Illinois blockchain pilots take shape

The Illinois Blockchain Initiative is moving forward with five use cases that demonstrate how the distributed ledger technology can work in government.

Late last year, the Illinois Department of Innovation & Technology announced plans to bring together state and local agencies on pilots to explore blockchain technology. Now, the Illinois Blockchain Initiative (IBI) is moving ahead on five use cases to determine how industry and government can work together to improve government services.

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The use cases involve using blockchain to secure land title registries, validate academic credentials, register health providers, create a marketplace for energy credits and secure vital records.  To build support for the projects, the IBI is taking a three-prong approach: light-touch regulation, community building through education and outreach, and the integration of the technology through use cases.

“With this three-prong approach, we have a strategy where we are cognizant of some of the barriers to entry, but we are providing regulatory support to ensure that we are building out a community for the technology that can translate into commercial purposes,” Jennifer O’Rourke, business liaison for the IBI, told GCN. 

The five use cases are in various stages of finding industry partners, building out the wireframe technology and regulatory scheme and testing in a real-time environment.

The pilot making the most progress is the land title registry pilot with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.  On May 30, John Mirkovic, deputy recorder of deeds, released a report on the county’s own blockchain pilot with land records software vendor Conduent.

The CCRD pilot creates “digital property abstracts” to consolidate property information spread across multiple government offices into one place.  The report found locking a transfer with asymmetric key cryptography would make “unauthorized conveyances” more difficult, which could protect homeowners and lienholders.

IBI's role in the CCRD pilot involved supporting the county agency and laying the foundation for expansion, should the county pursue the solution.

“Once we were made aware of the work that John was doing, we were able to join this in a supportive role so that if and when the pilot is ready to be expanded, then we could start thinking about it from a network architecture perspective,” O'Rourke said.  The digitization of land records and their storage in multiple locations would create “exponential redundancies in case we were to have a catastrophic event where one particular county would lose access to their land title data.”

When it comes to academic credentialing, IBI recently chose an industry partner to work with a public or private school in the state on an app that can provide proof of academic achievement.  O'Rourke said the name of the partner will be announced in the coming weeks.

“Folks going through different courses [at] two and four year institutions need credentials, so being able to direct employers to an app where they can validate education with immediacy is a value proposition that we are looking at,” O'Rourke said.  “We are currently working with a partner to built out the wireframe process flow and requirement definitions.”

The health provider registry use case is at a similar stage of development.  It would reconcile health provider data issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the Drug Enforcement Agency, state licensing boards and insurance providers, and act as a single source of valid licensing and registration information for providers and payers.

The "immediate reconciliation, transparency and security" of distributed ledger solutions make them ideal for this information,” O'Rourke said.

IBI is looking for partners for the energy credit marketplace pilot and is working with the Illinois Pollution Control Board on a renewable energy credit system that can be used by solar, wind and other energy consumers.

The energy credit pilot would create a marketplace where renewable energy credits could be electronically traded. Blockchain could improve the "transparency, auditability and reconciliation" of the credit exchanges, O'Rourke said.

The last pilot examines using blockchain to secure vital records starting with birth certificates and adding attributes to the ledger over the person's lifetime. IBI has expanded the pilot to look at self-sovereign identity of health records.

“Instead of having individual institutions [storing] different components of my identity, self-sovereign identity is an approach where I have a container that holds all of the various attributes of my identity,” O'Rourke said.  “When needed, I can share those attributes of my identity with particular institutions," so  they can validate or attest to my identity, or use data for a product or service.

In order to facilitate discussions around blockchain technology, the Illinois Blockchain Initiative is working with Hyperledger, an open source collaborative to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies.

On July 11, Hyperledger announced the availability of an open source code project called Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 to the general public.   Over 150 engineers from 28 organizations contributed to the projected hosted by the Linux Foundation to provide a framework for blockchain implementation.

Through Hyperledger, we're gaining a deeper understanding of the technology and leveraging their resources "to ensure that we are up to date with the technology itself,” O'Rourke said.

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