Canberra stumps up AU$100K to boost Aussie blockchain industry


Despite the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) recently giving advice to those getting lost in the buzz of blockchain that they should turn their attention elsewhere, the federal government on Monday announced a funding injection to boost Australia’s blockchain industry.

With AU$100,000 in tow, the government wants to see the development of a national blockchain roadmap, which, according to Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews, will focus on a number of policy areas including regulation, skills and capacity building, innovation, investment, and international competitiveness and collaboration.

“The national strategy puts us on the front foot in exploring how government and industry can enhance the long-term development of blockchain and its uses,” she said, adding that Australia needs to seize the opportunities presented by blockchain.

Must read: Is FOMO making enterprises unnecessarily leap into blockchain?

“We will work closely with blockchain and technology experts from industry and academia to develop the strategy, as well as with CSIRO’s Data61 to incorporate findings from their forthcoming future scenarios report on blockchain.”

In making the announcement, Andrews pointed towards the federal government having a history of funding blockchain-related initiatives, specifically the AU$700,000 it gave the DTA to probe the potential of the technology.

“It is the DTA’s current position that blockchain is an emerging technology worthy of ongoing observation. However, without standardisation and additional work, for many uses of blockchain, there are currently other mature technologies that may be more suitable for immediate use,” the DTA said as the conclusion of its government-funded investigation.

Addressing Senate Estimates in October, DTA chief digital officer Peter Alexander also dunked on its use, adding to the above that “for every use of blockchain you would consider today, there is a better technology — alternate databases, secure connections, standardised API engagement”.

“Blockchain: Interesting technology but early on in its development, it’s kind of at the top of a hype cycle,” he said.

The government entity has even published a questionnaire for organisations to self-evaluate before bothering with something that can just be stored in a secure database.

The announcement from the government follows IBM announcing that South Australia-based meat processor Thomas Foods International (TFI) and independent grocery retailer Drakes Supermarket had trialled IBM’s blockchain to trace the entire lifecycle of a food product.

The pilot, conducted under the IBM Food Trust, saw the companies trace the origin of a piece of animal flesh back to one of four individual farms.

See: From farm to plate via blockchain: Solving agriculture supply chain problems one grain at a time

Launched in October, IBM Food Trust uses blockchain technology to allow all participating entities — retailers, suppliers, and growers — to have a “shared view of food ecosystem data”, which IBM said allows for greater traceability, transparency, and efficiency.

Each node on the blockchain is controlled by a separate entity, and all data on the blockchain is encrypted.

TFI and Drakes have been testing IBM Food Trust for the last three months.

TFI is able to upload data and share it with other organisations within its ecosystem, with IBM explaining that organisations within the same supply chain can access the information of partners to establish a “single, shared version of truth”.

Also: The blockchain explained for non-engineers

“By maintaining the individual data relating to each product instead of moving to data about grouped products, we are achieving a greater understanding of how each food item is moving through the supply chain,” Simon Tamke from TFI said.

“This added level of transparency and verifiability will reinforce customers’ and consumers’ confidence in the provenance of our product and is made possible by blockchain technology.”

IBM Food Trust runs on the IBM Cloud, which last month was made available out of the IBM data centre in Melbourne.

The IBM Blockchain Platform is built on top of Hyperledger Fabric, an open-source blockchain project from the Linux Foundation. The Food Trust also has compatibility with the GS1 standard.

Suppliers can contribute data to the IBM Food Trust network for free, but software-as-a-service modules are available for small, medium, and global enterprises starting at $100 per month and reaching over $10,000 per month for large organisations.

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