In 2016, the desert metropolis of Dubai set its sights on claiming the moniker of ‘world’s first blockchain-powered city’ for itself.

A burgeoning hub of economic development, the city needed more agile government processes – particularly for the business, construction and tourism sectors – and it saw blockchain technology as a potential solution to this challenge.

The technology eliminates the need for trusted third parties in transactions and there are a host of government services that can benefit from it.

The Payment Reconciliation and Settlement System, for example, became the first ‘use case’ to go live, in September 2018, and is now working to reconcile payments between government entities and banks – a process which in the past took up to 45 days – within seconds.

Ultimately, a blockchain-powered Dubai could end up saving the emirate millions of man hours – and billions of dollars – every year.

Dr Aisha Bint Butti Bin Bishr is the Director General of Smart Dubai, the government entity at the helm of Dubai’s city-wide smart transformation, tasked with spearheading its blockchain strategy. She says key to their success thus far, has been the formation of strategic partnerships between the public and private sector.

Bin Bishr explains that instead of ploughing billions into creating new infrastructure, government has, over the course of the last three years, been working with a diverse range of private sector partners to leverage and enhance the city’s existing capabilities.

Smart Dubai has even partnered with tech giant IBM to launch the Dubai Blockchain Platform, which will be the first locally-built and hosted platform.

Paid for using a subscription model, the platform will be the core infrastructure through which all Dubai government blockchain applications will run.

“Our government and private sector partners are experts in their respective fields. We do not want them to worry about the hardware and software of setting up a blockchain network,” Bin Bishr adds. “We instead want them to identify and implement blockchain use cases, relevant to their sectors, that will benefit residents and visitors of the city most.”

So far, more than 20 use cases – in a range of sectors including energy, transport and logistics, tourism, health, education and employment, economic development, safety and justice and social services – have been identified.

And in keeping with Smart Dubai’s collaborative approach, Bin Bishr says they have been sure to involve key government entities – such as the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, the Roads and Transport Authority, the Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing Department, the Department of Economic Development, the Dubai Police and the Dubai Health Authority – in this process.

“In order to roll out the blockchain pilots in an organised approach, Dubai recognised the importance of putting in place a governance framework that would ensure that all stakeholders are aware of their roles and are receiving the support they need,” Bin Bishr explains.

Smart Dubai even assists with selecting the best technical partners – from around the world – to implement blockchain pilots.

By opening its doors to the international community in this way, the city is stimulating both the blockchain market as well as its own economy.

It is also working to foster a blockchain industry where private companies and start-ups can thrive alongside blockchain-powered government processes.

The journey Dubai has embarked on has, of course, not been without its challenges. Collaboration has proved an asset in trying to overcome those challenges.

“Across all phases, firms that are involved in setting up a blockchain network will come across various challenges, some of which include scalability, regulation, ownership, interoperability and governance,” Bin Bishr says. “And as the technology is quite nascent, there is no global framework to overcome these challenges so we have been hosting regular ‘Blockchain Policy Workshops,’ bringing the public and private sector together to identify issues and map a way forward.”

With most of the ideation phase in the rear-view mirror at this stage, though, the focus now is on taking Dubai over the finish line.

With the Dubai Blockchain Platform now launched – and the Blockchain Policies being launched soon – the city will in 2019 and 2020 be taking the remaining identified use cases live and moving Dubai closer than ever before to becoming the world’s first blockchain-powered city.