Civic Hacking: Evolution Of Public Policy Or Hype?

Natalie Kenny

It is the modern reality that the speed of technological change, globalisation, and economic mobility are making our world increasingly connected and diverse. The challenges that face government to put the correct precautions and safety nets in place to protect their citizens from economic and social risk require new skills and knowledge.

At the same time, governments have access to a new dimension of collaboration and consultation with citizens in solving complex civic problems. In a similar manner to opening up to the public a cold case in a criminal investigation, new leads from unexpected sources can sometimes result in new policy options. New roles have emerged in recent years that view technology as a bridge that brings together government, industry, NGOs, and citizens to transform government. They are known as civic hackers.

A short history of hacking

Propagated by the media and popular culture, the image of a “hacker” more often than not brings to mind technically skilled, nefarious individuals huddled away in dark rooms and plugged into their laptops, wreaking havoc against secure systems across the globe with malicious or greedy intent.

Indeed, the hackers we hear about in the media are generally associated with high-profile security breaches such as the devastating cyberattacks on Sony Pictures Entertainment or extramarital affairs website Ashley Madison, which saw private and confidential data such as credit card information, e-mails, home addresses, salacious photographs, and phone numbers leaked out across the Internet in droves.

These examples of hackers are contradictory to the ethos of the civic hacking movement. Their vision is altruistic and seeks work collaboratively across communities to improve the operation of government and outcomes for citizens. Civic hacking expanded out of an idea to bring highly skilled coders, programmers and developers together to improve government through technology.

Although it started with technology, the term civic hacking has evolved and is being applied to anyone who looks to improve civic outcomes in more efficient and creative ways. As Jake Levitas from the organisation Code for America notes, “These days I see just as many community leaders, architects, environmentalists, artists, and other professionals coming out to events under the purview of civic hacking as coders and designers.”

The evolution of civic hacking

In recent years, there has been a global movement in government towards information openness and transparency. Initiated by the United States, the last decade has seen over 70 countries around the world pass legislation for all non-sensitive public data collected across levels of government to be made open by default and published to the world. Globally it is estimated there are more than one million open datasets that have been made available today on digital portals across all levels of government (local, state, and federal), research institutions (CSIRO), and not-for-profit institutions (United Nations, WHO).

Whilst originally started as an action to promote greater government transparency and accountability, smart and creative technology enthusiasts recognised that they could take this information released by governments and use it to create new value for communities. These original civic hackers worked to build open source apps, create visualisation tools such a dashboards, or build new business models and products for market, and support the transformation of government service delivery and offerings.

Civic hackers were not just working to revolutionise government from the outside in. Governments began waking up to the potential value in civic hacking at the same time that technological capability made it possible to more easily share data and digitally interact with communities. Governments around the world now regularly host and sponsor hackathons, which bring together people with technical backgrounds to form teams around a civic problem or idea and collaboratively code a unique solution from scratch (GovHack, HackLondon).

New jobs have been advertised to bring technical skills formally into the public service such as the Australian Digital Transformation’s posting for an “ethical hacker” in 2015.  Formal civic hacking organisations have even been established, such as DataKind, Code for All, Rewired State, and IndianKanoon. These groups enlist coders and technology professionals to work with governments to build open-source applications, foster startup and agile-led approaches to government service delivery and promote the sharing of public data to foster transparency and innovation.

A great example of what can be achieved by the civic hacking community is their response immediately after the 2011 Haiti earthquake. Using information gathered from online social and mainstream media and satellite images, they built a detailed real-time crisis map of Haiti.

Haiti

This resource directly helped to saves lives. Humanitarian aid workers were able to use the map to navigate collapsed roads and buildings and more effectively deliver aid, resources, and emergency assistance to those in need.

Civic hacking: revolutionary or an exaggeration of value?

However, with nearly a decade of civic “hactivism” at work, numerous open government policies in place, and one million open government datasets available, the question to be asked is: Why hasn’t more been achieved?

