Government registries with blockchain, for efficiency and trust

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This article by Juan Delacruz first appeared in IBM’s blockchain blog: Blockchain Pulse

How frequently do constituents experience frustration when providing information to governments?

“I have to call a different department to make the same changes you just made?”

“Why have I been on hold for 30 minutes to provide the same information you already have?”

“This is so inefficient!”

Governments are under pressure to improve the user experience for all their stakeholders —the public, businesses and employees. Applying the once-only principle— an e-government concept to provide standard information to government entities only once — will achieve efficiencies for governments and stakeholders.

The European Interoperability Framework — part of the Digital Single Market strategy — has adopted the once-only principle for public administrations, businesses and citizens. Particularly relevant is the initiative to improve national and cross-border access to government registry data.

Government registries are often the authoritative data source about a person, place or thing. Yet, despite digitization efforts, duplicative registry data is still “hidden” in multiple siloed agencies, causing conflicts that are tedious to reconcile, and lacking a trusted single source of truth.

Registries — enhanced with blockchain technology — improves efficiency, trust and user experience by complementing existing legacy systems. Governments can accelerate once-only principle adoption while preserving the investments in the authoritative data they own and the legacy systems that manage the registries.

The untapped potential for sharing government registry data

Imagine a future when:

  • Businesses can start or enter new markets faster and easier with fewer burdensome administrative obstacles.
  • Job growth is accelerated through increased access to capital — with better terms — for businesses, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises.
  • Economies can accelerate their paths toward higher growth and capitalize on strategic opportunities by working with ecosystem partners to develop and maintain a skilled workforce across regional labor markets.
  • Job mobility is enhanced with an individual’s education achievements and professional license credentials that can be confidentially tracked, instantaneously validated and shared across employers.
  • Unemployment case workers can develop hyper-personalized skills development plans to fill gaps in employability and better match individuals with employers.
  • Ownership of real estate, cars and other assets can be quickly verified ensuring streamlined and trusted financial transactions.

Accurate and accessible registries are crucial to engender trust and transparency in government. Providing permissioned access and sharing of government registry data — within and across national borders — can make the imagined future a reality.

Tapping that potential

A blockchain-based registry platform — with governments, businesses and intermediaries as a node(s) — enhances transparency and streamlines the process of sharing registry data.

A blockchain-based registry platform does not mean that governments must rip and replace existing legacy systems. A “shadow” registry platform — pulling data from existing and siloed legacy systems — can provide immediate and incremental value.

Blockchain enables this agile approach by providing the underlying foundation for developing solutions with a modular architecture and components such as consensus, membership services and smart contracts. This approach delivers a faster time to value by accelerating deployment speed at reduced costs.

The Think Big, Start Small, and Scale Fast principle practiced at IBM, applies perfectly. While governments strategically work toward rationalizing registers, agile methods and application programming interfaces (APIs) can be used to stand up shareable registry platforms with secure, selectively permissioned access. This agile approach also adds value to strategic government efforts by documenting the registries, their interfaces and opportunities to harmonize them.

Going forward

Forward-looking governments are already recognizing and acting on blockchain technology’s potential to improve transparency, trust and efficiency of registry data. While land registries have captured much of the early attention there have been many explorations into business registries.

Dubai’s Unified Commercial Registry initiative will store registration information from companies to streamline the process of opening and operating a business, the issuance of trade licenses and ensuring regulatory compliance.

France’s National Council of Clerks (NCC) successfully deployed a nationwide blockchain-based solution devoted to bringing added transparency and efficiency through improved management of legal transactions related to the lifecycle of companies.

The question for leaders is not if but when will they explore blockchain’s use for government registers to improve the user experience, accelerate government efficiency and restore trust.

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