European blockchain institutions welcome input from IT professionals

European blockchain institutions welcome input from IT professionals

Following the launch of the European Blockchain Partnership and the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum, there are growing indications that the European Union is waking up to the vast potential offered by the technology. So, how will the Partnership and Observatory work in practice? And what role might there be for IT professionals in the ongoing growth of Europe-wide blockchain initiatives?


'Blockchain Revolution'

During April, a total of 23 European countries signed a declaration to establish a European Blockchain Partnership, billed as 'a vehicle for cooperation amongst EU Member States to exchange experience and expertise in technical and regulatory fields and prepare for the launch of EU-wide blockchain applications across the Digital Single Market for the benefit of the public and private sectors.' 

The move follows the earlier creation of the EU-backed Blockchain Observatory and Forum, which was launched in February to highlight key milestones in the ongoing development of blockchain technology, as well as to 'promote European actors and reinforce European engagement with multiple stakeholders involved in blockchain activities.'

According to Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market at the European Commission, both the European Blockchain Partnership and EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum are 'but one of the first steps Member States are making for Europe to succeed' in what he describes as the 'blockchain revolution.'

"These initiatives allow for a coordinated European approach enhancing online trust and security, fostering new business models and encouraging better user-centric digital services. We now need to bolster such cooperation initiatives with academic and specialized research expertise inside the EU blockchain initiatives, as well as with the actual work of high-skilled mathematicians, cryptographers and IT specialists on the ground," he says.

"The necessity to raise the numbers of digitally-skilled workers will also be reflected in the Digital Europe Programme within the EU's next financial framework to guarantee that Europe is at the blockchain forefront and has capacity to participate in the future technical and technological developments," he adds.


Innovation leader

As Ken Timsit, Managing Director at ConsenSys France and Member of the EU Blockchain Observatory & Forum Management Committee, explains, the Observatory and Forum is an initiative led by the European Commission with the support of the European Parliament - and was formed as part of a series of initiatives at European level, aimed at 'making the EU a global innovation leader in the field of blockchain technology and its applications.'

Specifically, he reveals that the Observatory and Forum is focused on three main objectives and outputs over the next two years. Firstly, the creation of what he describes as a 'knowledge repository' for citizens, including educational materials and a mapping of blockchain initiatives. Secondly, identification of the framework conditions suitable for the development of a 'vibrant ecosystem around blockchain technology' -- and thirdly the identification of a 'few high priority use cases for initiatives that could be launched jointly by the EU and member states in the short to mid-term'.

"ConsenSys is the lead contractor appointed by the EC to facilitate the Observatory and Forum proceedings, as well as provide technical expertise and thought leadership," says Timsit.


Critical stakeholders

In Timsit's view, IT professionals are 'absolutely critical' stakeholders when it comes to driving digital innovation - a position he believes 'certainly applies to blockchain applications as well'. In specific terms, he points out that they have a key role to play in 'driving awareness and education about the technology within their organizations', particularly in recognition of the fact that we are 'still in the early days and there are lots of myths about how the technology works and how to use it.'

"IT professionals should also drive the development of internal expertise and capabilities about the technology. At ConsenSys we are certainly playing our part in this, with ConsenSys Academy, a division of ConsenSys which will train thousands of engineers, executives, lawyers and students in 2018," he says.

Timsit also urges IT professionals to work collaboratively with their business in order to identify blockchain use cases that have a 'real business case for their organization' -- a crucial function in view of the fact that innovation 'comes from business, IT and other stakeholders coming together to share their perspectives -- as opposed to thinking in silos'.

"If you look at a technical problem from a purely technical angle, a traditional centralized database is usually the most convenient solution for the IT department. But the need for a decentralized database technology, like Ethereum, becomes critical when there is a business context that makes a centralized database suboptimal," he says.

"For example, the organization may not trust a third-party intermediary to manage the data on behalf of the ecosystem. Or the organization may currently be spending a lot of money to reconcile its own data with the records of its suppliers and customers," he adds.


Nurturing IT talent

Moving forward, Timsit confirms that the Observatory and Forum welcomes contributions from all EU citizens and residents via the website. As far as IT professionals are concerned, he also reveals that those working in the industry can register on the online forum, where he says they can 'learn about ongoing research and analyses, share case studies about their current blockchain projects, and make recommendations that will be considered by the Observatory and Forum'.

"All types of expertise are welcome, from database managers to IT business partners and security engineers," he says.

Looking ahead, Timsit also confirms that the EU Blockchain Observatory & Forum and ConsenSys are both committed to 'nurturing IT talent in the EU and creating learning opportunities for these professionals to join the blockchain space.'

"IT professionals have a deep knowledge of database technology, and blockchain is a next generation database technology with the potential to decentralize information and processes in all industries," he says.

"Anyone who has worked in IT or enterprise technology should feel confident that their roles will deal with decentralized systems in the future, and that the EU is embracing this new innovative technology," he adds.


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Andrew Williams

Andrew Williams is a freelance journalist based in Cardiff, specializing in business, science and technology. His work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including Physics World, Chemistry World, SpaceNews and Robotics Business Review.

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