Dubai's Global Blockchain Council (GBC), a public-private initiative between local businesses, government agencies and startups, unveiled seven new proofs-of-concept at industry conference Keynote 2016 today.
Launched in early 2016, the GBC boasts more than 30 members, and the panel session saw new projects announced by IT giant IBM, telecom operator du and the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), among others. Projects ranged from initiatives aimed at enabling interoperability between loyalty platforms to reducing the illicit diamond trade.
Held at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, the morning's first session followed opening remarks by CEO of Dubai Future Foundation Saif Al Aleel in which he discussed his organization's goal to bring together innovators and major players in the local market.
Al Aleel told the audience:
"We believe that the best way to prepare for the future is to create it, and the best way to create the future is to work together. We believe that blockchain technologies can improve aspects of our lives and our businesses … by speeding up transactions and offering faster and more efficient services."
Noah Raford, chief operating officer at the Museum of the Future Foundation, later characterized the pilots as just a taste of the organization's progress.
"These are seven of the exciting pilot projects in the council. At least as many more are in development that can't yet be spoken about," he said.
Raford said all projects are scheduled to be completed in the next three to six months, with the goal being that these pilots are then evaluated so that the group's efforts can move forward in discovering new and better use cases.
Below, we review the projects presented:
1. Health records
"How many times have you gone to the doctor and found yourself explaining the issues you have, then you realize you forgot the X-rays?"
Jose Valles, vice president of innovation at du, introduced his talk with this question today, before unveiling a project the telecom giant is working on that would digitize health records with blockchain tech.
The concept is the latest that finds innovators in the ecosystem attacking challenges in health care following similar announcements from Philips and IBM.
A partnership with Estonian software company Guardtime, the project would position Dubai at the forefront of seeking to use the blockchain to improve the security of medical records, according to Valles.
"We're bringing blockchain tech here in order to be able to secure access to this data," Valles said, adding:
"We believe this is going to be a leapfrog in the adoption of the technology."
One of the largest telecom operators, du boasted 47% of the UAE's mobile phone subscribers and accounted for 30% of the sector's revenue as of 2014.
2. Securing the diamond trade
Perhaps the most compelling of the day's presentations was made by James Bernard, director of business development at DMCC, one of the region's largest providers of commodities trading infrastructure.
There, Bernard outlined how his organization is working with other GBC members to create a pilot project that would use blockchain technology to authenticate and transfer Kimberley certificates, physical documents introduced in 2003 by the UN to stem the spread of conflict diamonds.
"Our goal for this pilot project is to digitize and transfer the Kimberley certificates, and to facilitate the collection, transfer and storage of statistics provided by each member country around the world," he said.
Bernard indicated that he believes blockchain can play a key role in not only digitizing this paper-based process, but by allowing member countries to exchange and share this data to reduce document duplication and other manual errors.
Bernand's presentation is of unique interest given that figures suggest the organization traded upwards of $35bn in rough and polished diamonds in 2010.
As the DMCC is currently acting as the chair of the Kimberley Process and coordinating action among its 81 member countries, Bertrand further contends his organization has all the necessary participants for the pilot to go to market successfully.
3. Title transfer
The idea that blockchain can be used to digitize paper-based processes was also discussed in a presentation by Vignesh Raja, a private equities specialist with Viktor Koenig LLC.
Raja introduced a proof-of-concept (PoC) in development with Singapore-based blockchain startup DXmarkets whereby physical goods dealers, such as antique traders, could digitize existing their illiquid assets and better connect to major commodities exchanges like the DMCC.
"Illiquid assets are not easily to collateralize and liquidate," Raja explained.
"With blockchain, we want to create new digital assets and use tokens to digitize the assets and smart contracts for increasing the efficiency of trade."
Raja said that by automating certification and title transfer, commodities markets could be made more robust, while ensuring compliance with the tenets of Islamic finance as tokens could be backed by real-world assets.
4. Business registration
Presented by BitOasis CEO Ola Doudin was a pilot it built in partnership with the DMCC to improve its internal processes.
The trial, first announced at the time of the GBC's launch, envisions how companies could more easily onboard to the DMCC trading system through streamlined ID verification as part of the market's Flexi Desk program.
"When you go to set up a bank account, you have to take copies of papers and go through a rigorous process, disrupting efforts again and again," she said, adding:
"Now, it takes minutes and a few clicks with one blockchain that has copies of records certified and signed by owners."
Doudin said that the project is currently at the demo stage, and that her startup is looking for banks, telecom providers, free zones and other potential partners as it seeks to take the proof-of-concept forward.
The announcement follows the news last week that BitOasis had raised an undisclosed seed round with support from Wamda Capital and payment processor PayFort.
5. Digital wills
Elsewhere, Pinaki Aich, VP of strategy at the government-administered financial free zone, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), presented a vision for helping founder-led businesses better transfer ownership.
The largest class of businesses in the MENA region (accounting for 98% of GCC firms by some estimates), he said that 75% of family-owned businesses fail when operations are transferred to a new generation of owners.
"Within just the MENA [and South Asia] region, there is going to be about $1tn in wealth exchanging hands between one generation and another," he said, describing the scale of the coming problem.
In this light, Aich sees blockchain-based wills and contracts as helping to ease this issue as it would enable both MENA-owned businesses and those founded by ex-patriot members of the community to ensure their operations can move from one generation to the next while complying with local regulations.
The project was developed in partnership with DigitUs, a blockchain-based applications and services specialist.
6. Tourism engagement
Blockchain startup and GBC member Loyyal (formerly Ribbit.me) next introduced a concept for how the technology could boost tourism by allowing visitors of Dubai to better earn and spend loyalty points.
Called Dubai Points, the pilot is for a blockchain-based program that would incentivize tourism in accordance with the goals of the Dubai Future Foundation.
"What if I could be incentivized to visit certain places and earn points?" Loyyal CEO Geg Simon asked. "Dubai is the fourth most visited city in the world [but] the experience could be gamified, points could be redeemed at places I want to go, regardless of where they were earned."
Simon predicted that smart contracts will play a role in helping encourage businesses to make such programs interoperable, enabling points distribution to be linked to a photograph taken at a specific location, for example, and governing the rules under which points could be exchanged between businesses.
The PoC in development, Simon said, was built with Loyyal as well as regional partners including du, Jumeirah, Flyin, Privity, International Culinary Centre for Culinary Arts Dubai, SquareCircle Tech and DigitUs, which will produce an app based on the concept.
7. Improved shipping
A late addition to the panel, Iqbal Alikhan, strategy and business development executive at IBM, gave a brief overview of how the IT giant is working with the GBC to deliver solutions for trade finance.
The use case finds a number of regional players collaborating on how to more effectively exchange goods and the financing for these goods.
"We're working on a shipment use case that involves a port, a local bank, logistics companies, one courier company, a shipping company and an international bank," Alikhan explained.
Alikhan later expanded on this use case in a keynote speech, emphasizing the confidence IBM has in applying blockchain in trade finance.
"We were thinking we'd do 35 PoCs this year," Alikhan said. "We have such a huge flow of requests that we had to put up a deal review board. It's a pretty strenuous exercise getting a PoC for us to support. The pace of change is phenomenal."
Together with compliance and settlement, he said these are the three areas the company sees as the areas where its solutions can be best applied for clients.
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