Time for nationwide blockchain infrastructure
Abdul Fattah Mohamed Yatim

The countries that capitalise blockchain to its full base potential 1st will probably lead or leapfrog other countries in economy and social wellbeing

By HABHAJAN SINGH / Pic By TMR

Malaysia risks being left behind if it does not take strategic steps at the national level to put in place the building blocks for the implementation of nationwide blockchain infrastructure.

The impact could eventually hit the nation’s international trade as other regions embed the blockchain infrastructure into their systems, with the European Union (EU) being one of them.

“The European Commission (EC) aims to develop a common approach on blockchain technology for the EU in the international arena. It understands that blockchain implementation EU-wide makes a lot of sense,” blockchain expert Abdul Fattah Mohamed Yatim (picture) told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

Abdul Fattah has been actively sounding the alarm on the need to do something, and something fast, in order for Malaysia to have a seat at the table as nations forge forward in putting the blockchain technology to work.

“The countries that capitalise blockchain to its full base potential first will probably lead or leapfrog other countries in economy and social wellbeing.

“The race has started. Many countries are on the running track. Malaysia is still busy shopping for its running shoes,” he wrote in a recent article published at his personal blog.

He has also repeated those calls at a number of public forums in Malaysia since the middle of last year.

Abdul Fattah is the chairman of Malaysia’s National Standards Committee on Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies, codenamed TC/G/15.

The committee, formed under the authority of the Department of Standards Malaysia, comprises members from the government, industry, regulators, non-government organisations and academia.

EU Project

The EC has made public its intention to develop a common approach on blockchain technology for the EU in the international arena.

In a note on the EC website, it is said that blockchain may bring great improvements for the European industry — from start-ups to large corporates, administrations and citizens.

It can enable the provision of more efficient services and the emergence of new ones by improving business processes in governments, companies and organisations; as well as enabling new distributed business and interaction models based on direct peer-to-peer exchanges without the need for centralised platforms or intermediaries.

In the Digital Single Market midterm review in May 2017, it added that the commission had recognised blockchain-inspired technologies as having huge potential for its administrations, businesses and the society in general.

The EC, which has been funding blockchain projects throughout the union since 2013, has invested more than €80 million (RM377.6 million) in projects supporting the use of blockchain in technical and societal areas.

“As blockchain is a foundational infrastructure, Malaysia should strategise to look at a nationwide blockchain infrastructure at least, just like the EU,” Abdul Fattah, who is also a member of the Institution of Engineers Malaysia, told TMR.

He added that we would not find similar initiatives or needs for cross-border implementation of other technologies like the Internet of Things, data analytics, robotics and artificial intelligence.

Among others, the EU feasibility study will assess the opportunity to pilot an EU Blockchain Infrastructure programme for the advent of an open, innovative, trustworthy, transparent and EU law-compliant data and transactional environment.

“The EU recognises the importance for EU-wide planning for blockchain, as opposed to individual member country initiatives,” Abdul Fattah said.

What is Blockchain?

What is blockchain in the first place? Blockchain technology is the best known distributed ledger technology. It avoids one centralised location and the need for intermediaries to perform transactions.

Information stored on a blockchain is shared, verifiable, public and accessible. These characteristics can bring about high levels of accountability, according to a description at the EU website.

Blockchain-inspired technologies are being widely discussed around the world and are being tested across multiple industry sectors. It has the potential of a breakthrough technology, capable of disrupting industry and public sector activities. Blockchain can also be instrumental for addressing the increasing concerns about privacy of personal data, the information added.

On distributed ledger technologies, the note described it as a revolutionary solution first proposed in 2009, in which blockchain is based. It is a key for the development of new financial applications like electronic currencies and the implementation of fully distributed databases which can decentralise data storage and management. This enables the redesign of Internet which is less conducive to the centralisation of data in a few proprietary platforms.

Whats Needs to be Done

With regions like the EU and other jurisdictions making their moves, Abdul Fattah believes that Malaysia, too, needs to take its next major step in building the nation’s blockchain infrastructure.

“Blockchain has to be handled differently from traditional planning approaches,” he said.

While there are pockets of blockchain use cases in several areas of the society and community, there is an urgent need for a national level focus and strategic planning for blockchain in Malaysia, he shared in his article.

It requires top down direction and commitment to push through the agenda, failing which, Malaysia will lose out in competitiveness in many areas ultimately affecting the economy significantly, he wrote.

“As the blockchain tide started some five years or so ago and has picked up amplitude and momentum in many other countries, Malaysia cannot afford to wait any longer.

“A foundational technology is one of its kind that appears in very untraditional ways. It should, therefore, be addressed and treated in very untraditional ways and not in the ways that Malaysian planners are used to.

“It starts with focused leadership and commitment on blockchain. Say it out and commit to mean what you say,” he said.