It remains to be seen which specific
services IBM might help Elm and Riyadh to improve, or how exactly blockchain
technology would factor in. For now, the partners have stated only that they
“will jointly organize workshops in collaboration with key government
departments, and private and semi-government sectors in Al Riyadh to identify
services which can be transformed and enhanced through blockchain [technology].”
IBM will take the lead in designing
the solutions that the workshops identify, while Elm puts them into practice
within local government agencies.
The partnership aims to help advance
Saudi Vision 2030, a blueprint for diversifying the country’s economy and
developing public services.
Making Government Blockchain Services
a Reality for IBM
Despite the lack of detail about
future plans, the news is significant as one of the first real-world test cases
for IBM’s government blockchain initiatives.
Big Blue has said much over the past couple of years about
how blockchain technology can improve government services, thanks especially to
the ability of distributed ledgers to make government data more transparent.
IBM has recently signed some major
deals with other government agencies, including the Australian national government and
the state of Delaware, to develop blockchain-based
solutions. The company has also partnered with other governments in the Middle
East surrounding trade finance.
The Riyadh initiative, however,
represents the first effort by IBM to apply blockchain technology to local
government services. It’s an endeavor to watch in order to determine how well
IBM’s local government blockchain vision will play out in practice.
Advancing Blockchain Technology in
The partnership is also the latest
sign of the momentum that blockchains are enjoying within Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia may not be one of the
first countries to come to mind when you think about distributed ledgers. But,
in fact, the Saudi government has busily supported blockchain-based initiatives
in recent years.
The national communications ministry partnered in May with ConsenSys, a
Brooklyn-based blockchain startup, to sponsor a “blockchain bootcamp” designed
to help local developers learn to build DApps. The Saudi central bank also
recently approved the use of Ripple as a
payment settlement solution. And the country’s state-owned oil company is reportedly
exploring ways to
take advantage of blockchain technology for accounting and management.
Viewed against this backdrop, IBM’s
decision to experiment with government blockchain technology in Saudi Arabia is
less surprising. At the same time, however, it’s worth noting that this is the
first example of a major American enterprise — as opposed to a less established
organization, like Ripple — partnering with the Saudi government around a