By Michelle Houston
The Blockchain Association of Ireland hosted a half-day conference on March 21st at the Irish Computer Society, Dublin 4 to discuss "Blockchain - building trust, breaking down barriers”.
More than 10 speakers and panellists from multiple industries and backgrounds addressed a large audience close to 100 over the course of the morning to share their experiences of Blockchain and consider the vast opportunities that this technology brings to the global economy. The message was clear - Blockchain has the potential to change the way that we do business across all sectors and now is the time for Ireland and Irish-domiciled enterprises to engage with this rapidly-advancing technology and explore the viability of adopting Blockchain systems and applications in their business models and strategies going forward.
After a short welcome address by Stuart King (co-founder of BAI) and Jim Friars (Chairman of ICS) outlining the recent partnership of BAI and ICS and a short history of the BAI origins from the UCD coding value group, Conor Ryan (co-founder BAI) mapped the evolution of data systems from traditional paper ledgers to today’s distributed ledger technology, drawing due attention to Blockchain threat scenarios and the importance of end-user security and private key management.
Michael O’Sullivan, through his own expert research and data analysis, demonstrated the pervasive nature of Blockchain across all sectors of the economy, proposing that Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) are the primary enabler in ‘democratising’ Blockchain and allowing universal participation. He noted the rapid increase of money raised globally via ICO during the last 5 quarters (compared to traditional venture capital (VC) fundraising methods) and his findings showed that while the number of countries using ICO in 2016 was limited, by 2017, the use of ICO had become widespread, signalling a growing trust in this form of fundraising and the existence of a global ecosystem willing to embrace.
Damien Conroy skilfully de-mystified Blockchain from a traditional tech perspective by deploying a number of very simple analogies which, for example, likened the data structure of Blockchain (acclaimed for its de-centralised and immutable nature) to a stack of newspapers (also incapable of being modified or removed from the public record once distributed), enabling the non-technological attendees to understand the core facets of this tested technology at a conceptual level at least.
Susan Cosgrove tackled the legal issues facing Blockchain and ICO which are numerous given the large degree of uncertainty in the current regulatory regime for ICO and indeed the divergences that are emerging across jurisdictions. She highlighted that choice of jurisdiction is key when a company is considering fund-raising by way of ICO, and noted that Ireland is a popular choice for international companies who adopt this method. Her presentation focused on the need for ICO issuers to secure the trust of the investment community by way of the "white paper” offering/proposal and integrity of social media communication, as well as individual profiles and biographies of the core team, all of which will be heavily scrutinised during the ICO process.
Stanislav Nazarenko, pioneer of the Blockchain movement within the insurance sector, spoke about the profound lack of trust in traditional insurance providers which triggered the shift to the development of technology-based insurance solutions. His experiences demonstrate the cross-sectoral expansion of Blockchain beyond the initial activity groups (IT and Finance) and the likely disruptive impact that it will have for traditional/accepted business models in the future.
Reuben Godfrey (co-founder BAI), key advocate for and member of the ‘Crypto community’ in Ireland and overseas, traced the growth of a once small community engaged on early platforms such as Reddit and Bitcoin Talk, to today’s extensive and truly global network, evidenced by the Telegram messaging app which has over 200 million monthly active users. The rise of smart phones and social media has facilitated the phenomenal growth of the Crypto community. Godfrey and his partner Stuart King are intent on bolstering the movement further and attracting top talent to the community in Ireland by developing the "Crypto Coast” in Dun Laoghaire, a work-bench and educational hub for start-ups, which they hope to expand to Switzerland (and beyond) in the coming months.
A lively panel discussion closed the early morning session, with the audience raising questions around Blockchain’s compliance with GDPR and overarching KYC requirements (including third party KYC processes) in the context of ICO. The legal framework for Smart Contracts was considered as well as Blockchain as valid proof of ownership.
The conference re-convened after a short networking break, with Anil Kumar Nayak, like his predecessors, urging attendees to stop deliberating and take action! Importantly however, he emphasised the need to identify the purpose of the project before one jumps into a Blockchain-based approach. In other words, Blockchain may not work for all purposes and certain business models may operate more efficiently on traditional technologies. The onus is on the company to conduct that analysis at the beginning of the project, as opposed to discovering this mid-way through implementation.
Eoin Connolly provided some useful insight into scaling and privacy obstacles facing Blockchain. While the Bitcoin and Ethereum payment systems lag far behind the likes of Visa and Alipay in terms of transaction processing power (and charge notably higher fees than long-standing payment networks), research into lightning networks and off-chain transactions has intensified and promises to improve scalability issues going forward.
Jamie McCormick (co-founder BAI) recounted his marketing experiences from the ICO front-line, explaining how to establish trust in your team when launching an ICO. Everything will be subject to scrutiny by the investor community in the lead up to an ICO - online profile and social media history; experience and track record of the core team; how individuals conduct themselves and communicate in public and/or private; how the team deals with feedback, and how they react in a crisis. It is therefore crucial for the core team to have a robust profile and market itself appropriately. It goes without saying that trust in the technology and the business model will be fundamental to a successful ICO.
Angelo Paolillo, a keen advocate for Blockchain in education, learning and development, walked the audience though online and offline educational programmes, and again, employed some useful analogies to translate technical concepts of the technology in a comprehensible way (for example, blocks and links). His session was followed by another panel discussion, which honed in on payment channel concepts and lightning network nodes, after which Jim Friars and Stuart King closed the conference with some final remarks. One of which is the BAI and ICS focus on developing a suite of certifiable distributed ledger technology developer education workshops.