Author Archives: Dan Callahan

What do beer, blockchain and Boulder (Colorado) …all have in common?  Well, this past Thursday, Congressman Jared Polis (Democrat), of Colorado’s 2nd District, spent some valuable time with us at a biergarten in his home district, discussing blockchain.  As host, I was able to lead a discussion, and decided to focus my questions on broader issues and keep the discussion leaning towards the high-level themes.

      

This event is important for several reasons.  First, getting forty-five minutes of a Congressman’s time and attention, anywhere, is a huge statement of what’s important to this particular legislator.   As co-founder of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, back in 2016, it was important then and must still be now.  Second, I thought his answers to the questions and issues were well rounded.  Given his entrepreneurial and technology background, he sees the potential of blockchain and the list of solutions that it could well support.  Third, he wants bipartisan support and mentioned his colleague David Schweikert from Arizona’s 6th district, a Republican, as co-chair of the Blockchain Caucus.  Fourth, among other things, he stated that he’s committed to staying current and informed on the technology’s progress especially as it becomes a potential solution for stymied bureaucracy across the federal agency portfolio.  If elected governor of Colorado, I expect he will take this interest to Denver (i.e., Colorado’s capital) in 2018.

We at the Government Blockchain Association were thrilled to support this kind of leadership as it pertains to using this technology for a better government; the fact that he was willing to have the discussion over beer tells me that he does not take himself too seriously.  This is a good sign for a Congressman!  Also discussed were the limits of what Congress can do at the agency level, and the fact that funding packages and other legislation typically does not reach into agencies and direct chief information officers (CIOs) to use one particular technology over another.  However, if—as a community, we see things headed in the wrong direction, we have a friend in the Blockchain Caucus and Jared Polis.  He has a friend in the GBA including our 760+ members.  Be on the lookout for other GBA progress in talking with national leadership related to blockchain.

Thank you to Congressman Polis’ staff for working with us on the details and Kevin Owocki (https://twitter.com/owocki ) for video capture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUgDpcmTdCA&t=2s

  This is important!  The state of Delaware hosts more than one million business’ legal incorporation, which also includes over 60% of Fortune 500 corporations.  This according to www.mentalfloss.com.   This is because…”Delaware’s courts, tax system, laws, and policies have made it an attractive state for businesses to incorporate in since at least the early 1900s”.

Now for the blockchain news… according to www.coindesk.com, “The state of Delaware has passed amendments to state law that make explicit the right to trade stocks on a blockchain, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.” here are the details or at least the few that we have at this point:

http://www.coindesk.com/delaware-house-passes-historic-blockchain-regulation/

The Government Blockchain Association agrees with the state’s staff who worked diligently to bring this about: this is worth celebrating.  Congratulations to them for leading at time when it is not only necessary but even critical, if blockchain technology is going to make a difference.  with this exertion of leadership and vision, 2017 has a chance of becoming “the year of blockchain adoption”.

How sweet that would be?   Could blockchain be used to help hungry nations to get the food they need.    As if this isn’t enough motivation, this may be an excellent way to account for, track and assure-the-delivery of—billions more in aid.  This is foreign aid that is often lost to black market warlords, gangs, and thugs.  No wonder Mr. Yoshiyuki Yamamoto of the UN’s office for Project Services (UNOPS) is exploring blockchain  alternatives!  The GBA has put in a call to him (actually …an email)  to see if our members may be able to help.

      

Can you imagine tracking every United Nations dollar-of-aid using a UN blockchain?  This is the kind of use case that gets so many in this field so excited.  And why not?

This is essentially a supply chain challenge and possible a micro-payments tracking challenge.  What makes this compelling is that cryptocurrencies such as M-Pesa are already becoming very widely used across Africa; it would seem that most citizens get bandwidth before they get a reliable supply of clean water and food.  This is where federal leadership (in second and third world nations) need to help their citizens by exploring technology that effectively bypasses the criminals who would otherwise steal needed supplies.

 

These two articles will give you specifics.

http://www.coindesk.com/blockchain-finally-unite-united-nations/

https://www.blockchain-expo.com/2017/04/blockchain/un-launches-request-information-blockchain-based-international-assistance/

Clifford May is a commentator and political analyst; he is not a blockchain technologist, but he may have discovered a great application for this new technology.  In his May 17th article (Washington Times) he suggested that the challenge associated with a foreign national/worker program, that allows non-citizens to come to the United States and work … may not be that difficult to solve.  Of course, the challenge is much more than creating a list (or centralized database) and matching foreign workers to a job, and the original idea was not his own—it was credited back to a ranch owner/operator who desperately needed reliable ranch workers.

