Blockchain Primer Paper on Decentralised Identity

The rise of decentralisation ushered in by blockchain technology and the personal computing power of the smartphone has offered up a practical new way to manage Digital Identity that is appealing to nearly everyone and has enormous potential everywhere; from financial services to global supply chains to the humanitarian sector.

Self Sovereign Identity turns our ideas about how digital identity is managed on their head and perhaps promises to solve many of the problems we face today related to data security, data protection and the rapidly increasing burden of corporate risk.

This new primer paper from CBoxx draws together the main concepts, key players and initiatives, interesting use cases, progress on open standards and some of the latest thought leadership in the area, as of September 2017 …

CBoxx Identity Matters Primer Paper v04

Addressing Global Challenges with Blockchain Technologies

Al Sherriff, CBoxx MD

On a blazing hot day in May, blockchain experts and innovators came together with NGOs, charities and other third sector organisations in a conference room at techUK in London to discuss the role of blockchain related technologies in addressing global challenges. Collectively the group is known as “Blockchain for Good”. I was excited to be invited onto the discussion panel and I have to admit also slightly nervous of the ambitious scope of the subject in hand. My role was clearly to be the technical expert on the panel.

An inspirational opening keynote from Robert Kay, director of DISC Holdings paved the way to further sessions from pioneering companies presenting their businesses and real world use cases. The panel discussion concluded the event.

DISC Holdings were formerly GovCoin – relatively high profile in blockchain circles with a project focussed on working with the Department of Work & Pensions to trial the use distributed ledger technology in providing transparency and tracking in the payment and use of welfare benefits by claimants.

In common with several other first session speakers, DISC are members of the FCA Regulatory Sandbox and therefore thoroughly engaged in examining the role of regulation with their business. In April this year, the FCA launched DP17/3, an industry consultation on the need (or not) for the regulation of Distributed Ledger technology. There were other speakers from amongst the FCA Sandbox membership: Raphael Mazet of Alice.si and Laura Bailey of Disberse. Both companies are aiming to provide a DLT platform for tracking charitable donations, though within broadly different sectors. The goal is to try and eliminate fraud and increase transparency and trust in the charity funding supply chain.

Another common theme of the day was the technical challenge of scaling with distributed ledger platforms, with several companies reporting they are gearing up to tackle that problem next, while one has been forced to maintain an off-ledger workaround for managing any surges in use. This provoked an audience question of “why are you using a DLT then?” The answer being that they definitely do see DLT as the long term solution and they are confident that the technology will work through and shrug off these early teething problems.

Karl Hoods (@karlhoods), CIO of Save The Children bravely presented off the cuff, without slides or notes and he had also just been struck on the head by a pigeon on his way to the conference. Save The Children have been exploring the potential for this technology for some time under Karl’s guidance and are also interested in funding transparency, along with child safeguarding and “on the ground identity” for aid workers.

The panel discussion that followed comprised the always massively entertaining Dave Birch (@dgwbirch) of Hyperion, Mike Brookbanks of University of Surrey, Rhodri Davies of Charities Aid Foundation, Sue Lukes of MigrationWork CIC and myself. Following introductions I fielded a question voicing concerns about scaling and fees. The price of Ethereum has risen massively since the turn of the year and even further since the conference! There’s a fear that this could drive up the network fees that need to be paid to operate Ethereum based decentralised applications, making it unrealistic to work with. In practice this should not be the case because the Ethereum transaction fees (Gas) are priced separately from the network currency (Ether). Effectively, the more you pay, the quicker your transaction will be settled. Making all this work in real-world operations does depend on very careful design and thought from the outset though.

In general the panel urged optimism but extreme caution in the use of blockchain in this area – an area that is basically aiming to help very large numbers of vulnerable and/or unbanked people. Right now, there are few, if any, safeguards in the blockchain world and there are plenty of technical challenges to overcome before the tech can be confidently used at scale. Customer Service is usually very primitive or simply non-existent at the moment from blockchain based companies. That cannot be acceptable within the ‘for good’ sector. There simply cannot be a situation where losing a private key means a vulnerable person loses of all their funds, with absolutely no recourse and nowhere to turn.

Personally I expect to see the issues of scale being resolved within the next year on Ethereum, Bitcoin and accelerated by emerging blockchain network technologies such as IOTA and Tezos. The actions of the FCA need to be supported and followed closely, particularly by this sector where regulation is surely a must have.

Our thanks must go out to hosts and organisers Dr Richard Adams (@r_jadams) of the University of Surrey and Professor Glenn Parry (@drgeep) of UWE in taking the initiative to bring the group together. Overall it felt like the goal of bringing together two different communities that do share broadly similar values has worked, sparking a number of new conversations, connections and ideas between those present.  I do hope the good work continues …

Further links with insights from other speakers I’ve not mentioned above are here:

http://www.techuk.org/insights/opinions/item/10876-code-on-the-road-b4g

https://www.techuk.org/events/conference/item/10608-b46-surrey-event

Building a Technology Consultancy Co-operative

Alongside our work in the fintech industry, since the end of 2016 CBoxx have also been working with like minded consultancies and domain experts to create a new co-operative technology consultancy business / network.

