Until very recently, Blockchain has been mostly associated with Bitcoin – the digital currency built on top of it. Not trying to underestimate the importance of the latter, it is fair to say that Blockchain technology is much more than digital money.

The need to look beyond the currency and investigate the potential use of the technology in industries outside payments is often emphasized. So should global governments be embracing Blockchain?

Backing e-government platforms with Blockchain can solve a number of issues that arise when dealing with public authorities nowadays. Citizens feel so disconnected from their governments and think the general level of state bureaucracy is unbelievable. Therefore, digitization of state services in general and especially the integration of Blockchain in this sphere is an interesting process to follow.

Pimp this ride

The value of Blockchain has been discussed many times – it is a secure, distributed, open and inexpensive database technology perhaps that’s what makes it a perfect tool for upgrading government services.

There is indeed plenty of room for creativity and innovation but it is already possible to identify a few areas where Blockchain is just a perfect fit.

The first and most obvious area includes everything related with verification – licenses, permits, various types of transactions, processes, events – Blockchain enables managing and monitoring of those in a smooth and secure way.

Besides, the technology is a perfect keeper of the chain of custody for basically any physical asset. Land and real estate registries can easily be backed up by Blockchain. Securing e-identities is a perfect use-case for Blockchain, which could enable all citizens to use public services securely. Functioning similarly to a normal passport, it would provide its holder access to a wide variety of services.

Blockchain’ing government services

A number of progressive governments already started working on the integration of magical Blockchain.

For instance, Sweden is working to back real estate transactions with Blockchain technology, enabling all parties involved to easily track the progress of agreements.

Ghana has been playing around with Blockchain to apply it in land registry with 28 communities involved in the project to enable tamper-resistant property ownership. The UK has been exploring the use of Blockchain to manage and monitor the distribution of welfare benefits. The government in Singapore has turned to Blockchain developing a system to prevent invoice fraud cases.

Russian Central Securities Depositories have been working on applying Blockchain technology to allow various stakeholders to perform transactions with each other in a more direct way.

Estonia has established an e-residency program allowing anyone in the world apply to become an e-resident of Estonia. Being an e-resident of Estonia, anyone can open a bank account using national e-banking system or set up a company. In this way, national government aims to virtually involve worldwide residents to Estonia gaining new revenue streams. Apart from that initiative, Estonia has also developed a system to track medical records, which is also built on Blockchain.

Estonia is leading the digitization of public services

Estonia seems to be more open to embracing Blockchain. At the recent Microsoft Public Sector Digitization Practice Day in Bern, it was announced that Estonian e-government experts are collaborating with a Swiss startup Procivis to offer a new “e-government as a service” solution.

At the event in Bern, the company founder Daniel Gasteiger has presented the proof-of-concept for a mobile phone e-voting application that runs on the Procivis platform and allows tamper-proof voting for citizens.

It is stated in a press release:

“While e-voting is one possible application to make use of Procivis’ secure digital identity management, the platform will be designed to run a government-curated app store that can offer the full range of public administration services, including tax filings, land registry or commercial registry.”

The founder of the company Daniel Gasteiger said that he was deeply impressed learning about the level of digitization of the public sector in Estonia especially in comparison with the state of digitization in Western Europe, including Switzerland. He is certain that collaboration with Estonia’s leading e-government experts will allow them to create a powerful platform that can serve as ‘the future electronic backbone of democracies across the globe.’

Kaspar Korjus, strategic advisor to Procivis and Managing Director of Estonia’s “e-Residency” program said:

“I’ve visited most of the emerging digital societies around the globe and they all experience similar struggles. Procivis has a unique opportunity to build a solution that will help overcome these hurdles, boost the digitization of entire countries and empower its citizens. It’s a bold ambition and I’m excited to be part of it.”

Switzerland’s trusted values combined with Estonia’s expertise

Along with its proof of concept, Procivis has presented a study coordinated by Professor Dr. Alexander Trechsel of the  Zurich-based consulting firm Xupery, which presented a comparison between the evolution of Switzerland and Estonia as digital societies over the past twenty years.

The study highlights the necessary elements for successful implementation of e-government applications addressing issues that are often associated with low user adoption rates.

According to the report, the successful delivery of digital public services begins with full political support for enabling technologies, relies on the fostering of strong public-private partnerships to develop efficient and user-centered services in an iterative manner and, finally, requires a clear strategy and timeline to introduce digital identities for every citizen.

Professor Alexander Trechsel said about the outcome of the study:

“The study has revealed the particular strengths of Estonia’s approach which made the country a poster child for e-government. Our research also shows that despite having the reputation of being one of the most innovative countries, Switzerland so far hasn’t sufficiently seized the opportunities of digitization in the public sector.”