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Dubai’s seven rules for blockchain success

Dubai has the goal of going paperless by 2021. A member of the city’s government outlines the strategy and the seven tenets of blockchain success. 

As city governments modernize, they struggle to shed manual practices, go digital and become fleet-footed. Some organizations are turning to blockchain technology to achieve these goals.

Public institutions have much to gain from blockchain technology, wrote Mark White, Jason Kilimeyer and Bruce Chew in a paper for Deloitte Insights. “By accelerating transactions . . . blockchain can help to eliminate layers of redundancy, ease regulatory compliance burdens [and] introduce recordkeeping efficiency,” they wrote.

For the city of Dubai, blockchain will enable efficiency, modernization and greater transparency. One key initiative, said Wesam Lootah, the CEO of Smart Dubai Government, is going paperless using blockchain.

“We are trying to make the city of the future today,” he explained at IBM Think 2018. “On December 12, 2021, we will celebrate the last paper transaction issued by any government entity in Dubai. Being 100% digital is just the norm.”

Blockchain explained

Blockchain works this way: When a new transaction takes place, every computer in the blockchain network records the information into a database of sorts. That time-stamped transaction is combined with others to form a block, also time-stamped to prevent overwriting or duplication.

When a block is added to the larger chain, it is attached with a “hash”—or a unique string of characters—to make the chain virtually immutable and unbreakable. A hash from one block is then added to the data in the next block. When the next block goes through the hash function, a portion of it is woven into the new hash. Blockchain participants provide the validation and cryptographic locks on the data, enabling it to be simultaneously secure and transparent.

Why blockchain for government?

Not surprisingly, enterprises and institutions see the value of this technology to digitize processes, provide transparency into the nature of the transaction and give all parties access to the information.

And the blockchain technology trend is gathering steam. IDC predicts that $2.1 billion will be spent globally on blockchain technology in 2018. At the same time, according to IDG Connect research, only 13% of senior IT leaders surveyed have clear, current plans to implement blockchain technologies. But, as Lootah indicates, institutions can’t adopt these technologies without a plan. To achieve blockchain success, they need to test and then commit.

The city of Dubai treats its blockchain initiative as a serious technology rollout. Here are three of its guiding principles for bringing blockchain to government.

  • Government efficiency. Lootah emphasized that implementation fails when you look at the technology rather than at ways to improve interactions with customers. “We are starting with the customer experience and transforming these experiences to become seamless, efficient, safe and personalized,” he said.
  • The ecosystem. Lootah noted that an organization’s entire ecosystem needs to buy in for a technology as disruptive as blockchain to succeed. “With a new technology like blockchain, it’s important to get everyone contributing: Whether it’s technology vendors, the startups, the research and development institutions—all our business partners in the city—we have to all come together in order to mutually succeed.”
  • International leadership. Lootah emphasized that Dubai is a leader, but it doesn’t want to lead in isolation. Rather, it wants to encourage global adoption of blockchain. “How can we take blockchain so it’s not only a success within the boundaries of Dubai but take it across borders?” he said.

Rules for blockchain success

In order to realize this strategy, Lootah said, organizations should consider these seven rules for blockchain success.

  1. Gain the support of leadership. Lootah noted that all visionary efforts require buy-in from leadership. “Everyone has to believe in this change,” Lootah said. “It’s hard to do that if the leadership doesn’t believe in it.”
  2. Don’t talk technology. Lootah noted that technology initiatives fail when proponents try to sell executives on the technology rather than the outcomes. In this case, blockchain is about making life easier for citizens. “Talk about the experience you’re trying to transform. Build your vision around this future state.”
  3. Unite many participants. Lootah noted that blockchain is a highly collaborative venture. Participants need to be aligned, not at odds. “From the beginning, create excitement about this future state.”
  4. Test first, then commit. New technologies require testing before implementation, but, he said, once a technology moves into production, stay the course. “Start with proof of concept, scale out to a pilot, then move to production,” Lootah said. “Once you go to production, you need to commit.”
  5. Expect some failure. Blockchain implementation may hit some snags. “You’re working with fairly new technology; you should expect some difficulties,” Lootah said. “Understand that some of the work you do today will need to be redone in the future. Set this expectation from the beginning.”
  6. Scalability requires efficiency. To become pervasive and integrated into an organization’s processes, blockchain requires resources. “If you do this at city scale, it’s important to be efficient with the technology,” Lootah said. Dubai uses blockchain as a service so that users don’t have to understand how the technology works under the hood. “They just log in,” he said.
  7. Keep your eye on the long-term vision. Stakeholder conflict should be expected—and dealt with. “You’re going to have conflict and people trying to realize their own objectives,” Lootah warned. “Transcend these individual objectives and have everyone look at the purpose you’re working on and your shared vision.”

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Lauren Horwitz

Lauren Horwitz is the managing editor of Cisco.com, where she covers the IT infrastructure market and develops content strategy. Previously, Horwitz was a senior executive editor in the Business Applications and Architecture group at TechTarget;, a senior editor at Cutter Consortium, an IT research firm; and an editor at the American Prospect, a political journal. She has received awards from American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), a min Best of the Web award and the Kimmerling Prize for best graduate paper for her editing work on the journal article "The Fluid Jurisprudence of Israel's Emergency Powers.”