Finding answers to the “big hairy problems”
Frans van Ette is affiliated with the Dutch Blockchain Coalition, one of Techruption’s partners. The developments in blockchain are progressing at a rapid pace, resulting in many questions on the part of the government and business community. Frans tells us how he is trying to bring order to this new quest and deliver answers.
“The Netherlands is often a trendsetter when it comes to innovations, and is one of the world’s top digital economies. Many households have a PC, tablet and smartphone and our mobile network is highly developed. Nearly all Dutch companies work online and our Internet servers are the most secure in the world. In other words, our starting position is good. We have also noticed that our ‘polder’ culture helps us. It’s in our genes to enter into partnerships that will help both sides grow. In other countries, we are seeing infighting about how to deal with blockchain. In the Netherlands, the partnership idea has proved to be a successful standard.
“The questions we face are a matter of vital interest, not only for The Netherlands”
The blockchain technology is relatively new, and more and more parties want to benefit from it. It is seen as being a potential source of trust, prosperity, equality and security for society. In March 2017, an agenda for action was signed by the relevant Dutch Digital Delta parties, the coalition’s umbrella organization. This agenda centers on three topics with cross-sectoral impact: digital identities, conditions for a responsible blockchain system and developing blockchain know-how in the Netherlands.
We are looking for answers to the ‘big hairy problems’. The Brightlands Smart Services Campus is characterized by cross-sectoral cooperation between startups, government and business. All of these parties run into problems involving international standards, laws and regulations, and complex issues such as digital identities. The interesting part is that we find the answers by working on these issues together, and linking the right parties to each other. We started the coalition early this year and are already getting a lot of questions about legislation and regulations, social acceptance and how we can use blockchain responsibly. The technology is still in an early-adopters’ phase, and we have seen that it affects the essence of organizations and their business models in many cases. This doesn’t only apply to businesses; the impact will be enormous for society as a whole. We are working on concrete insights, but since we only started a few months ago ourselves, there is still a lot of work to be done.
The questions we face are a matter of vital interest, not only for The Netherlands. For example, we have to take international laws into account that prescribe that people have the ‘right to forget’. This means that if you share information online through Facebook or Google for example, this information shouldn’t stay online forever. If, as a user, you want that online information to disappear, a company is obligated to delete this information. The blockchain technology runs counter to this concept since it is based on the idea that all information will remain in a chain and is therefore traceable. It is one of the essential problems we are looking at.
The blockchain technology is already being used in various sectors, in a concrete form in a few cases, and in the form of prototypes in many others. The port of Rotterdam is one example. Since the trading parties’ data is located in a blockchain, they don’t have to keep re-entering information to guide their cargo through. This results in more efficient methods and is also applicable for customs and shipping. We also see a lot of potential for blockchain in the health care sector. You can become the master over your own identity with a ‘digital wallet’ which gives you control over which information you would like to share. In addition, you don’t have to keep sharing your information if you are a returning patient.
One thing I can recommend to starting blockchain companies is to be sure to assert their rights as entrepreneurs, and be open-minded. It’s a good idea to get involved in an initiative such as the Brightlands Smart Services Campus in Heerlen. The campus gives you the opportunity to work in an environment where you will have access to the knowledge and skills from a variety of areas and the support these provide. It is a place where different parties brainstorm about a good development climate for starting entrepreneurs in the Netherlands. As a startup, you really do have to profit from this.”