Picture: 123RF/MONSIT JANGARIYAWONG
Picture: 123RF/MONSIT JANGARIYAWONG

SA has a unique set of developmental challenges over and above the global challenges of being part of the world economy. Instead of being an add-on, it is becoming increasingly clear that technology has the capacity to underpin rapid advancements in transparency and accountability, while simultaneously holding the keys to unlocking new revenue streams and competitiveness.

There is much hype around blockchain technology and the potential impact it could have on Africa. Blockchain can drive innovation, accelerate business and reduce risk and costs associated with common business processes. It builds a growing list of unalterable records, called blocks, that are linked together to form a chain and are securely distributed among participants. Every block includes a link to the previous block, as well as a time stamp.

The technology plays a role in establishing identity and trust because no-one is allowed to make any changes to the blockchain without the corresponding keys. These records allow organisations that might not fully trust each other to agree on a single, distributed source of truth. The technology minimises the cost and delays of using third-party intermediaries for financial transactions. It also eliminates manual, error-prone processes and information redundancy.

Blockchain is certainly not a magic potion to solve all problems, but it can help curb corruption and, as a result, restore some level of trust in government and corporates. Governance around the globe is increasingly coming under the spotlight as digitally savvy citizens demand higher levels of quality, speed, integrity and, most notably, accountability. Technology drives transparency as it is able to provide actionable insights from the exponential growth of data.

At this juncture it would be useful to consider how blockchain could underpin transparency and accountability in SA, and how one of the industries vital to SA’s performance in the fourth industrial revolution and job creation can unlock new revenue streams using the technology.

The listeriosis outbreak was an avoidable tragedy that sadly cost many lives. Globally, there is a lack of transparency and traceability of the journey of food produce from farm to shop shelf. The listeriosis outbreak demonstrated how finding the source of the outbreak as quickly and efficiently as possible is of utmost importance. Blockchain provides the ability to instantaneously trace the entire life cycle of food products from origin through every point of contact on its journey to the consumer.

If implemented, blockchain would allow consumers to be able to see exactly where their food was grown, the type of pesticides and antibiotics that were used, where it was processed – including a host of information at this stage – and even how it compares to other products on the shelf. The consumer would therefore be able to make an intelligent decision about the grocery item.

Life Esidimeni tragedy

In another local tragedy, the mourning families of those who died during the Life Esidimeni disaster are still waiting for accountability. Many people argue that this tragedy can be attributed to the flawed process followed when patients were moved from one facility to another as well as the flawed decision to move the patients in the first place.

A lack of transparency and accuracy were highlighted during the investigations that followed. A fundamental principle of blockchain is its ability to address these specific issues through its distributed ledger architecture. It provides an unprecedented level of security of the information and the integrity of the records it manages, guaranteeing their authenticity.

It eliminates opportunities for falsification and the risks normally associated with having a single point of failure in data management. At the same time, blockchain provides a transparent and decentralised system to record a sequence of transactions, or “blocks”, meaning transactions are recorded chronologically, forming an immutable chain.

Technology also offers the potential to find new revenue streams. The telecommunications sector is poised to play a vital role in SA’s competitiveness in the fourth industrial revolution and hopefully assist with job creation and economic growth. Internationally, fraud detection and prevention remain a relevant topic for telecoms, according to the 2017 global fraud loss survey by the Communications Fraud Control Association. Given that the telecoms industry has not yet found a way to effectively and sustainably prevent fraud, blockchain is in principle a good contender for significantly decreasing the cost of fraud in, for example, roaming and identity management. 

The potential use cases for the technology are incredibly diverse. In Nigeria, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) adopted Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service to build a trusted platform for the automation of customs excise trade business processes and procedures. Using this technology, the NCS could migrate its entire business environment to blockchain and so automate processes and create transparency and predictability. Once the transition to blockchain is complete, NCS expects a revenue growth increase of about 50%. The technology is helping the NCS to build global trust for Nigerian businesses through irrefutable data on goods manufactured in the country.

Technology will continue to disrupt businesses across the board, but by being proactive and inventive with trusted partners, governments and businesses will be able to remain competitive and relevant in a hyper-connected and rapidly advancing global economy. New potential revenue streams, improved efficiency and the ability to make major dents in systemic corruption or incompetence by driving transparency and accountability all add to the attractiveness of investing in blockchain technology.

• Nel is cloud platform leader: mobile & cognitive experience for Oracle Middle East, Africa and Turkey.