Government at work

My idea is to use a chain of linked data (via a permissioned blockchain) as the primary core of the program vice a chain-linked fence; this solution has characteristics of a perfect blockchain use-case scenario.  Let’s call it the Guest Worker Enablement Blockchain, or GWEB.   Consider that…

  1. Identity of a worker is a major part of the use case;
  2. Their identity could be tied to a red ID card, with the convenience of a credit card; (see article);
  3. This will be issued by the US Federal Government;
  4. It will be used at various and sundry border crossing locations;
  5. It would be hacker proof, or as secure as distributed ledger technology can be;
  6. Once a worker has been granted “worker status” he or she would need to be able to prove this if his card is lost, stolen or challenged, by simply having the local authority check the applicable blockchain.
  7. Border crossing is already slow; any solution here would need high speed networking;
  8. The Customs and Immigration Service in the US is in sore need for modernization with a technology based solution that is both simple and elegant.
  9. The card does not even need to be used if the foreign worker has a smart phone and the correct app downloaded from the “DHS App Store”.
  10. Using smart contracts and other blockchain-based technology, each worker’s profile would trigger the correct downstream actions and reactions with regard to monitoring the program and even charging fees to applicable intermediaries and those businesses which leverage the program.

What do you think?  Why is this good or not so good?

One way to put the test to a new and emerging technology wave is asking, “are there jobs and blockchain employment opportunities breaking onto the scene?”.  “Is the blockchain hype validated yet in the job market?”  Recruiters know to ask these questions intuitively.  They tend to see the trend actually appear in the job boards and requisitions before the general market notices it (unless you happen to be looking for a job at the time).

 

As of May 2017, I am seeing the FINTECH+blockchain market broaden and I am also seeing health insurance companies acquiring blockchain developers.  Additionally, I am noticing smaller, entrepreneurial firms, presumably to gain a competitive edge, are putting requisitions on the street.  Consider a couple of the latest INDEED opportunity job alerts for the keyword “blockchain”:

  • Bank of America – blockchain developer needed (no surprise here)
  • IBM – blockchain developer needed (no surprise here)
  • Publisher – blockchain writer/reporter needed (ouch… reporters are worth more than $15/hr., aren’t they?)
  • Small consulting firms (QTY = 2) – blockchain consultant/engineer needed
  • Mid-sized tech firms (QTY = 2) – blockchain architect (if you can walk on water, that would be great, too!)
  • Health Insurance company – blockchain developer needed.
  • Tier 1 OEM (routers, switches) – blockchain bizdev architect – (QTY = 1) needed

  

I am definitely seeing expansion and new roles that are beyond ‘developer’.   What I am not seeing-at least in the US market at this time is government contractors and systems integrators trying to create a bench of blockchain talent.  Either they are building this internally or waiting.  However, one Lockheed Martin division has made a major commitment to develop software using private and very secure implementation of blockchain—and they acquired this with the help of a mid-sized integrator specializing in blockchain integration (the blockchain OEM is from Estonia).     This is a hugely validating step and applies to the kind of software development that must be validated, traceable and explicitly verifiable, even long after the fact (think of the kinds of development performed with a top secret clearance).  Generally, this is interesting because a tier one integrator received substantial support from a tier two specialty integrator.   For details, see http://www.coindesk.com/defense-giant-lockheed-martin-integrates-blockchain/

So, let’s agree to keep our eyes peeled… the market is opening up with opportunity, albeit slowly.  What are you noticing?  Please comment below.

Government adoption of cutting-edge technologies (such as blockchain) is sometimes oxymoronic; I can recall times in my own career when as soon as a federal IT program was declared “finished” it was also declared “legacy”.  Ouch.   Estonia, however, although the size of only one North Americna large city, say…about the size of Dallas, Texas, can still show us how to git ‘r done, in spite of their relatively small population:

http://fortune.com/2017/04/27/estonia-digital-life-tech-startups/

This article gives some great ideas; the progress made in Estonia should rightly earn their national government some top credibility.  Most importantly, they are using blockchain in ways that can be scaled to citizen populations of much larger sizes. This is key for the rest of us and I believe we can learn from their deployments, over the coming months.

Also, consider that in 2014, about one third of the US federal payroll would become eligible for retirement before the end of 2017.  One may wonder how many of these retirements may not be re-filled.  This means that at least the US federal government (among others, no doubt) will need to do “more with less”… perhaps much more.

Blockchain is perfectly fit for this task.

As many of us get up to speed regarding Estonia and their governmental use of blockchain, this caught my eye: “Why Sweden is Taking a Chance on Blockchain Land Registry”

http://www.coindesk.com/sweden-taking-chance-blockchain-land-registry/

In general, this kind of progress is what we live for at GBA.  I am endeavoring to get connected with this implementation team (let me know if you have any connections in Sweden!).

I also believe it is very prescient that …  “the biggest barrier to changing the land titling system [in Sweden] is not the technology itself, but laws and regulations that have been in place for years.”   It’s no genius on my part to suggest a similar scenario in virtually every other government organization that investigates blockchain.

