Janine Moir
Blockchain Assurance Leader - Deloitte
Part of the Spotlight on Bitcoin & Blockchain

Blockchain: The next evolution in the way the world connects

Takeaways

  1. Blockchain represents the next evolution in the way the world connects by enabling us to transact with each other seamlessly, without friction, with trust and with speed. Investing in the blockchain industry will contribute to Canada taking a leading position on the world stage.
  2. Among 1,053 executives interviewed in 2018, 74% of Canadian firms planned to invest more than $1 million in blockchain technology, and over half of them indicated that they planned to start deployment in the next calendar year.
  3. Only 6% of tech companies have a female CEO, and this needs to change. If companies do not prioritize gender equality and benchmark their performance on this issue, things will remain the same. They must develop a strategy and measure it to achieve real progress.

Action

Investing in the blockchain industry, in its enabling digital technology, and its deployment will contribute to Canada taking a leading position on the world stage. If Canada is going to be a world leader in blockchain, we need to think about how we want to shape the future with it. So we should not be afraid to try, we should innovate, we should dream big, we should collaborate, and we should use the interconnectedness that blockchain brings to create the kind of future we want to have in Canada.


To what extent are Canadian companies embracing blockchain technology and what does this mean for our competitiveness in this space?

Our 2018 Deloitte Global Blockchain Survey highlighted that among the 1,053 executives we interviewed, 74% of Canadian firms planned to invest more than $1 million in blockchain technology. Over half of them indicated that they planned to start this spending in the next calendar year.

“Canada is quite competitive in blockchain and it is very motivating to see that our country has been leading in the blockchain space since its early days.”

In terms of how the technology is being adopted in Canada, there is a lot more going on in blockchain than what hits the news headlines. For example, there is a Calgary not-for-profit dedicated to creating and expanding the local blockchain ecosystem. It has a very exciting project related to First Nations, which aims to encode First Nations’ rights on the blockchain, and to provide opportunities to learn about tech and Indigenous rights. This is one of the first public blockchain use cases for social good. There are also many other projects including some focused on digital identity, oil and gas use cases and systems, land registries and others.

There is a lot of momentum in the number of blockchain projects happening in both Calgary and Canada. Canadians are very collaborative and educated – combined with a lot of drive, these qualities have propelled us to be a leading force in the industry. All this activity shows that Canada is quite competitive in blockchain and it is very motivating to see that our country has been leading in the blockchain space since its early days.

“Investing in the blockchain industry, in enabling digital technologies, and their deployment will contribute to Canada taking a leading position on the world stage.”

Blockchain represents the next evolution in the way the world connects by enabling us to transact with each other seamlessly, without friction, with trust and with speed. Therefore, investing in the blockchain industry, in enabling digital technology, and its deployment will contribute to Canada taking a leading position on the world stage. And if Canada is going to be a world leader in blockchain, we need to think about how we want to shape the future with it. So we should not be afraid to try, we should innovate, we should dream big, we should collaborate, and we should use the interconnectedness that blockchain brings to create the kind of future we want to have in Canada.


How is blockchain being adopted in Alberta?

Recently, the Alberta government announced an investment of $100 million for artificial intelligence (AI). Government policy is always a strong indicator of where economic activity is heading. The Calgary Herald reported that the government expects the investment, in addition to last year’s $50 million investment, to contribute in training more than 6,000 skilled Albertans and will create more than 140 companies. Although this isn’t a direct blockchain investment, it still contributes to its expansion in Alberta as AI is very intertwined with blockchain technology. This is because blockchains don’t operate on their own; many have an AI component that helps translate, exchange and make sense of that data before or after coding onto a blockchain.

“There are many opportunities for blockchain integration in many aspects of the oil and gas industry, which is obviously very important to both Alberta’s and Canada’s economies.”

There are many opportunities for blockchain integration in many aspects of the oil and gas industry, which is obviously very important to both Alberta’s and Canada’s economies. These include applications relating to joint venture, royalties, hydrocarbon measurements, and many more. The oil and gas industry tends to be quite creative and it is interesting to see that this is where some of the first applications of blockchain in Canada are starting to be implemented. Because of this we continue to be in a great position to develop and expand blockchain technology in Calgary and Alberta.


