How Singapore is using blockchain outside of cryptocurrencies

Blockchain is not bitcoin and the digital ledger’s uses go far beyond cryptocurrencies

data blocks / code encryption
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After China banned Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) last year for considering them illegal fundraising tools, Singapore has become a top destination for the cryptocurrency venture.

But the Southeast Asian island is not stopping at ICO when looking at uses for blockchain.

The government and private sector have recently set up a vast number of incubators and investment funds which focus on alternative applications for blockchain, and not exclusively on cryptocurrencies.

Just in July, the Global eTrade Services (GeTS), a subsidiary of CrimsonLogic, 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 trust 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 mistrust and amusement in equal measure, several industries have already been disrupted by blockchain and many more are expected to be in the coming years.

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

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 is already building a national trade platform 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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.