Illinois blockchain efforts begin to bear fruit
- By Sara Friedman
Over the past year, the Illinois Blockchain Initiative has grown from a nascent project based at the Illinois Department of Technology into a program with two completed pilots and renewed momentum for the next stage of research.
IBI recently completed work on a pilot with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds related to land title registries. John Mirkovic, deputy recorder of deeds, worked with the county’s land records vendor Conduent to create “digital property abstracts” that consolidated information spread across multiple government offices in one place.
For the other pilot, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (DFPR) worked with Hashed Health on a health provider registry. The pilot leveraged a blockchain-based registry to streamline licensure and credentialing information sharing about health care workers.
Work with Evernym on a birth-record registration pilot was announced in August and is still ongoing. Under its proposed framework, government agencies would be able verify birth registration information and then cryptographically sign identity attributes such as legal name, date of birth, sex or blood type to create “verifiable claims” or attributes.
“Over the course of the past six months, we found all of these use cases -- despite being broad and diverse -- could be distilled into one singular use case, which is digital identity,” Jennifer O’Rourke, business liaison for IBI, told GCN. “As broad as they are, they essentially come down to saying, 'I am who I am, and I need to prove that using identity in certain ways as I interact with very different parts of government through different phases of my life.'”
Pilots related to an energy credit marketplace with the Illinois Pollution Control Board and validating academic credentials are still ongoing. O’Rourke said the “beauty of being able to test and explore” blockchain technology has helped IBI to mature its thinking and strategy based on the results from the pilots.
IBI was able to look at the pilots as “completely separate use cases that were using blockchain technology in a similar way” to meet specific needs. “We adapted our strategy through an understanding that technology will always come back to the individual," O'Rourke said.
Work on the pilots also evolved after the Illinois legislature created a blockchain task force consisting of lawmakers, O’Rourke and representatives from DoIT, DFPR, the Department of Insurance, Secretary of State and Cook County Recorder of Deeds.
The task force submitted a report to the Illinois legislature on Jan. 31 that provided an overview of blockchain technology and legislative recommendations. Cab Morris, deputy director of strategy and operational performance at the DFPR, also compiled a database of international blockchain projects .
“There were some projects that we were very aware of -- like the work that ConsenSys was doing in Dubai -- but there are some really cool things in in Europe and Asia that were also a pleasant surprise to discover,” O’Rourke said.
The IBI has participated in blockchain discussions with the General Services Administration’s Emerging Citizen Technology program, but most of its work has been conducted closer to home.
In December, IBI partnered with the Chicago Blockchain Center to bring in executives from the open source collaborative Hyperledger to talk about the basics of blockchain. IBI also hosted an event on smart contracts with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and held a blockchain coding boot camp in July with DePaul University.
“We’ve worked with general events companies to bring in 'blockchain 101' events,” O’Rourke said. “We want to be thoughtful when educating the community on where they are now and where we are looking to go.”
A major legislative overhaul hasn't been necessary to continue experimenting with blockchain in government, O’Rourke said, but there are a few areas where changes may be necessary. For example, the Uniform Law Commission, which oversees electronic records retention, could see self-notarization of documents through blockchain.
With the first year of work completed, O’Rourke said IBI has already learned about how blockchain can’t be used to solve all problems.
“We realize that this is an exciting time for the technology, but we want to be very thoughtful on what is the right use case,” O’Rourke said. “We had a lot of interest last year when there was a lot going on the pilot and proof of concept phase, but we can’t just use solutions to 'fill in a blank”' for everything else.”