Why has this abundance of availability not led to widespread and long lasting social, economic and political change? It seems as though despite the amount of effort put into this movement, the ideas and outcomes generated are not always sustainable and do not lead to long-lasting government transformation. This is not to say there is no place for civic hacking; rather there needs to be a new approach to hacker coordination.

There are several reasons as to why this might be the case:

1. The quality and availability of open data published by government is inconsistent

Simply releasing open data to the public is not enough. The open data that is being made available on government portals is hard to find, not well structured or described, dumped in silos and data portals across every department and level of government, and not readily published in easily linkable formats. This makes it challenging for civic hackers to search portals, identify datasets that are useful, combine them, and perform meaningful analysis on that information to help solve challenging social and civic problems.

2. Coordination of civic hacking can be complex and disorderly

With the exception of formal hackathons or specific groups such as Code for All, most civic hackers work remotely from outside governments, in different locations and geographies. There can be a lack of continuity. Referencing what work has been done previously by other hackers is difficult to determine and can lead to repeated efforts and duplicated work. Hackers may work on one project or idea and then quickly move on to the next, so flaws may go unrecognised.

3. Expectations need to be realistic; innovation takes time and is iterative

Hackathons, civic coding meet-ups, and short embedded projects in government often have limited parameters, undefined governance and ownership, and work at a breakneck pace. These factors can narrow the possibility of lasting innovation. Ideas are developed and confined by the data, skills, and experiences that are made available in the room on the day or online.

Civic hackers may not always have the right contextual knowledge and expertise, so they tend to come up with ideas that are neither feasible nor realistic in the real world. Part of the challenge is that it can be difficult and time-consuming to perform meaningful market research and financial planning or identify possible risky side effects of an idea in short project timelines. After projects and hackathons are complete, research can reveal that similar projects were created in the past and had failed to find a market.

4. Solving complex problems requires an ecosystem

Ideas and solutions may also fail to deliver long-lasting change without the internal support from the departments and agencies they target or whose data they use. Even the greatest technical solution can fail rapidly if it is constrained by lack of access to data or strict policy requirements that prohibit the sharing or linking of data across programs. Finding a way to bring these skills and talents together in a combined effort that targets all levels of the problem and matches up skilled civic hackers with experienced government public servants will lead to greater outcomes for everyone.

This is not to say civic hacking and all of these engagements don’t have their value and place. The digital era has enabled the concept of civic hacking. Each of these outputs could add a piece to the greater puzzle. Moreover, they are fun, engaging, and bring together skilled and passionate people to work on creative ideas. This can be an effective way for government to source ideas from non-traditional actors in the policy making process. Civic hacking may not solve a complex problem in its own right, but it has the ability to generate new ideas, foster collaboration, and build awareness for important civic issues and challenges, which could lead to a solution.

For more blogs on civic hacking, click here.

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Natalie Kenny

About Natalie Kenny

Natalie Kenny is an Industry Value Engineer at SAP, focused on digital transformation of public sector organisations across Australia and New Zealand. She is dedicated to helping governments re-imagine future ways to interact with and deliver services to citizens. Natalie's key focus area is exploring how digital technologies can help un-tap the immense value that lies in government data to extract new value and insights and help solve challenging civic problems.

Digitization Is Crucial To Achieve UN Global Goals

Daniel Schmid

Concern, hope, enthusiasm: This was the mixture of sentiments that I perceived during the World Economic Forum (WEF) Sustainable Development Impact Summit in New York City last month.

More than 700 leaders from more than 70 countries took part—including government, business, international organizations, research centers, and not-for profits. Panelists included Salesforce CEO Marc R. Benioff, Mars president Jean-Christophe Flatin, Roche vice-chairman André S. Hoffmann, and Royal Philips president and CEO Frans van Houten.