 

Another gating factor is the raw knowledge the government agency is acquiring in the minds of its employees in order to implement blockchain correctly.  This is key; human capital needs to be brought up to speed on all the basics as well as the nuanced variables.  This is where we hope to be a big help.

What other factors will determine success or failure in these kind of scenarios?  How long will these kind of changes take?  What are the key enablers and key road blocks?

FAIRFAX, VA, April 15, 2017    The Government Blockchain Association (GBA) in Washington, D.C. has been launched this week. The GBA is a nonprofit industry association that brings together innovative solution providers with government leaders to improve services at all levels of government around the world.  The GBA is a membership association that provides education, training, research, white papers and networking opportunities to government leaders, staff, contractors, and commercial organizations & consultants.

Many leaders in government and industry see the huge potential for this new technology in the government domain.  For example:

  • The US OMB Director, Mick Mulvaney, recently said, ”Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize the financial services industry, the U.S. economy and the delivery of government services, and I am proud to be involved with this initiative.”
  • US House of Representatives Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said “Blockchain has the potential to transform the 21st-century economy. Lawmakers need to understand that as the world rapidly changes, it’s our responsibility to ensure that we craft policies and adopt laws that match our ingenuity.”

The GBA facilitates communities of practice, steering committees and working groups to research blockchain related topics and explore new opportunities for members.

Being an international association, the GBA will address how governments around the world, at all levels, will benefit from blockchain.  Notable progress is being made in many commercial locations where in-production blockchain networks are beginning to roll-out.  GBA will help pave the way to blockchain’s smooth adoption in many government uses cases.

Membership is currently free for a limited time.  You can learn more about the Government Blockchain Association by visiting  www.governmentblockchain.org or  send e-mail to [email protected]

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Step 2 – Do your homework!

 

Every government organization struggles with something related to mission accomplishment.  Finding this may be as simple as asking, “what are the oldest critical systems supporting that mission and how can we update them (or replace them) to better serve the citizens?”  In other scenarios, it may be more nuanced.  When selling to a federal hospital, early in my career, it became clear that the landline telephone system was well past its prime.  (Before electronic “key” telephones rose in the mid-1980s, systems were electro-mechanical).  This became a target for replacement because the family members of the patients could not contact the patients before they arrived (in person) for a visit and when they would arrive for their visit, they could not easily contact other family members who could not actually visit the patients themselves.

Clearly, this was not a medical issue per se rather a “keeping the patient and their family happy” issue, which was just as important as any of the other medical services the hospital was providing.   Therefore, ask yourself, “what kind of pain is the agency or government organization (or its citizens) experiencing?  Where is it most acute?”  Determine what part of their mission is suffering the most and ask if blockchain can help.  Then, you will be on the right track.

Almost every interaction with a government involves a transaction of some sort.  Can this be improved, streamlined, made more secure, made faster or with better context, or better documentation, etc.?

 

Step 3 – No one cares about the drill bit, they care about the hole!  Focus on the hole.

 

Don’t’ sell blockchain.  Dare I say, “no one cares!”  Blockchain is not particularly awe inspiring, sexy or dripping with excitement.  I could argue that it is yet another evolutionary step in our modern data-driven and hyper-connected world, that is inevitable, given our addiction to speed, autonomy and convenience of computing.  Welcome to the modern world.  On the other hand, I could also argue that there is true inspiration in making government operate so well that you don’t even see it or feel its weight on a daily basis.

I witnessed a mixed lesson in local governance recently.  I called into a county agency requesting that the sidewalk in front of my home be repaired.  Because the county government relied upon a state agency to do the actual work, it took several calls to get the problem reported correctly and a commitment to at least consider the repair.  The second challenge was that it took two years to become the number one job on the worklist.  When the repair crew showed up, I had almost forgotten that I called in the first place!  The crew chief made sure to tell me … “you may want to mention to the governor that we did an excellent job”; I then realized it was that same man who took my call and eventually got the work done.  LESSON:  while blockchain won’t help a work crew use a shovel and cement mixer any faster, it may have helped to create a trouble ticket in reporting a safety/repair issue… and then used to update the citizen as to the status of the outcome.  (and don’t forget the “human element”).  This is good governance.

 

If governmental processes could be made more efficient, then taxes could be lowered because some of those processes are no longer needed.  If property recording and titling of citizen-owned assets could be streamlined, it would encourage ownership and the hard work that goes with it (which helps everyone in a society!).  If the creation of businesses and the downstream processes that maintain it could be simplified (with regard to government oversight), more entrepreneurs would be willing to take the risk inherent in launching businesses.  This kind of thinking is what makes economies grow and societies thrive.  It also attracts citizens to move there bringing their tax base with them.

