Public sector ‘lacks policies to support blockchain’

13 Jul 18

The public sector is not widely adopting blockchain because of a lack of policies to support the technology, the director of a software company has told a conference.

Mark Gibbison, director of Unit4, told a workshop at a CIPFA conference on Wednesday that “blockchain can be used to transform the [public] sector in a number of areas” and is the “next big thing”.

Local governments could benefit from the technology but are not adopting it because there is a lack of standards and regulations, he said.

Gibbison explained said: “Blockchain must be supported by the collaboration between stakeholders across both public and private in order to get the standards and regulation policies around [the technology] correct.”

Blockchain is a digital ledger of data and records, which cannot be altered retroactively and is the technology behind cryptocurrencies.

Gibbison said: “Are there barriers to blockchain? Of course there are.

“But I think the main barrier is us – us as professionals,” he warned.

Estonia, South Korea and New Zealand were embracing the use of digital technology while local authorities in the UK are lagging behind, he also said.

UNIT4 has worked with more than 120 UK councils.

In a separate session at the conference, called Finance 2025 – digitalised and disrupted, Noel Cullen, associate partner at IBM Global Business Services, also said that there are limits to blockchain and concerns about how secure it is, whether it can be hacked and the invasiveness of personal privacy.

But he said that blockchain will be a key driver in governments becoming digital, particularly for public finance departments.

The digital ledger can help cut costs and fight corruption, he said.

“The key areas where we are seeing [blockchain] is around regulatory compliance, contracts and voting systems,” Cullen said.

For example, by 2020, the Dubai government expects half of its transactions, license renewables and visa applications with citizens to be on the blockchain.  

Blockchain can be used to give citizens a digital identity and a number of UK councils have used the technology to allow people to document ‘life events’, such as birth, death and marriage, on an app.

During the workshop on Wednesday, Salena Worrall, co-founder of Zonafide, a company that provides a ‘digital wallet’ for people to document these activities and has worked with a number of councils, said the digital ledger is where the internet was 20 years ago.

“People didn’t have a clue then and it’s the same with blockchain,” she said.

“Blockchain is here and it is here to stay.”

“Organisations have no reason not to use it – it would like saying you are not going to use the internet.”

AID:Tech, a company working to provide aid and welfare through blockchain technology, has used the technology to cut down remittance costs, distribute healthcare and aid around the world in recent years.

Grace Ma, programme manager at the company, said that blockchain “gives you the opportunity to securely and reliably document activity” and it “can be treated with [a different] level of trust”.

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