Concern

Former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner* Al Gore pointed out, in a panel discussion titled “Global Progress through Partnerships,” that the past two weeks saw two record-breaking climate-connected storms. Hurricane Harvey crossed the Gulf of Mexico, which was over four degrees warmer than normal, resulting in enormous amounts of rain. The rainfall totals in Houston were a once-every-25,000-years event. The monsoon in South Asia also brought 70 cm more rain than normal, with one-third of Bangladesh underwater.

Gore said, “We are departing the familiar bounds of history as we have known it since civilization began.” In contrast, other areas are experiencing devastating droughts: 80 percent of Portugal is in drought, and 70 large fires have burned in the western part of North America.

These conditions also create climate refugees. “Long before the civil war in Syria started, the worst drought in 900 years of record-keeping destroyed 60 percent of farms. One and a half million climate refugees entered the cities,” Gore pointed out, adding that this is a contributing factor to the war in Syria.

Hope

“But,” Gore added, “we are also meeting in a time of extraordinary and unprecedented hope.” The World Economic Forum was incremental in building the success of the Paris Agreement, and will continue to play a key role in implementing it. “Public private partnerships are the keys to putting in place the solutions we need.”

The day after the U.S. government announced it would leave the Paris Agreement, Gore said, political and business leaders, states, cities, etc., doubled down on their commitment, saying “We are still there!” SAP is one of the companies that is strongly committed to climate action: We plan to be carbon-neutral by 2025.

According to Gore, there are additional reasons for hope: Technology becomes better and cheaper all the time, a phenomenon known as the “cost-down curve.” Gadgets can now be run with wind or solar energy, and efficiency is better than ever. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is also a sustainability revolution,” Gore said. Technology is key to meeting the sustainable development goals.

This was also consensus in the panel discussion “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Technology-Driven, Human-Centred”: Panelists emphasized the opportunities technology brings, from artificial intelligence (AI) to improve working conditions to mobile phones in India that enable everyone to play a part in the economy (e.g. have a bank account)—even those who were formerly excluded. For girls in Africa, learning IT and coding skills bring hope for a better life.

My take? It is up to us to ensure that the opportunities technology offers outweigh the risks. To help drive awareness around the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and showcase examples of how IT can help contribute to them, SAP has published an interactive web book and iPad app as well as a free online course on openSAP: “Sustainability through Digital Transformation.”

Enthusiasm

The theme of most of the speeches and discussions I witnessed at the summit was “There is no planet B,” but also “Together we can make it,” meaning that government, public, and private-sector organizations need to cooperate to tackle the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With partnerships and cooperation, they have the power to create positive economic, social, and environmental value through technology, solutions, and skills.

World Economic Forum founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab described the summit’s intention: “What is needed is a true agenda for global public-private cooperation, with the objective not to defend individual interests, but to keep the destiny of humankind as a whole in mind.”

As a result of the summit, several major new initiatives that will advance public-private cooperation on the global goals were announced or launched, including:

These initiatives show the will to cooperate and the readiness to act of leaders from all over the world—let us all have a part in tackling the biggest challenges of the planet!

*The Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 was awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and former US Vice President Al Gore for their efforts to obtain and disseminate information about the climate challenge. In Gore’s case, the award was grounded in his tireless campaign to put the climate crisis on the political agenda.

This story originally appeared on the SAP Community.

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Daniel Schmid

About Daniel Schmid

Daniel Schmid was appointed Chief Sustainability Officer at SAP in 2014. Since 2008 he has been engaged in transforming SAP into a role model of a sustainable organization, establishing mid and long term sustainability targets. Linking non-financial and financial performance are key achievements of Daniel and his team.

Healthcare Consolidated Inc.: The 1mg Story

Devika Rao

Prashant Tandon’s healthcare data startup is an all-in-one platform empowering consumers to overcome the opacity of the healthcare sector. In 2007, when Tandon was at Stanford University Graduate School of Business, several fellow students were working on startup ideas. The desire to be an entrepreneur and create value was born then, he says. Back in India, he chose the healthcare sector for his startup, having gained some experience in the field while working for McKinsey’s healthcare practice after finishing business school.

