Standards Needed for Blockchain

’Blockchains and standardising’ seminar attracted professionals from a range of fields to Kuusankoskitalo, Kouvola, on 27 September. 

Probably the most expected speech of the day was delivered by IBM Fellow John Cohn who is also the Chief Scientist for IoT in the company. He remarked that “crazy, disruptive moments” do occur – and that blockchain is certainly one such milestone in human history. Still, the future is no monolith:

“There will not be one blockchain system to rule the world, but, instead, many different systems.”

For example, the EU Commission has recognised the importance of blockchain as a “complex, controversial and fast-moving” technology. Making sense of this technology becomes so much easier when there’s proper standardisation in place. This calls for people to get together and agree on certain things.

United Front

Arto Leikari, researcher for VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, is heading ‘BOND - Blockchains Boosting Finnish Industry’ project. Launched in October 2016, the project features VTT, Aalto University and Research Institute of the Finnish Economy Etla as well as nine companies – among them Kouvola Innovation, Fortum and Nokia.

According to Leikari, the standardisation of blockchain is now under way with ISO/TC 307 seminar which was held in April 2017 in Sydney, Australia. Leikari was in the Finnish delegation.

“At the seminar, we set up five study groups to further the cause of standardisation.”

Get the Terms Right

Expert Elina Huttunen from the Finnish Standards Association SFS was also present in Sydney. She pointed out that agreeing on common terminology is the starting point for the work.

“After the study groups have done their work, the proposals will be put under a vote, with every country having one vote,” she explains, adding that membership in the Finnish national committee is open to all.

“Presently, we have a committee of four, while the Chinese have 4,000 members – but it’s still one vote each.”    

Privacy vs Transparency

Jarno Salonen, another researcher from VTT, provided an interesting example of blockchain use: the Finnish health and social reform. Having started and stalled numerous times by now, the ‘SOTE’ project certainly needs all the help it can get.

For example, the citizens could really benefit from “smart prescriptions” which mimic, in a sense, the “smart contracts” of blockchain. The problems, however, occur when you need to balance privacy and openness issues.    

“Granting permission is tricky to realise in this context,” Salonen said. In addition, while presently there’s dynamic data and passive data out there, they don’t mingle very fluently.

Blow Up All Silos!

To close the day, Mika Lammi, Head of IoT Business Development, Kouvola Innovation Oy, gave a recap of SmartLog project which is funded by EU Interreg Central Baltic programme. Launched in September 2016, the project has funding for three years.

“The industry problem is that while goods are moving, the information is not – it is too often locked away in silos, with no way to retrieve it effectively.” When the logistics chain involves, say, 50 companies, it soon becomes a real issue that data is handicapped in such manner.

“When the owners and the operators of the transportation chain set up a blockchain system, every action is recorded into the system using concise format and content,” Lammi describes the “total visibility” scenario that is the aim of SmartLog.

The Spaghetti Incident

As there’s more information – detailed, specific, useful information – the amount of manual routines decreases dramatically and the entire process is sped up considerably.

“Millions of euros can be saved in this way.”

Still, blockchain requires collaboration and common ground rules. According to Lammi, within 5-10 years there will be so many rival blockchain systems that standardisation will turn into a “question of life and death”.

“The risk is seeing blockchain turn into one big spaghetti that nobody can manage.” 

 

Text by Sami Anteroinen, Dialog Designs Oy
Foto by Johannes Wiehn: IBM Fellow John Cohn (left) and Mika Lammi, Head of IoT Business Development, Kouvola Innovation Oy