Blockchain Dubai set aggressive milestones, with scepticism

Dubai has been at the forefront of blockchain and its very rare these days when a headline with Dubai and Blockchain doesn’t appear at least every month. The traction that blockchain has had with various initiatives across Dubai general could be a model for the rest of the world to follow.


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Let’s review the “Blockchain Dubai” timeline and activity over the past 12 months.

Jan 2017: Blockchain announced partnership with Dubai to set up all government transactions to go digital using the technology. The timeline set for this was 2020 and it was expected to cut almost 100 million paper transactions annually. Blockchain also announced their Middle East expansion plans at Davos last year.

Feb 2017: IBM Announced their plans to work with several Dubai based public and private sector organisations. They were going to use Hyperledger Fabric and IBM Cloud for a trade finance and logistics solution. Emirates NBD bank, Santander, Aramex and a few other logistics players were part of this initiative.

March 2017: Consensys named city advisor for Dubai Blockchain initiatives – this announcement came from Smart Dubai Office. Smart Dubai would conduct workshops with key government, semi-government and private organizations with a view to design and build a shared blockchain as a service platform.

April 2017: Avanza solutions partnered with Smart Dubai on a Blockchain payments infrastructure. Avanza’s proprietary blockchain that uses Hyperledger and Ethereum was to deliver an immutable, agile and instant reconciliation and settlement platform.

June 2017: Object Tech – a UK based firm announced partnership with Dubai’s Immigration and Visa Department (GDRFA) to develop digital passports. The system would combine the biometric verification and the identity trust framework provided by blockchain technology. This solution was expected to act as the support system for the expansion of Dubai airport.

Between July and October, there were several announcements around the blockchain Dubai vision, followed by some ICO warnings.

October 2017: A major development in the cryptocurrency space happened when Dubai announced intentions to launch its Sovereign Crypto – EMCash. EmCash would be the digital currency in EmPay wallet, launched by Emcredit to support contactless payments. This added to the momentum that cryptos had through the second half of last year.

In October, the Dubai Land Department (DLD) created a new blockchain database system allowing tenants to rent a property without handing over cheques or physical documentation. Customer (tenants) could make payments electronically without the need to write checques or physical documentation.

Jan 2018: More detailed information on the IBM and Consensys initiatives were disclosed by Smart Dubai. They announced plans for the roll out of 20 blockchain applications in 2018. Blockchain initiatives span across multiple organisations including the Dubai Police, Water Authority, Dubai Electricity, and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.

While there is ambition to make Dubai the Blockchain capital of the world through various public and private sector partnerships, there is still scepticism, caution and consideration that at times key decision makers might have to see through the hype, and acknowledge implementation challenges around Blockchain.

It is also quite difficult to take an initiative to closure through a public-private sector partnerships. Most smart city initiatives fail because of the cultural differences between these sectors, however, there is also the implementation hurdles that Blockchain as a technology poses that might challenge the Blockchain Dubai phenomenon.

Despite the scepticism, it is good to see the initiatives across Dubai and UAE in piloting several use cases with Blockchain. Dubai may not become the Blockchain capital of the world, but the activity over the last 12 months indicate that it would certainly qualify as the Blockchain workshop of the world.

Arunkumar Krishnakumar is a Fintech thought leader and an investor. 

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  1. Arunkumar, nice piece, thanks. On the public-private partnerships, there is something similar to the Dubai initiative which is the Alastria blockchain consortium in Spain – I think there’s a degree of public and private collaboration there.

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