In 2009, Tandon embarked on his first startup, Healthchakra.com, along with friend Sameer Maheshwari, whom he had persuaded to give up his Silicon Valley job and join him in India. The software enabled doctors to manage patients better, but the duo abandoned it within a year, as doctors were wary of sharing patient information with the platform. Their next venture, HealthKart, was a B2C venture for nutrition and wellness products. HealthKart attracted a range of venture capital investors, including Sequoia Capital, Intel Capital, Kae Capital, Omidyar Network, and MakeMyTrip founder Deep Kalra.

Within two years, HealthKart became profitable. At this stage, Tandon, who had always been troubled by the opacity of the healthcare sector, saw a fresh business opportunity in empowering consumers to make informed decisions about medicine buying. This led him to set up a separate company, HealthKart Plus, in 2012. Tandon headed the new venture, while Maheshwari continued to look after HealthKart. HealthKart Plus was subsequently rebranded as 1mg. The same investors who backed HealthKart also invested in 1mg, initially at $6 million, and $15 million in a subsequent round.

Trust is currency

At its simplest level, 1mg is an online drugstore, which delivers medicines in 605 Indian cities and towns according to prescriptions uploaded on its app. Tandon attributes the growth of 1mg to the intuitive and user-friendly interface of the website and the mobile app. Customers appreciate being able to see less expensive substitutes for the prescribed drugs and side effects of each brand. With an array of brands available in the country at widely differing prices, but delivering the same therapeutic effects, 1mg empowers consumers by enabling them to make well-informed, cost-effective decisions.

“Outside of the metros, patients don’t get access to a lot of drugs,” says Tandon. “There are also huge authenticity concerns.” Previously, there was no comprehensive database of medicines available either. “We worked with distributors to get information on the latest drugs, their prices, and side effects,” he adds. “We ended up creating what is probably India’s first database of medicines.”

To further empower customers, Tandon put the database in the public domain, ready to download for anyone who wanted it. A well-meaning customer shared this as a WhatsApp post in January 2013, and the database promptly went viral, with 300,000 downloads in three days. “It made us the most popular health app by far,” says Tandon. The transparency did wonders for business too, as people began to trust 1mg. “In healthcare, the biggest currency is trust,” he adds. Tandon’s 1mg app has been downloaded over 10 million times. No wonder Tandon believes that 1mg is the Wikipedia for medicines in India.

Adding new services

Keen to become a one-stop shop for all healthcare needs, 1mg has been adding services to its platform, such as laboratory diagnostics and e-consultations. The company has already made four acquisitions to further expand its portfolio and services – it bought Homeobuy, which sells homeopathic and Ayurvedic medicines, in June 2015. In July 2016, Medd, a marketplace for booking diagnostic and imaging tests was acquired. MediAngels, which caters to a wide network of super-specialty hospitals, was acquired in December 2016, and Dawailelo was acquired in August 2017 for its impressive network across India.

Tech for the consumer

The data that 1mg has collected provides a unique perspective on drug consumption patterns. “The quality and level of the data we have is rich, deep, and nuanced,” says Tandon. “We want to take this data to a stage where we can use it to make helpful interventions. We want to get into preventive and proactive management of healthcare.” The database can be used to predict what consumers of medicines are looking for and, in time, as it expands, can even provide the government insights into disease outbreaks.

While 1mg’s data is already displaying its transformative power, Tandon believes that artificial intelligence (AI) – or machine learning (ML) – will also play a significant role in enhancing the healthcare experience in the future. Already, 1mg uses machine learning in a simple form for triaging – or deciding which customer needs attention first. While earlier queries during e-consultations were sorted manually and redirected to specific specialists based on their nature, automation now does the job, saving time for both patients and doctors. As the data gets more robust, Tandon hopes AI can give the consumer a more nuanced, focused experience.

