From new kid on the block to blockbuster tech

Thursday, September 28 2017

Singapore-based startups are using blockchain technology to keep track of everything from dollars to diplomas and deliveries.

Trust is a precious commodity, but unlike a physical asset, its value is difficult to measure. Building trust takes time, and maintaining a relationship takes effort. But what if you could meet a stranger and immediately trust him or her with your savings in exchange for certain goods and services? With blockchain technology, this is already a reality.

 

Blockchain technology has frequently been linked with the meteoric rise of Bitcoin, a form of cryptocurrency or digital currency, where the technology keeps track of every Bitcoin ever transacted and overcomes the double-spending problem associated with digital currencies. These feats are only the tip of the iceberg of what blockchain can do, and enterprises and innovators have begun to recognise its versatility.

 

Mr Floyd D'Costa, CEO of Singapore-based blockchain consultancy Blockchain Foundry.

 

“Open, secure and decentralised, blockchain technology can be a powerful tool anywhere trading occurs and where trust is at a premium,” said Mr Floyd D'Costa, CEO of Singapore-based blockchain consultancy Blockchain Foundry.

 

As its name suggests, the blockchain is literally a chain of blocks in cyberspace. Whenever a transaction occurs, a new block is created with time-stamped information which must be verified on the blockchain network. Once verified, the new block is sealed and added to the chain where it cannot be further modified. Fittingly, the blockchain has often been referred to as an immutable ledger, anchoring trust among transacting parties.

 

Kicking off the fintech revolution

 

Although payment gateways such as PayPal provided its users with a platform for secure international payments, it remained a middleman between transacting parties. The creators of blockchain and Bitcoin aspired for something more radical—direct peer-to-peer transactions across geographical boundaries, independent of financial intermediaries or central banks. Cross-border payments and remittances thus became immediate-use scenarios for blockchains and digital currencies.

 

Ironically, blockchain solutions are now being explored at the very institutions that Bitcoin sought to render obsolete. Unlike the fully public blockchain that powers Bitcoin, central banks and financial institutions are experimenting with variants that involve semi- or fully-private blockchains. Such strategies leverage the authentication protocols of blockchain technology while granting institutions operational efficiency and flexibility.

However, regulatory and investor concerns over blockchains are still being worked out in the fintech arena. For example, banks themselves may be reluctant to accept accounts from blockchain companies. This is because transacting on blockchains requires the tokenisation of assets, raising issues of traceability and accountability.

 

Because these assets are not controllable and can be sent to pseudonymous accounts, banks which are regulated entities have difficulties banking companies in these industries,” said Mr David Moskowitz, CEO of Attores, a Singapore-based blockchain firm that offers smart contracts as a service.

Unchaining blockchain from fintech

 

While most people may associate blockchain with fintech, the technology is actually relevant to any process that requires information to be recorded, retrieved and verified accurately. The authentication of educational certificates is one example. Imagine an employer interviewing a job applicant who has an exceptional curriculum vitae. How can the employer verify whether the certificate is genuine?

 

Attores has a solution to this problem—record all educational certificates on a blockchain. In a pilot project with Singapore’s Ngee Ann Polytechnic, the company has developed a platform to issue blockchain diplomas.
 


 

“By placing the certificates on the blockchain, Ngee Ann is able to virtually eliminate the problem of fraudulent diplomas,” said Mr Moskowitz. “Blockchain provides cryptographic proof and a timestamp so that potential employers can very easily validate that the diploma has in fact been issued by Ngee Ann.”

Attores is looking to expand its platform to other institutes of higher learning and is working on Indorse.io, a blockchain-based professional network that rewards subscribers for posting career accomplishments.

 

 

Attores, a Singapore-based blockchain firm that offers smart contracts as a service.

 

The management of logistics and supply chains provides a glimpse into how the blockchain will interface with other cutting-edge innovations in the future. Mr Edward Clarke, CEO and co-founder of the Singapore-based logistics network company Yojee, wants to streamline the shipping, tracking and delivery of goods using blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

 

“Currently, companies manage shipments using pen and paper, spreadsheets and outdated inefficient software. Back-and-forth correspondence by phone calls, emails, and faxes is also error-prone and leads to miscommunication,” Mr Clarke explained. 

 

Mr Clarke also noted that unnecessary business costs are incurred by the sub-optimal deployment of delivery fleets along inefficient routes. If Yojee has its way, these problems will soon be a thing of the past, he pointed out.

Our AI-based core technology evaluates billions of possibilities in just a second. It then creates contracts, transacts, tracks and records on a blockchain, meaning the system is not limited by borders, currencies or operating environments,” explained Mr Clarke, who calls this the “internet of shipping.

Democratising the blockchain

 

At its core, blockchain technology is a digital tool, and not every enterprise will have the technical expertise needed to readily integrate it into its operations. A number of firms are thus stepping in to help businesses customise blockchain solutions to their needs.

 

 

"We believe that organisations need an easy-to-use yet comprehensive prototyping environment to rapidly design, deploy and operate distributed ledger applications without risking large capital investments,” said Mr D'Costa. “Our blockchain platform-as-a-service and app marketplace provide just that.”

 

Similarly, Attores is building its own open repository of blockchain-based smart contracts that are secure and customisable so that clients can testbed ideas with peace of mind. As more industries adopt blockchain, its benefits can be compounded, Mr Moskowitz said. “A single entity running a blockchain has very limited benefits. The value of blockchain comes from many parties utilising it without any one party owning it,” he said.

Getting a nascent technology to maturity and widespread adoption requires sustained support and dedicated resources. Attores and Blockchain Foundry, in partnership with SGInnovate, are thus working to
facilitate blockchain technology transfer across industries.

SGInnovate has been a great supporter of the blockchain community in Singapore. We are fortunate to work out of the SGInnovate offices at 32 Carpenter Street along with several other blockchain companies and deep-tech startups, said Mr Moskowitz.

Mr D'Costa is also optimistic that partnerships between blockchain startups and SGInnovate will serve as a starting point for significant industry transformation across the globe. “Having a trusted partner that supports innovation efforts is crucial for startups such as Blockchain Foundry, providing us with a platform to launch, grow and realise our ambition of being a market leader in a rapidly emerging niche,” he said.

 

As the new kid on the block finally distinguishes itself from Bitcoin and comes into its own, we can expect further upheaval of industries and business practices the world over. 

 

SGInnovate holds monthly Blockchain Nights where experts and enthusiasts network and discuss everything about the blockchain technology. Please visit our events page or follow us on Facebook  to find out more, and register for the next Blockchain Night!

 

Jeremy Chan
Entrepreneurship, Blockchain, Innovation

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