We’re facing a time of change that has never before been experienced, we are at the beginning of what many regard as the fourth industrial revolution; a time when disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality, blockchain and robotics will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. Combine this with the outcome of the referendum to leave the European Union, and we are facing a long period of adjustment.
The outcome will impact all of us, personally and professionally. How innovative the change will be is up to the decision makers, and how we manage the opportunities and issues that Brexit will bring.
What if we look at Brexit as our time to focus on the opportunity? Brexit could be the trigger the UK needs to embrace the fourth industrial revolution and unlock the potential of blockchain, aka Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT).
I'm going to look here at how blockchain can help with each of the three key areas impacted by our exit from the EU: People and Immigration, Trade and Customs, and Economics and Policy.
The UK's changing relationship with the EU access to the will impact the immigration status of employees across both markets, visa checks may become more common. Blockchain systematically tackles the challenges of digital identity as it was designed to enable sharing of data between multiple parties, without the need for an intermediary. When applying this to the movement of people, blockchain can enable the sharing of a secure digital passport of qualifications which can be easily accessed by employers to validate a candidates credibility and legality to work in any given country.
The UK and EU negotiations will ultimately decide whether the current free trade area will continue, but signs are currently pointing towards the UK leaving the EU Customs Union, necessitating some level of border controls on the UK-EU frontier. This will involve an administrative overhead, which results in increased cost, labour and overall is inefficient.
Blockchain serves as a shared ledger of transactions that can run smart contracts to ensure supply chain integrity and provenance tracking, therefore it has the potential to offer a system of recording customs data that can be shared both securely and transparently while reducing administrative costs and time delays. This essentially could avoid the need for border stops for many products, helping business to deliver operational efficiency and government to maintain a smooth customs and border regime.
The convergence of the Internet of Things, AI and blockchain could provide a means whereby cross border trade could be automatically tracked, tariffs calculated and regulations upheld; enabling any issues or violations to be detected and addressed early.
The government and UK businesses now need to think differently about how they boost UK productivity growth and make the UK a magnet to retain and attract business.
Blockchain is already having an impact on many government services across the globe, including transportation, healthcare, cybersecurity and pensions. Through its decentralised nature blockchain could reimagine how the government interacts with citizens (e.g. e-Estonia).
None of this can happen overnight, but the UK government is already considering this. Late last year, the House of Lords released a report titled “Distributed Ledger Technologies for Public good.” Since then MPs have set up an All Party Parliamentary Group focused on DLT. In parallel, The Bank of England is also continuing its experimentation and support of DLT through their FinTech Accelerator program.
For us, the challenge is to think differently, Brexit will ask questions of traditional systems of exchange in the EU. There is no single roadmap for success in terms of Brexit, but it is undeniable that the convergence of technologies such as blockchain, AI and robotics present an opportunity to make this transition a foundation for the future.
We are at the cusp of a great revolution and Brexit forces a decision point. The businesses that are approaching Brexit best are those viewing it as just another disruption they are facing. Now is the opportunity to look at both technological and Brexit disruption side by side, and consider whether one could be used to capitalise on the other. Do we embrace these technologies as a driving force or sit back and be overtaken by those who are willing to take the risks?
By Louise Broderick, Global Blockchain Driver
Director, Blockchain, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)7843 332944