Team Blockchain (TB) is being established to help organisations identify and assess the impact that Blockchain and other associated technologies are likely to have on their day to day activities, by helping them identify ways to reduce costs, improve security, explore new products/services and improve their profit margins.

The members of TB will have a wide range of practical business experience in a number of different industries, with many having worked for leading global consulting partners, sharing a desire to offer independent advice and help solve real business challenges for the organisations they work with.

By working as a collaborative team, TB consultants will be able to offer domain expertise (industry specific), cross-industry expertise and expertise in other technologies – such as AI, Deep Learning, Robotics, Telematics, Analytics, etc.

Team Blockchain aims to set an entirely new standard. It is a company that is being setup to offer independent advice on Blockchain by a Team of global experts, who themselves will own the majority of the business.

Interactive Blockchain Lectures at Hult International Business School

In November the Hult International Business School in London  invited Al Sherriff of CBoxx and David Taylor from OCP  to deliver an interactive lecture on “The Strategic Implications of Blockchain” to undergraduate students on the four year Batchelor of Business Administration course, run by Jamie MacAlister. Together we prepared a lecture that aimed to be factual, engaging, cautionary and encouraging.

Al first covered “How does it work?” followed by a section on the volatile history and colourful characters of Bitcoin and blockchain technology. David then explored the strategic angles and industry use cases. Our first lecture had to compete with the news just an hour or so earlier that President Trump had been elected but despite that, the students were attentive and a pleasure to talk too. Several were already well versed in this area and asked searching questions, while others were clearly clicking through the possibilities for innovation in their mind.

Hult has a reputation for producing entrepreneurs and that was evident in some of the discussions both during and after the lecture sessions on the economics, research and opportunities in this field. Jamie astutely framed the day when he coined the question “What is the cost of trust?” – future research for the students perhaps?

Blockchain White Paper on the Future of Financial Planning

Based on our collaborative research in 2016, CBoxx and OCP have co-authored a new white paper that offers an optimistic glimpse of the future for financial planning with particular focus on the possible effects of blockchain technology on the underlying investments industry stack.

We begin with a “Day in the Life” of Fara, a young financial planner in the 2020’s, followed by a broad outline of how the industry could evolve to that point from today …

CBoxx OCP White Paper Financial Planning Optimistic Vision of Future v10

Moving into 2016 …

Moving into 2016, CBoxx find ourselves in familiar territory working hard on exciting, forward thinking, ambitious and currently highly confidential financial services projects that I can’t say much about! We hope to reveal more later in 2016 as these projects move from development to live. Suffice to say that our project delivery and architectural skills are being fully exercised.

But it always pays to keep looking ahead and our ongoing research program has been focussing on simplification of the financial services stack, revisiting territory last examined by us about three years ago but this time armed with our growing knowledge and experience of the newly emergent distributed ledger technology (aka blockchain).

Working with OCP, we have been conducting a series of informative meetings and exchanges of views on the subject of distributed ledgers and infrastructure simplification with leading industry participants – third party administrators, platforms, global services providers, standards organisations etc.

We have discovered and perhaps even helped to fuel activity in this area at all levels of the stack and will soon start preparation of a fresh research report / white paper on the subject. It does look certain that transformational change really is coming to the incumbent administration systems and all companies providing trusted third party services need to take a very careful strategic and technical look at this area. Of course, we’re happy to help.

CBoxx update on Blockchain and Financial Services

Since my previous article and white paper based on our first impressions of blockchain, CBoxx has been keeping tabs on developments and in particular researching the permissioned ledger flavour of this technology, as described here by Richard Gendal Brown (previously of IBM, now of R3). This article on LinkedIn Pulse sums up our current view…

CBoxx update on Blockchain and Financial Services

Is Blockchain Technology fit for Financial Services yet?

“How seriously should you take this? I would take it about as seriously as you should have taken the concept of the Internet in the early 1990s. It’s a big deal. And it is going to change the way our financial world operates.”

Blythe Masters on the Significance of Blockchains in Financial Industries, 3rd June 2015

Impressively putting her money where her mouth is, on 25th June 2015, Digital Assets Holdings, lead by Blythe Masters, promptly purchased Hyperledger a finalist in the SWIFT Innotribe startup challenge and one of the companies included in this CBoxx research white paper, before we’d had time to finish proof reading it!

The paper published here aims to take a measured view of whether Blockchain technology, or more specifically, the Permissioned Distributed Ledgers variant, has a place in UK Financial Services technology yet. We anticipate that it will soon become a serious new consideration for any business case that is built around the economies and benefits of introducing a centralised hub.

The big banks are already testing the technology, so should major UK product providers, platforms and members of their technology ecosystem being doing likewise?

Click here to download the White Paper (PDF)

CBoxx White Paper – Estimating Complex Software Projects Can Be Easy

This CBoxx white paper is based on our experience drawn from delivering UK Fintech projects.

It looks at the common pitfalls of estimating complex software projects and explores three key areas that can deliver improvements: Scope, Measurement and Communication. It investigates how a change from the usual time-based estimation approach to size-based could make the daunting problems of accurate estimating solvable through the application of straightforward good management practice, with potential to unlock even wider business benefits …

Click here to download the white paper (PDF)