 

The list of benefits derived from blockchain is all about citizen autonomy, convenience, maintaining of property rights, minimal-touch taxation, eliminating fraud and threats to safety (which merely increases all costs), and a similar list of positive outcomes.  Just as no one really gets teary eyed about the network protocol called TCP/IP, it is one of the several key protocols that makes the Internet even possible.  So, do not make the mistake of getting too excited about the blockchain itself; it is only what the blockchain will do for citizens that truly matters.  This is where our hyper-focus must remain.   Sell the benefits of a beautiful hole that the client will have when he is finished using the drill bit (or a repaired sidewalk and the improved safety of school children walking to the elementary school, not far from my home); don’t “sell” him the drill bit.  It is simply a means to an end.

 

This is “Sales 101”.  We must show the future and when we cannot actually demonstrate it (i.e., a “demo”), we need to find a way to describe it in vivid—even colorful terms.

Creating this vision with blockchain is all about how will lives be improved if blockchain is embraced and rolled-out.   Show how blockchain can eliminate risk to the daily lives of citizens while showing that existing/legacy solutions are insecure, slow, prone to fraud, etc.  Target your attention on how a new solution has fewer steps, is faster, much more convenient and not able to be compromised…  and you will get an audience in whichever agency or government organization you’re interested in helping.

In summary, don’t fall in love with blockchain, rather, crave what it will do for your government on behalf its citizens.   That’s what really matters.

 

Introduction

This posting is for those outside of government organizations as well as those who are on the inside, and who desire to be a change agent.  The role of driving change and exerting leadership (as anyone who has tried it can attest) is only for the brave-hearted and thick-skinned.  These courageous individuals often are the first to take-on direct fire from an outside enemy and even “friendly fire” from others who should be assisting them.

We all know that government organizations are often the slowest of entities to adopt change; however, there is good news: citizens across the world are going to demand… and essentially force change as the digital clock keeps ticking.  When one considers that there are almost as many cell phone subscriptions (6.8 billion) as there are people on this earth (seven billion), it is not difficult to imagine a pent-up demand for government services that are more convenient, less expensive, faster and more secure.  Two of the drivers behind this are that machines talking to machines like never before in the history of mankind (e.g., the Internet of Things (IoT)), and the younger generation can and often do adopt these new digital appliances very rapidly.

Blockchain does—in fact, have much to offer.  But this kind of change will take time because blockchain is essentially an infrastructure level system.  This was pointed out by a Jan-Feb. (2017) edition of Harvard Business Review article; Iansiti and Lakhani opine that

“Blockchain is not a “disruptive” technology, which can attack a traditional business model with a lower-cost solution and overtake incumbent firms quickly.  Blockchain is a foundational technology: it has the potential to create new foundations for our economic and social systems.”

Much like it took the national and international telecom network providers four generations of network infrastructure in order to offer fiber-to-the-home and streaming video to the smartphone, it will take time for government entities to swap out the 1980s era software and networks (or pen and ink processes still used in some government agencies) and replace them with a blockchain centric one.

This is especially true for Western nations; it’s not too much of a risk to predict that nations where there were not deep investments made in telecom and networking infrastructure will actually leap frog over the United States and others, by continuing to erect cell towers and be able to adopt blockchain infrastructure very rapidly.

I prefer to keep a balanced view by reminding folks that many who are in the role of forecasting business and society trends, often overestimate what can happen in two years and underestimate what can happen in ten (attributed to Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft).

Thus, the rational posture is to acknowledge the journey and its challenges, while focusing on the desire of citizens to readily adopt almost any change that will improve their quality of life, even in small ways.  This trait is basic to human nature and it is undoubtedly on the side of blockchain.

So, there is no time like the present!  Why not begin now, informing your government officials at the local, state/provincial and federal level, that today is the best time to adopt positive solutions that improve your quality of life?

Let’s Get Started

Step 1 – Find a motivation for yourself that is both inspiring and “others-centric”.

It takes courage to want to help others to affect even a minor change, let alone to wade into unfamiliar waters where sharks, snakes, and other sharp objects may lurk.  However, change is not only necessary, it is imperative to survival—even for government entities!  Nothing of consequence in our world ever remains static, if for no other reason that humans are constantly seeking new experiences, efficiencies and benefits and their expectations getting higher each year.  Therefore, you and I as leaders must adopt an attitude of “I am here to help guide others into the future… and support the inevitable”.    You and I need to find a motivation that is “for the benefits of others, not ourselves”.

In America, we use the term “motherhood and apple pie” to refer to our American way of life and the value system that is now aproximately 200 years old (i.e., family, freedom, prosperity, quality of life, leisure time, etc.).   However, no matter where you live on Earth, there is plenty of motivation to improve the lives of citizens–even at very basic levels.  Let this be your motivation when selling blockchain.  Serving others is ultimately why we get out of bed in the morning.

Part 2 – coming soon.