Dubai’s pioneering government-backed initiative to implement blockchain technology across the city is now into its third month, and the pilot schemes continue to roll out. The move adds to the city’s reputation as a leading center for business in the Middle East, while also drafting the roadmap for cities across the globe to follow.
This month Dubai’s largest bank, Emirates NBD, announced the introduction of blockchain technology into cheques, as an aid to reduce fraud and increase ease of verification. The bank hails the initiative, entitled ‘Cheque Chain’, as the start of a ‘significant strategy’ of integration of blockchain into existing products and services.
Emirates NBD is a major early investor in blockchain, which partnered in February with IBM and other Dubai entities to explore the use of the technology for trade finance and logistics. Trade is Dubai’s biggest business, with non-oil foreign trade in the emirate totalling around $348 billion in 2016.
“The aim is to replace paper-based contracts with smart contracts that will help reduce complex documentation for the tracking, shipping and movement of goods,” Ali Sajwani, the group chief information officer at Emirates NBD, told The Wall Street Journal.
Also recently announced, in April, was a citywide payments platform based on blockchain technology. The initiative is a partnership between the government’s Smart Dubai office – the executive arm of strategic overseer The Dubai Future Foundation – and Avanza Solutions, a FinTech consulting and development firm. The payments platform, Cipher, a proprietary blockchain, is to be rolled out in all of Smart Dubai’s 38 partner government entities, partner financial institutions and departments.
Cipher offers the capability of adapting to both public and permissioned blockchain networks via the implementation of smart contracts through the open-source HyperLedger and public blockchain Ethereum platforms. According to Smart Dubai, the platform will be “a vital piece in Smart Dubai’s roadmap for payment processes in the near future.”
Smart Dubai, the government office tasked with facilitating innovation in the city, launched the citywide effort to implement blockchain technology in March. Smart Dubai’s role is to conduct workshops with key government, semi-government and private organizations to determine the services that most benefit from blockchain technology, and also to educate public and private sectors about its potential. Additionally, Smart Dubai plans to create a shared platform, Blockchain as a Service, for Dubai government entities to use in their projects.
Wesam Lootah, the chief executive of Smart Dubai, says a collaborative approach is essential to make sure that the emirate moves in the same direction to capitalize upon synergies and increase efficiency.
Smart Dubai appointed IBM as its blockchain lead strategic partner and Consensys, a custom-software development consultancy, as its blockchain adviser. Takreem El Tohamy, IBM’s general manager for the Middle East and Africa, comments that Dubai is adopting the technology as “government agencies and businesses realize the need to have a shared, secured ledger that establishes accountability and transparency while streamlining business processes.”
Aisha Bin Bishr, director general of Smart Dubai, told the Khaleej Times says, “We want to make Dubai the first blockchain-powered government in the world by 2020.” This effort will involve the moving of all government documents, comprising more than 100 million per year, onto a blockchain. “It is disruptive for existing systems, but will help us prepare for the future,” she says. The goal is to offer government services on interoperable blockchains and create a cohesive ecosystem that could massively increase efficiencies.
The Dubai Blockchain Strategy is developed and executed in partnership with the research organization The Dubai Future Foundation, founder of the Global Blockchain Council, a group that includes 42 government entities and private companies, investigating the best applications in blockchain technologies.
The strategy includes, along with improving government efficiency, the additional objectives of industry creation and international leadership. “We have a very clear objective to make Dubai the capital of the blockchain industry,” Smart Dubai’s Ms. Bishr told The Wall Street Journal.
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