“We are trying to create a platform, where, based on our learning of a profile, we are able to send very relevant content,” says Tandon. Personalized customer experiences based on a customer’s stage of life or disease is on the anvil. However, it’s early days for AI at 1mg, he admits.

“Improving customer experience will always be an ongoing journey. We’ve just launched a Dropbox for consumers to store prescriptions. We’ve created a pill reminder. We’re making readability for people who need assistance, whether it is voice-based or larger text.”

To tap rural areas, the 1mg app has been made available in six languages so far. A voice-based interface is also under consideration.

Partnering for growth

Tandon is keen on partnerships to fuel growth. He would like to team up with insurance companies, for instance, for outpatient insurance, or with communications service providers to enable consumer access. He is also in talks with the government to assist the Pradhan Mantri Jan Aushadhi Yojna, under which the Department of Pharmaceuticals sets up fair price chemist shops across the country. “We believe healthcare will not work in isolation and we, as a platform, don’t want to stay as a closed system,” he says. “We want to partner with the rest of the healthcare ecosystem. It will give us much more access to information and data about the consumer as well.”

Tandon maintains the healthcare playing field is so vast that competition is welcome. “It’s great to have some competition as it helps develop the market,” he says. “All of us in the online health space put together are probably about 0.3-0.4% of the market. Right now the fight is not with other online players. The game is much bigger. Healthcare is recognized as a global area of interest, and I expect this space to get even more interesting.”

Find out how technology is heading off healthcare disaster; see Heroes in the Race to Save Antibiotics.

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Devika Rao

About Devika Rao

Devika Rao is an entrepreneur and writer based in Bangalore. She has over 15 years of work experience in research, marketing and communications.

Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences

Kai Goerlich

 

Google Cardboard VR goggles cost US$8
By 2019, immersive solutions
will be adopted in 20% of enterprise businesses
By 2025, the market for immersive hardware and software technology could be $182 billion
In 2017, Lowe’s launched
Holoroom How To VR DIY clinics

Link to Sources


From Dipping a Toe to Fully Immersed

The first wave of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is here,

using smartphones, glasses, and goggles to place us in the middle of 360-degree digital environments or overlay digital artifacts on the physical world. Prototypes, pilot projects, and first movers have already emerged:

  • Guiding warehouse pickers, cargo loaders, and truck drivers with AR
  • Overlaying constantly updated blueprints, measurements, and other construction data on building sites in real time with AR
  • Building 3D machine prototypes in VR for virtual testing and maintenance planning
  • Exhibiting new appliances and fixtures in a VR mockup of the customer’s home
  • Teaching medicine with AR tools that overlay diagnostics and instructions on patients’ bodies

A Vast Sea of Possibilities

Immersive technologies leapt forward in spring 2017 with the introduction of three new products:

  • Nvidia’s Project Holodeck, which generates shared photorealistic VR environments
  • A cloud-based platform for industrial AR from Lenovo New Vision AR and Wikitude
  • A workspace and headset from Meta that lets users use their hands to interact with AR artifacts

The Truly Digital Workplace

New immersive experiences won’t simply be new tools for existing tasks. They promise to create entirely new ways of working.

VR avatars that look and sound like their owners will soon be able to meet in realistic virtual meeting spaces without requiring users to leave their desks or even their homes. With enough computing power and a smart-enough AI, we could soon let VR avatars act as our proxies while we’re doing other things—and (theoretically) do it well enough that no one can tell the difference.

We’ll need a way to signal when an avatar is being human driven in real time, when it’s on autopilot, and when it’s owned by a bot.


What Is Immersion?

A completely immersive experience that’s indistinguishable from real life is impossible given the current constraints on power, throughput, and battery life.

To make current digital experiences more convincing, we’ll need interactive sensors in objects and materials, more powerful infrastructure to create realistic images, and smarter interfaces to interpret and interact with data.

When everything around us is intelligent and interactive, every environment could have an AR overlay or VR presence, with use cases ranging from gaming to firefighting.

