Davos: New kids on the blockchain

With blockchain technology becoming more acceptable, the Global Blockchain Business Council hosted standing room-only events in Davos – a change from a year ago when the founding of GBBC received scant attention.

Through the work of the GBBC “business leaders can learn what blockchain is and why they should care and how it can improve their business”. – Jamie Smith (Image: GBBC)

Sulaiman Philip

The theme for this year’s meeting of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos was “Creating a shared future in a fractured world”, referring to the rise of nationalist and protectionist policies taking hold in governments across the globe.

The disruption to traditional industries and high finance being caused by digital technology was also a concern for the attendees in Davos.

The Global Blockchain Business Council (GBBC) was launched at the WEF meeting in Davos last year without much fanfare. A year later, the association of business leaders interested in Bitcoin and blockchain solutions hosted some of the most popular sessions in Davos, focussing on business solutions and the role of technology in the future economy across sectors.

Sessions with names like “Blockchain beyond Earth” and “Redefining human value” were on offer in pop-up venues for attendees who knew about blockchain solutions but not what that meant exactly. Jamie Smith, chief executive of the GBBC, had a simple explanation, as she told the BBC: “The original internet was created to move information, and it did. The information we send to each other, has to be actually stored somewhere, so it’s stored in databases.”

The problem is that hackers are getting really good at beating the security systems put in place to protect that information. Recently, that information was stored in thousands of databases on server farms. Blockchain breaks those farms into thousands of separate pieces. “Instead of breaking into a house, now you have to break into a town or city full of houses.”

GBBC hosted events in Davos were oversubscribed due to the growing interest in the technology. (Image: GBBC)

What is blockchain?

Blockchain has no one meaning, instead it covers a wide range of technologies and digital solutions. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are the best known examples of a blockchain solution. At its simplest, blockchain is the shared archive technology that powers cryptocurrencies, but it also allows for encrypted data on anything from money to medical records. The benefit of this protected data is the technologies ability to update information instantly and inform all parties in real time.

It is part of the ongoing process of digitisation, but it is also more than just speeding up making business processes more efficient. Blockchain redefines how buisness processes are designed and implemented. It has the power to redefine the way that lawyers, bankers, accountants and even governments do business by creating peer-to-peer channels.

Education, not apprehension

The GBBC’s purpose is to educate and advocate for the advancement of the blockchain ecosystem. It brings together thought leaders at roundtables like those organised in Davos to help business and governments understand how the technology will change the way business, and the business of government, is conducted.

Valery Vavilov, CEO of the Bitfury Group, is one of the fouders of the GBBC and a leading advocate for blockchain technology. His company develops the circuit boards, chips and servers at the heart of blockchain technology and builds Bitcoin data centres.

At Davos he was vocal in encouraging corporations to develop and incorporate the technology into their digital infrastructure. “Without the security provided by the computing power of the Bitcoin blockchain, the property prized most — immutability — is no longer a given and is just one hack away from someone corrupting not just identity information, but real value as well.”

Smith told the BBC that GBBC’s presence was just the beginning of their campaign to educate leaders about blockchain and the future of finance. They will continue to provide forums where “business leaders can learn what blockchain is and why they should care and how it can improve their business”.

What is making their work easier, she said, is the speed with which the technology is being adopted across the globe. Rwanda’s land registries are run using the technology and India is using it for their population database.

How governments and business are re-learning how to manage data using blockchain technology was discussed at a GBBC hosted event in Davos. (Image: GBBC)

Police forces and NGOs are looking at ways to use blockchain to prevent human trafficking. At the same time national health departments are using it to create reliable personal medical records. Commercial retail giant Walmart is embracing the technology to track its food imports from China. “Not  understanding [blockchain] is close to malpractice. The next generation will expect this kind of technology.”

South African financial institutions have embraced blockchain technology because it makes online financial transactions more secure. Banks, including Rand Merchant Bank, ABSA, FirstRand, Standard Bank, Nedbank, and Capitec have come together to discuss the best way to adopt the technology in the South African market. As Farzam Ehsani, chair of the South African Financial Blockchain Consortium, explained to news website My Broadband in July 2017: “Consider fax machines or telephones – without a particular protocol or standard that allowed these devices to communicate with one another, they wouldn’t be very helpful. Blockchains are similar. They require all the participants in the network to agree on how to agree.”

The consortium has developed an autonomus blockchain for the country called Springblock, that is hoped will be adopted for all finacial transactions. “We are exploring all aspects of what this technology can offer to better serve all South Africans,” Ehsani said.

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