Dubai and the Blockchain fever

Last week, The Wall Street Journal(WSJ) published an article detailing Dubai’s ambitions to transform most of its business infrastructure to digital interfaces powered by the blockchain. The article detailed the efforts of Dubai’s public and private sectors to leverage blockchain technologies as the core backbone of its new digital services.

In recent years, I’ve had the opportunity to travel several times to Dubai and interact with enterprises, startups and government officials in the city. The topic of blockchain technologies has been in the minds of Dubai’s technologists for quite some time and they certainly believe that the city processes the right balance of advanced infrastructure and government backing to become an important blockchain hub.

Dubai’s efforts about blockchain technologies are bringing together public and private sectors. A couple of months ago, the Smart Dubai initiative kicked off an effort to leverage the blockchain across several sectors in the city. the goal of the citywide effort is to streamline business processes and increase transparency and accountability of new digital initiatives. It definitely should ambitious but some of the initial steps are encouraging.

Dubai’s Department of Economic Development( DED) is a government entity that plays a pivotal role for any foreign company trying to conduct business in Dubai and UAE. DED’s role includes different aspects ranging from issuing new commercial license to promoting trade initiatives. DED has already started an effort to move its entire licensing and registration services to the blockchain. Considering DED’s large footprint on Dubai’s business ecosystem, it is likely that its efforts will influence some of its many business partners to leverage blockchain technologies.

Emirates NBD is Dubai’s largest bank and another early adopter of blockchain technologies. The financial powerhouse is planning to leverage blockchain technologies to streamline trade and finance logistics. NBD’s goal is to implement new blockchain smart contracts to simplify the documentation of the tracking, shipping and movement of goods. Considering Dubai’s trading volume, NBD’s efforts are nothing but ambitious.

Dubai’s initial efforts about blockchain technologies are certainly impressive but they still, individually, look similar to other blockchain initiatives from large institutions in America and Europe. In order to expand beyond isolated initiatives and onto a true smart city infrastructure powered by the blockchain there is a lot of work to be done. I’ve summarized a few ideas I think could result interesting in that context:

1 — Smart City BaaS: As a result of its efforts, Dubai is likely to see the implementation of a lot of different blockchain solutions using different technologies. Providing a common city-wide blockchain as a service( BaaS) platform for government agencies and partners could be a way to streamline the implementation and management of the different blockchain initiatives.

2 — Investing and Adapting Blockchain Startups: Dubai’s blockchain ambitions reminds me In-Q-Tel’s role in the US discovering and investing in promising enterprise software startups and adapting their technologies to the requirements of the US Intelligence Community. Dubai could establish a similar group that combine venture capitalists and technologists to identify innovative blockchain startups, bring them to Dubai using an investment vehicle and collaborate with them to reengineer their technologies to address the city’s specific requirements.

3 — Build Your Own Blockchain Technologies: Blockchain platforms are a very nascent ecosystem that is unlikely to address all the requirements of complex scenarios such as the ones provided by the Dubai’s Smart City initiative. As a result, I believe Dubai technologist are going to see a lot of opportunities to extend the capabilities of platforms such as Hyperledger or Ethereum. Those contributions might expand beyond successful contributions to blockchain stacks and become standalone products that powered similar initiatives in the blockchain ecosystem.

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