Blockchains and the public sector: Distributed ledger technology reaches the G-Cloud

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Isle of Man startup Credits has become the first to offer blockchain DLT to Britain's public sector

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Britain’s public sector can start experimenting with distributed ledger technology (DLT) for the first time after confirmation that blockchain-as-a-service startup Credits has been enrolled as part of the latest G-Cloud 8 framework agreement.

Credits is a small Isle of Man firm whose back story was recently covered in sister title Techworld but access to the distributed ledger technology (DLT) that comes with blockchain marks an important milestone for the G-Cloud Digital Marketplace and its public sector users.

Credits is the first firm to offer such technology on the G-Cloud and will be run on infrastructure belonging to UKCloud (formerly Skyscape). The firm has pioneered its blockchain Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) services, launched in April, in conjunction with the Isle of Man Government.

“Starting immediately, any government agency can come to our platform,” Credits CEO and founder Nick Williamson told Computerworld UK. He believed that the technology would be used first in projects allowing healthcare patients to establish their identities and also to reduce benefits fraud.  

Interest in the potential of using DLT in government is huge, as evidenced by a recent report from the Government’s chief scientific advisor, Sir Mark Walport that also talked up the potential of distributed ledgers to manage complex assets such as IP, wills, healthcare data and pensions.

“Distributed ledger technology provides the framework for government to reduce fraud, corruption, error and the cost of paper-intensive processes.

“It has the potential to redefine the relationship between government and the citizen in terms of data sharing, transparency and trust. It has similar possibilities for the private sector,” Walport said in his report introduction.

The early interest is mainly in central government departments such as the NHS, DVLA, HM Passport Office, the Land Registry, Department for Work and Pensions, and HMRC, which all struggle with the issue of identifying citizens and connecting them to real events.

Ledgers are being promoted as a way to build databases accessed through government services without being controlled or manipulated by a central authority. Once the power of this is understood, advocates believe that such a ledger would increase public trust.

Enrolment on G-Cloud 8 Framework had been a complex six-month process, according to Williamson. The work the firm had done with the Isle of Man Government had been a proving ground for the concept using DLTs in this context, he said.

What stands in the way of DLT blockchain adoption? Most likely, old IT.

“Inertia is the big one [barrier]. You are stepping on people’s toes if you are replacing old systems. There is organisational risk.”

To that one might add the sometimes unhelpful association between blockchain technology and Bitcoins, a currency with a difficult and usually negative reputation.

At the very least, the appearance of Credits on the G-Cloud is a milestone in the technology’s acceptance. The proof will be its use in real projects.

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