How should companies and their leadership approach the implementation of blockchain?

The first thing I want to mention is that not every company needs to implement blockchain technology. Like any new technology, companies shouldn’t just jump on the bandwagon because it’s the shiny new thing. If a company does go ahead with implementing blockchain, it takes an open mindset and companies need to focus more on their discovery phase. The first thing to do is to get blockchain 101 training to ensure everyone understands what blockchain can do and where it may be used most appropriately. We see a lot of companies that think blockchain and cryptocurrencies are one in the same. Companies need to understand that cryptocurrency is one application of blockchain technology and there are many more enterprise application opportunities.

Company leaders need to understand the basic functions of the technology. They must think about how blockchains could transform their business and consider the costs associated with its implementation. In other words, leaders must complete a risk assessment and ask themselves if blockchain fits in their business strategy.

“It is essential that company leadership look at blockchain’s bigger picture with regards to risks, governance, processes and people.”

Deloitte has dealt with companies that approached this transition by creating internal innovation teams that have the ability to be agile and work on some of these questions. In other cases, companies ask us to help them with their digital transformation. When we come up with digital strategies for clients we make sure to plan out the entire process; from navigating through compliance and regulations to private key management, to the implementation stage, to training, to reporting and financial statements. It is essential that company leadership look at blockchain’s bigger picture with regards to risks, governance, processes and people.


What should governments, professionals and students do to prepare themselves for the future of blockchain?

For governments, what I have seen is blockchain support coming from the municipal and provincial levels via investments in enabling technology. For example, Calgary’s municipal government has a good understanding of its importance in supporting the city’s tech sector. Calgary has the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund (OCIF), which has $100 million available for private, non-profit and public sectors players that aim to make transformative investments in Calgary. This supports the city’s economic growth and diversification. So far, OCIF has distributed funding to three applicants; the public sector, a university and a tech company. I think these types of funds are an excellent start and show that our governments support disruptive technologies, such as the blockchain industry.

In regards to what universities should do, they face a more complex challenge. The tech industry moves so fast that by the time a new course or curriculum is established, it might be out-dated or incorrect. This reduces interest and value for students.

“People have to be curious. If they leverage that curiosity by exploring the free resources at hand, students and employees will be better equipped for Canada’s expanding blockchain industry.”

In my opinion, it’s best to start at the individual level. There are so many free university courses available online or micro courses in subjects that are relevant to work today and in the future. For example, these include courses on cybersecurity; information technology (IT) management; big data; data science for executives; blockchain for business; deep learning fundamentals; how to code, and policies for electric cars. There is a wide range of free online courses that are great to touch on for both students and professionals.

The real key is curiosity. People have to be curious. If they leverage that curiosity by exploring the free resources at hand, students and employees will be better equipped for Canada’s expanding blockchain industry.


Are we approaching gender equity in the blockchain sector, and what must be done to improve the representation and empowerment of women in Canada’s tech industry?

The industry is still new so it’s difficult to have concrete data on gender balance in blockchain but, at a first glance, I think there is room for improvement. That’s part of the reason that I am one of the founding members of the Women in Blockchain Society. I also co-lead the Calgary chapter of #movethedial whose mission is to get more women in leadership positions and opportunities in tech. #movethedial did a report called ‘Where’s the Dial Now?’ which demonstrated that only six per cent of tech companies have a female CEO. That clearly needs to change.

“Everybody should have equal opportunities. Given the future is increasingly tech-focused, we are all accountable in terms of prioritizing gender diversity in our tech workforce.”

When I went to the #movethedial Global Summitin Toronto in 2018, many speakers discussed how their companies succeeded in bringing more women into their teams. The key message that resonated was that if you do not measure it, nothing improves. Companies that don’t benchmark regularly either backslide or show no progress in increasing the ratio of women in their teams. If companies don’t prioritize gender equality, things will remain the same. They must have a strategy and measure it. That is the only way to achieve real progress. Everybody should have equal opportunities. Given the future is increasingly tech-focused, we are all accountable in terms of prioritizing gender diversity in our tech workforce.