We could see a backlash touting the superiority of the unmediated physical world—but multisensory immersive experiences that we can navigate in 360-degree space will change what we consider “real.”


Download the executive brief Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences.


Read the full article Swimming in the Immersive Digital Experience.

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Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation. Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

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Blockchain: Much Ado About Nothing? How Very Wrong!

Juergen Roehricht

Let me start with a quote from McKinsey, that in my view hits the nail right on the head:

“No matter what the context, there’s a strong possibility that blockchain will affect your business. The very big question is when.”

Now, in the industries that I cover in my role as general manager and innovation lead for travel and transportation/cargo, engineering, construction and operations, professional services, and media, I engage with many different digital leaders on a regular basis. We are having visionary conversations about the impact of digital technologies and digital transformation on business models and business processes and the way companies address them. Many topics are at different stages of the hype cycle, but the one that definitely stands out is blockchain as a new enabling technology in the enterprise space.

Just a few weeks ago, a customer said to me: “My board is all about blockchain, but I don’t get what the excitement is about – isn’t this just about Bitcoin and a cryptocurrency?”

I can totally understand his confusion. I’ve been talking to many blockchain experts who know that it will have a big impact on many industries and the related business communities. But even they are uncertain about the where, how, and when, and about the strategy on how to deal with it. The reason is that we often look at it from a technology point of view. This is a common mistake, as the starting point should be the business problem and the business issue or process that you want to solve or create.

In my many interactions with Torsten Zube, vice president and blockchain lead at the SAP Innovation Center Network (ICN) in Potsdam, Germany, he has made it very clear that it’s mandatory to “start by identifying the real business problem and then … figure out how blockchain can add value.” This is the right approach.

What we really need to do is provide guidance for our customers to enable them to bring this into the context of their business in order to understand and define valuable use cases for blockchain. We need to use design thinking or other creative strategies to identify the relevant fields for a particular company. We must work with our customers and review their processes and business models to determine which key blockchain aspects, such as provenance and trust, are crucial elements in their industry. This way, we can identify use cases in which blockchain will benefit their business and make their company more successful.

My highly regarded colleague Ulrich Scholl, who is responsible for externalizing the latest industry innovations, especially blockchain, in our SAP Industries organization, recently said: “These kinds of use cases are often not evident, as blockchain capabilities sometimes provide minor but crucial elements when used in combination with other enabling technologies such as IoT and machine learning.” In one recent and very interesting customer case from the autonomous province of South Tyrol, Italy, blockchain was one of various cloud platform services required to make this scenario happen.

How to identify “blockchainable” processes and business topics (value drivers)

To understand the true value and impact of blockchain, we need to keep in mind that a verified transaction can involve any kind of digital asset such as cryptocurrency, contracts, and records (for instance, assets can be tangible equipment or digital media). While blockchain can be used for many different scenarios, some don’t need blockchain technology because they could be handled by a simple ledger, managed and owned by the company, or have such a large volume of data that a distributed ledger cannot support it. Blockchain would not the right solution for these scenarios.

Here are some common factors that can help identify potential blockchain use cases:

  • Multiparty collaboration: Are many different parties, and not just one, involved in the process or scenario, but one party dominates everything? For example, a company with many parties in the ecosystem that are all connected to it but not in a network or more decentralized structure.
  • Process optimization: Will blockchain massively improve a process that today is performed manually, involves multiple parties, needs to be digitized, and is very cumbersome to manage or be part of?
  • Transparency and auditability: Is it important to offer each party transparency (e.g., on the origin, delivery, geolocation, and hand-overs) and auditable steps? (e.g., How can I be sure that the wine in my bottle really is from Bordeaux?)
  • Risk and fraud minimization: Does it help (or is there a need) to minimize risk and fraud for each party, or at least for most of them in the chain? (e.g., A company might want to know if its goods have suffered any shocks in transit or whether the predefined route was not followed.)

