Exploring blockchain for better business

- Ottawa, Ontario

"Blockchains are public ledgers that record transactions shared among many users."

Blockchain technology is something many innovation experts are heralding as the way of the future. On the simplest level, blockchains are public ledgers that record transactions shared among many users. Once data is entered on a blockchain, it is secure and unalterable, and provides a permanent record. Blockchains provide the ultimate in transparency and trust, making this technology an exciting prospect for organizations that strive to conduct transparent business.

In June 2017, the National Research Council of Canada, through its Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP), hosted a blockchain kickoff session that brought together colleagues from across Government. At this meeting, NRC IRAP unveiled its plans to test the viability of blockchain technology in administering the Program's Contribution Agreements (innovation funding) with Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The experiment would provide a first real-use case of its kind for Government and other public institutions.

The blockchain experiment brings together a perfect mix of uniquely Canadian elements— an innovative Canadian business in the blockchain technology space (Bitaccess), funding from Public Services and Procurement Canada's Build in Canada Innovation Program, and NRC IRAP, whose work with SMEs across Canada generates a large volume of financial transactions and recordkeeping that requires transparency and public disclosure.

In January 2018, NRC IRAP successfully launched the Government of Canada's first-ever live trial of public blockchain technology (on Ethereum) for the transparent administration of government contracts. The program began proactively publishing information on new and amended Contribution Agreements with firms in real time.

Since the launch, NRC IRAP has been exploring ways to expand its experiment with blockchain and reliably share data with the public. The program is now hosting its blockchain explorer application, developed by Bitaccess, on the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS).

IPFS functions as a peer-to-peer method of storing and sharing data in a distributed manner. Unlike regular webpages, web applications hosted on IPFS are unalterable and can be accessed far into the future, even if the original web host has gone offline. In other words, the web application used to view NRC IRAP's blockchain data - also known as a blockchain explorer - is not being hosted in only one location where it could be subject to site failure or other access issues. Instead, the move to IPFS will ensure the application is hosted by a multitude of computers so data is always accessible and immutable.

These are early days, but NRC IRAP's experiments with blockchain are expected to provide constructive insight into the potential for this technology and how it may be used for more open and transparent operations for public programs.