How Singapore is using blockchain outside of cryptocurrencies

Blockchain doesn’t restrict to bitcoin and the Southeast Asian country is applying the digital ledger far beyond crypto

binary chain / linked data / security / blockchain
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When blockchain was first conceived by so-called Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008, bitcoin just existed as a registered domain on the internet.

It was only the following year that the elusive developer implemented blockchain as a core component of the cryptocurrency, which led many to think of both as synonyms.

After China banned Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) last year for considering them illegal fundraising tools, Singapore became a top destination for the cryptocurrency venture.

However, blockchain is not bitcoin and the digital ledger’s uses and impact go far beyond it, as the small Southeast Asian country is demonstrating.

Just in July, the Global eTrade Services (GeTS), a subsidiary of CrimsonLogic set up in 2016 and with presence in Singapore, launched the world’s first cross-border blockchain for trade linking ASEAN and China’s Digital Silk Road.

Under the name Open Trade Blockchain (OTB), the service is intended to help trade communities to boost overall efficiency, security and transparency for global trade.

If the potential of blockchain adoption is so great that’s because every industry deals with transactions that require trust. To have a permanent record that cannot be tampered is an attractive incentive for any business that wants to inspire confidence in their customers.

Its decentralised nature, lack of intermediaries and trustworthiness has called the attention of governments, startups and organisations around the globe.

Although still a complex system which inspires suspicion and amusement in equal measure, several industries have already been disrupted by blockchain and many more are expected to be in the coming years.

Roger Lim, founding partner at NEO Global Capital (NGC), one of the world’s leading blockchain investment firms, spoke to CIO Asia about the impact of the disruptive technology on different industries: “The application of blockchain in different industries and verticals have their own nuances. If this technology gets adopted by an industry, it could spur innovations and adoption in other industries and verticals.” he said.

“For example if Ripple [a US-based real-time gross settlement system, currency exchange and remittance network] succeeds in financial services, it could create a similar consortium approach in other industries,” he explained.

In this article we explore some sectors in Singapore that are already taking advantage of the adoption of the distributed ledger.

Airline industry

Singapore is one of the first Southeast Asian countries that has started implementing blockchain in the airline industry.

"Blockchain can ensure everyone involved in travel - airline crew, airport staff, ground services crew and passengers - has access to the same, up-to-date, verified information about arrivals, departures and delays,” Shiraz Malik, a travel solutions expert, told The ASEAN Post.

"This can help to avoid situations where airline and airport websites, mobile apps, text messages, passengers and staff members have outdated or conflicted information about flight statuses," he continued.

Singaporean Airlines' Krisflyer restructured its payments and loyalty programme earlier this year by adopting the blockchain structure for its new digital wallet.

The digital wallet allows members to use frequent flyer miles to complete point-of-sale purchases onboard a plane and around an airport. Customer loyalty is fostered due to the ease with which they get to spend their frequent flyer miles.

Education

Another sector that can benefit from the application of blockchain. By using smart contracts, it can allow universities and employers to check qualifications quickly, securely and cheaply.

The use of blockchain can provide students with the ability to have greater control over their individual education by offering flexible access to content and courses suggested based on previous qualifications and grades.

The Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP), a public institution of higher learning in Singapore established in 1963, is also adopting blockchain in its educational mission.

Together with smart contracts startup Attores, NP is using blockchain to verify the authenticity of the polytechnic’s diplomas - the first education institute in Singapore to do so.

With a student’s blockchain ID, potential employers can retrieve the person’s academic records and education history.

“When a student graduates, he just gives you his Blockchain ID and you can retrieve his academic records from his entire education history,” explained Patrice Choong, Director of The Sandbox, the school’s office for innovation and entrepreneurship. The certificates can also be published on the student’s LinkedIn profile.

The administrative and economic benefits are clear. Instead of spending days processing applications, universities can retrieve original certificates immediately through the system, similarly to the QR code mechanism.

“It’s a productivity gain, and also an additional layer of security,” said Choong.“[Students] don’t have to meticulously keep [physical] certificates.”

There’s no doubt that the higher education sector in the city-state wants to explore the opportunities offered by blockchain. Last year the National University of Singapore (NUS) announced that it is partnering with IBM to develop a curriculum around blockchain and distributed ledger technology.

“Blockchain initiatives in higher education have so far been limited to the top 15-20 universities. Given the significance of this field, such initiatives need to go far wider and much deeper,” Roger Lim told CIO Asia.

He continued explaining how a good blockchain engineer needs some basic skills, as well as an understanding of economics, cryptography, data analytics, and auditing, to be able to use the technology correctly.

“Today, very few people can claim to have a combination of those skills. Universities have to relook at structuring their programmes for the new workforce of the new economy,” Lim concluded.

Government / Public sector

A number of governments worldwide are already using blockchain in their administrations to improve their operations - from taxation and welfare payments to voting and health record management.

Let's take the case of Estonia, where the innovative e-Estonia programme connects government services in a single digital platform. The project integrates a large amount of sensitive data from healthcare, the judiciary, legislature, security and commercial code registries, which are stored on a blockchain ledger to protect them from corruption and misuse.

