other side, without worrying they’re giving you something fraudulent.”

While this may seem redundant for a government, Frankel points out that governments are not single entities, but dozens of different organisations. By being a single, secure trusted database of information, blockchain can replace complex systems such as stamps and attestations that government departments must currently use to complete transactions.

“Part of the promise of blockchain as well is programming in rules. The Government of Dubai is opening up some of the processes it works with, and enforcing those using smart contracts, using a blockchain platform. That enables residents to interact in a more peer-to-peer manner,” adds Frankel.

The Smart Dubai Office, which is in charge of implementing the emirate’s blockchain strategy, is targeting the most high-impact experiences for Dubai residents – and Frankel adds that this will all be almost seamless to the end user because blockchain itself lives in the backend of these applications.

One of the most visible potential blockchain applications is identity, according to Frankel: “When you look at a government ecosystem, what you now have is a digital identity which is persistent across different government services and entities to keep your entire history together, viewable, and secure on this platform.”

While Dubai’s digital identity plans are yet to be confirmed, life-changing applications such as digital passports and paperwork-free travel could be on the horizon, all thanks to the revolutionary potential of blockchain.