Commentary: Why Singapore should be excited about the future of business and blockchain

Commentary: Why Singapore should be excited about the future of business and blockchain

Blockchain can be a boost. Accenture’s Group CEO for Growth Markets tells us why.

hackathon blockchain dengue fever
Singapore's Team Wombat was the global winner of Accenture’s first connected digital hackathon with a solution prototype to help detect and prevent vector-borne diseases. (Photo: Accenture)

SINGAPORE: A friend of mine keeps a large glass bowl at the entrance of her house on the table where the keys are stored and a notebook and pen are ready to hand. 

Throughout the year the family jots down notes, folds them and puts them in the bowl, to be read together at the end of the year. Most begin with the phrase: “I’m thankful for” or “I’m excited about …”

It’s a way to refocus on the good, during New Year’s celebrations. But it’s also a principle that can be tweaked for business. The “I’m excited about” notes could serve as jumping off points for what businesses could focus on in the new year.

Personally, I’m excited about the potential of blockchain. The headline that most people have read about is how blockchain is the underlying technology for bitcoin. 

But I’m excited about the broader implications for the technology.

BLOCKCHAIN CAN HELP SOLVE MANY SOCIAL ISSUES

Blockchain could fundamentally change our world. It’s a technology that begs us to step back and think: What really big thing could we fix? It has that kind of gravitas.

Consider the social issues it can help solve. Nearly one sixth of the global population - 1.1 billion individuals - currently live without proof of identity. These individuals are marginalised by society, vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking, and struggle to access the critical services and social benefits designed to provide support. 

Accenture is a founding partner of the ID2020 Alliance, a UN-affiliated public-private partnership that is bringing together governments, NGOs and the private sector to help solve this identity and verification problem. It uses biometrics, including fingerprints, voice, face and/or iris scan, captured at an enrollment station.

A highly secured, unique identifier is created – that is what is recorded on the blockchain – and this identifier acts as an index, linking all applicable data. No personal data is stored on the blockchain with the ID2020 solution. 

The user is in control of his or her own personal data and determines who sees what, where, when and for how long. It’s a technological solution to a serious social problem and it’s an identity that grows and strengthens through an individual’s life.

Once a person enrolls, they would no longer need to carry all their paperwork with them – it would be permanently available on the cloud. The person would be able to prove his or her identity and thus have access to social services that many, who can’t prove who they are, are currently barred from utilising.

SINGAPORE, A BIRTHPLACE OF MANY NEW IDEAS

I believe Singapore is very likely to be the birthplace of many new ideas that could help solve global problems, including blockchain’s development.

Consider how in early November, through its first global digital hackathon, Accenture challenged young talent from 11 cities around the world to prototype digital solutions that create a truly human city environment.

Close to 500 recent graduates, undergraduates, entrepreneurs and individuals from start-ups in more than 100 teams participated in the hackathon across 11 cities (Bangalore, Chicago, Dubai, Istanbul, London, Manila, Mexico City, Monterrey, Rome, Shanghai, Singapore).

The winner was from Singapore. Team “Wombat” developed a prototype for an early warning system to detect and prevent outbreaks of dengue and other vector-borne diseases.

Dengue, as we all know, is a problem here – but has been an even greater challenge elsewhere in the world. A solution didn’t have to come from Singapore but I’m not surprised it did.

The government has consistently recognised the need to invest in innovation – in 2016 it announced it would spend US$13.6 billion to support research and developments during the next five years. In 2017, the government said it would spend more than US$100 million just on artificial intelligence during the next five years.

It wouldn’t surprise me if start-ups in Singapore used blockchain to address other challenges as well.

BOOST FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES

In financial services, blockchain could provide greater transparency into the origins and underlying risks of any investment, regardless of its complexity, to regulators, banks, investors and other key stakeholders.

This could have proven useful during the recent financial crisis where in the case of mortgage-backed securities, the loans bundled into each security could have been traced all the way back to the original loan documentation, making the true credit profile of the product apparent to anyone who looked.

We have since seen a host of fintech start-ups develop businesses designed to improve risk assessment.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore, in partnership with The Association of Banks in Singapore is already leading the way globally by looking at how blockchain could be used in financial markets. They recently published a report, called Project Ubin Phase II that illustrates how blockchain technology could significantly improve the kinds of payment systems that currently enable banks around the world to transfer trillions of dollars per day to each other and help them manage their financial liquidity.

We live in a world of abundant economic opportunities – many stemming from the promise created by new technologies, including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and biotechnology.

I challenge business executives to think about those opportunities and ask themselves, “What excites me here?” And then to take the next step and consider “How can I make that help my business?” 

I challenge start-ups and graduating students in the city to ask themselves the same question, and then consider if there is a new business opportunity for them to create.

And while you’re at it, you might consider a glass bowl at the entrance of your business or house – to prompt ideas you, your family or your team at work may be excited about in 2018. 

Gianfranco Casati is the group chief executive of growth markets for Accenture.​​​​​​​

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