In Georgia, a custom-built blockchain system is being used by the National Agency of Public Registry to register land titles and validate property transactions. The Georgian government says it expects the system to increase transparency in land title ownership, reduce fraud and create cost savings.

Singapore could be soon following the steps of these countries. According to the Public Service Division of Singapore, in the future, the Singapore Public Service could adopt blockchain to verify vendors’ track records on GeBiz, track a public officer’s career moves, and support or even replace certain auditing processes.

The Singapore Customs authority has just launched a national trade platform (NTP) based on blockchain. The new IT ecosystem is expected to connect businesses, community systems and platforms, and government systems.

The new national trade platform will replace the current TradeNet and TradeXchange platforms for declaring permits and other services for trade and logistics.

And there’s of course Project Ubin. Launched by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in conjunction with several financial institutions and technology partners, the programme is already in its second phase.

The project has tested interbank payments using DLT and is evaluating the implications of using digital tokens as a virtual Singapore dollar. If interbank payments based on blockchain are successful, they could lead to faster settlements in financial services, especially for trade across borders.

Real Estate

There’s nothing more loathsome when moving houses than the long trail of admin involved with it. We have all been there: spending money and wasting countless days to get the keys to a flat.

In Singapore, property startup uses blockchain to back mobile digital contracts - something that significantly simplifies the admin side of renting or selling a property.

Real estate online platform Averspace lists properties for sale or rent. It then conducts transactions using digitised contracts secured by blockchain. By doing so, Averspace makes it easy for homeowners and tenants to directly enter into a digital tenancy agreement, without having to pay commission fees.

Averspace is the first real estate portal in Singapore that allows homeowners and prospective tenants to enter into a digital tenancy agreement on their smartphones, using blockchain technology to ensure all their transactions are secure.

Attores, the smart contracts startup working with NP in education, has also a partnership with Averspace.

"[Our main goal] is to simplify real estate, so that it is not cumbersome, because real estate tends to be heavy in terms of documentation and a lot of people are worried about that", said Ivan Lim, founder of Averspace.

Food industry

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), each year 600 million in the world - almost 1 in 10 people -, fall ill after consuming contaminated food. Of these, 420,000 people die.

Applying blockchain to the food chain industry can provide consumers and suppliers with more information about food products, including where it has been and for how long, improving traceability and increasing costumers’ trust.

The use of blockchain will see a reduction in food contamination while also improving food safety regulations.

Nestle, Walmart and Unilever are just some of the food organisations that are planning to use blockchain to help trace food contamination.

In Singapore, the Intellectual Property Intermediary (IPI), an organisation established under Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry, has been working on a ‘Blockchain Technology for Food’ project. This technology tracks and traces materials and products using the blockchain database to store information gathered from all the actors that take part in the food production chain.

The solution ensures leading-edge data structure management and data storage standards, ensuring food quality, guaranteeing food safety and reducing food waste.

Healthcare

Singapore’s doctors spend an average of 10 minutes per patient, regardless of the kind of medical problem they are suffering.

On top of the time constraints and pressure to see as many patients as possible, there’s the long admin work.

Blockchain could help to reduce those admin tasks considerably and help doctors spend more time with those who really need them - their patients.

SGInnovate, Singapore’s government-owned deep technology development firm, has invested in MediLOT Technologies, a Singapore-based blockchain and healthcare analytics startup, for an undisclosed amount as part of its strategy to develop research-based deep tech startups.

Using a health data protocol built on the principles “of patient centricity, privacy, and equitable data sharing”, MediLOT uses a dual blockchain with a unique layered architecture which can incorporate Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data analytics capabilities on top of its control and data layers. This allows for machine learning APIs and complex applications to be built on top of MediLOT platform.

“MediLOT has assembled a great team with a vision to build an interoperable decentralised platform that can be used by all healthcare providers to extract greater value from healthcare records, affording patients better diagnoses and more effective treatments,” said Tong Hsien-Hui, Head of Venture Investing at SGInnovate. “Their vision is in line with SGInnovate’s mission to help develop high potential companies with products that will have global impact.”

In the pharmaceutical sector, BlockVerify and similar companies are working on tracking medical products along supply chains, to ensure that hospital patients receive the right drugs.

Energy

Another sector benefited by blockchain in Singapore is energy. Electrify, a startup founded last year by Julius Tan and Martin Lim, is set to change the way in which people buy electricity.

Through a web and mobile platform, consumers can buy energy from electricity retailers through “smart contracts” which directly write the terms between the buyer and the seller into lines of code, enforcing the agreement through a blockchain network.

Consumers are more informed about their choices because Electrify’s proprietary engine collects and displays retail electricity offers.

They are given the possibility to choose between cheaper electricity prices to zero-carbon energy or energy-efficient offers. It also digitises the electricity contracts to eliminate the need for manual filling.

The creation of Electrify is a direct consequence of Singapore’s decision to deregulate its electricity market earlier in the year.

“Our main objective of introducing the Open Electricity Market is to promote greater competition in the electricity market,” said Singapore’s Energy Market Authority Chief Executive Ng Wai Choong. “With competition, consumers stand to benefit from competitive pricing, enhanced service standards and innovative packages from electricity retailers.”

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