The Construction Blockchain Consortium Hackathon and How INDUSTRIA Helped the Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industry in the UK
At the Smart Financing Toolkit for the AEC Industry event, we proved that by using Corda, a small team of developers and experts in the field are capable of providing stable and fully functional solutions to any industry, no matter how complicated it is.
Between 12th and 16th of September 2018, I was part of the INDUSTRIA team participating in the Smart Financing Toolkit for the AEC Industry hackathon — an event organized by the Construction Blockchain Consortium, a project of University College London, and in collaboration with R3. The main goal of the event was to develop a working DLT solution based on Corda which facilitates and improves the business processes in real estate and construction.
The result from the CBC hackathon in publicly available on GitHub.
Architecture, engineering and construction are industries where DLT can really shine and show its full potential. They are industries which involve communication and collaboration between many groups of participants including architects, engineers, surveyors, contractors and subcontractors, developers etc., and it is also an industry where trust and privacy are a huge priority. Faster, efficient and transparent data transfer and the ability to track historical and current events are also desired features.
Choosing Corda is a wise decision and we have to applaud the organizers for doing so. It is probably the best-suited framework for the job and there are several reasons for that.
Contrary to many other blockchain networks, the Corda network is a permissioned one. Access is controlled by a doorman and all participants are well known. The communication inside the network is peer to peer (or point to point) which means that only the parties involved in a certain business process will be notified about the state changes, hiding the data from the rest. This allows all AEC industry members to communicate among each other without fear that their agreements will become public or that someone is spying them.
Faster and More Reliable Transactions
Peer to peer communication also provides faster and more reliable transactions because there is no need of global consensus on every single event and multiple transactions can be executed simultaneously. The ability to attach and transfer files accompanying state changes also guarantees that in case of legal dispute there will be a written text which describes what the original intention was. This is something all parties and regulatory institutions will appreciate.
Unfortunately, the AEC industry is a versatile one and, although there is a high level of standardization, the business processes are very complex. This made our task to develop a single solution describing all business cases almost impossible to achieve in the time window we had. At the hackathon, we realized that and decided to focus on the features that will have the greatest impact on the industry.
In construction, one of the hardest tasks for the developers is to manage their contractors, the assignments that are given to them and the progress that has been achieved on every single one. In our project, a developer can have many contractors each one assigned with a different job while the last is being composed of many milestones, as it is in the real world.
About Our Project
For our project, we established a simple but efficient workflow. Once the two parties agree on a job, it is recorded in their ledgers and all milestones are created with status `Unstarted`. Then it is up to the contractor to start the work on a milestone, notifying about that by changing the status to `Started` and then to `Completed` when the milestone is finished. After inspection, the developer has a choice to either accept or reject the milestone. If the milestone is rejected, its status will automatically switch back to `Started` and the contractor should finish it until it can be evaluated again.
In many cases, payments do not happen immediately, and there will be no automatic transfer of funds after accepting a milestone. Yet, it is a required step for executing the PayMilestone command which will trigger the payment process and will change the status of the milestone to `Paid`.
Every milestone status change will cause the creation of a new state (record) on the ledger, marking the previous one as historical without removing it or modifying it. This allows us to browse through history and makes it easier for developers to keep everything under control. All records are automatically synchronised and both parties have the exact same copy of the history, but no one else does.
Of course, we don’t expect the developer and his contractors to have a Computer Science degree and, although it is possible to execute all actions via a terminal window, it is much easier with the web interface we developed alongside the core project. It uses a Spring web server and standard frontend web technologies to provide an interactive and simple way of managing the business processes.
Other interesting elements of our project are the tests. Usually, during hackathons developers are pushed to the wall by the constantly ticking clock and they prefer to focus more on finishing all features of their project on time than writing tests and thinking about code quality and its future maintenance. This is against my philosophy of how programming should be done and every evening in the hotel room I made sure that all features we developed throughout the day are accompanied by tests. This is one of the many reasons why our project is so special.
We don’t just develop a solution which promises to change the AEC industry but we also develop a solution that works.
The potential benefits of our project are more than obvious. The slow and time-consuming communication process between developers and contractors can become much easier and the lack of trust between different parties can finally be removed. Developers will no longer need dozens of data sources and management tools to keep their business on track and every single step of the long construction process will be recorded in a safe and distributed ledger.
The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London said:
“For this first attempt to develop a smart contract in the blockchain, we managed a great deal in 3 working days…fantastic work!”
Petko Karamotchev, Director, INDUSTRIA commented:
“At INDUSTRIA we were very happy to participate in the event and we are looking forward to participate in further CBC events, so we are considering the participation in the second DLT/AEC Hackathon, led by University College London and R3”
About Construction Blockchain Consortium
The Construction Blockchain Consortium (CBC) is a UCL project and aims to supports knowledge transfer, arranges a commercial and academic presentation, assesses and tests commercial services and technology, conducts research, and drives policy, regulation and understanding of the radical consequences of technology and services.
Where required we also develop proprietary technology and services for the consortium members; using both outside contractors, and leveraging PhD and Masters students. Thus, services might include the following:
- Knowledge Transfer: To track and distill the escalating range of technologies and tools that are emerging.
- Research & Development: To build pre-competitive proof-of-concept systems and generate IP.
- Education & Training: Enhancing and re-skilling the knowledge and expertise of staff required to deploy the new technologies. UCL believes the most effective way to do this is a knowledge transfer and R&D consortium.
Leading developer of Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) solutions for large enterprises, marketplaces and ecosystems and a partner of R3. Their mission is to become the leading provider of enterprise-grade Blockchain/DLT consulting and development services in the EU and the UK.