Connecting blockchain with the Internet of Things

This is where blockchain’s value can be increased and automated. Just think about a blockchain that is not just maintained or simply added by a human, but automatically acquires different signals from sensors, such as geolocation, temperature, shock, usage hours, alerts, etc. One that knows when a payment or any kind of money transfer has been made, a delivery has been received or arrived at its destination, or a digital asset has been downloaded from the Internet. The relevant automated actions or signals are then recorded in the distributed ledger/blockchain.

Of course, given the massive amount of data that is created by those sensors, automated signals, and data streams, it is imperative that only the very few pieces of data coming from a signal that are relevant for a specific business process or transaction be stored in a blockchain. By recording non-relevant data in a blockchain, we would soon hit data size and performance issues.

Ideas to ignite thinking in specific industries

  • The digital, “blockchained” physical asset (asset lifecycle management): No matter whether you build, use, or maintain an asset, such as a machine, a piece of equipment, a turbine, or a whole aircraft, a blockchain transaction (genesis block) can be created when the asset is created. The blockchain will contain all the contracts and information for the asset as a whole and its parts. In this scenario, an entry is made in the blockchain every time an asset is: sold; maintained by the producer or owner’s maintenance team; audited by a third-party auditor; has malfunctioning parts; sends or receives information from sensors; meets specific thresholds; has spare parts built in; requires a change to the purpose or the capability of the assets due to age or usage duration; receives (or doesn’t receive) payments; etc.
  • The delivery chain, bill of lading: In today’s world, shipping freight from A to B involves lots of manual steps. For example, a carrier receives a booking from a shipper or forwarder, confirms it, and, before the document cut-off time, receives the shipping instructions describing the content and how the master bill of lading should be created. The carrier creates the original bill of lading and hands it over to the ordering party (the current owner of the cargo). Today, that original paper-based bill of lading is required for the freight (the container) to be picked up at the destination (the port of discharge). Imagine if we could do this as a blockchain transaction and by forwarding a PDF by email. There would be one transaction at the beginning, when the shipping carrier creates the bill of lading. Then there would be look-ups, e.g., by the import and release processing clerk of the shipper at the port of discharge and the new owner of the cargo at the destination. Then another transaction could document that the container had been handed over.

The future

I personally believe in the massive transformative power of blockchain, even though we are just at the very beginning. This transformation will be achieved by looking at larger networks with many participants that all have a nearly equal part in a process. Today, many blockchain ideas still have a more centralistic approach, in which one company has a more prominent role than the (many) others and often is “managing” this blockchain/distributed ledger-supported process/approach.

But think about the delivery scenario today, where goods are shipped from one door or company to another door or company, across many parties in the delivery chain: from the shipper/producer via the third-party logistics service provider and/or freight forwarder; to the companies doing the actual transport, like vessels, trucks, aircraft, trains, cars, ferries, and so on; to the final destination/receiver. And all of this happens across many countries, many borders, many handovers, customs, etc., and involves a lot of paperwork, across all constituents.

“Blockchaining” this will be truly transformational. But it will need all constituents in the process or network to participate, even if they have different interests, and to agree on basic principles and an approach.

As Torsten Zube put it, I am not a “blockchain extremist” nor a denier that believes this is just a hype, but a realist open to embracing a new technology in order to change our processes for our collective benefit.

Turn insight into action, make better decisions, and transform your business. Learn how.

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Juergen Roehricht

About Juergen Roehricht

Juergen Roehricht is General Manager of Services Industries and Innovation Lead of the Middle and Eastern Europe region for SAP. The industries he covers include travel and transportation; professional services; media; and engineering, construction and operations. Besides managing the business in those segments, Juergen is focused on supporting innovation and digital transformation strategies of SAP customers. With more than 20 years of experience in IT, he stays up to date on the leading edge of innovation, pioneering and bringing new technologies to market and providing thought leadership. He has published several articles and books, including Collaborative Business and The Multi-Channel Company.