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As we look to the future at our country’s prospects for 2020, there is plenty of cause for optimism, despite the slow GDP growth of the past few years. However, I think we all know that we need something to change. Canada’s energy industry is struggling – and it’s not alone. Across our main economic sectors, businesses are facing major challenges from both within and without.

Externally, our resource and manufacturing industries are experiencing an unprecedented level of competition from emerging markets, who have far less stringent regulations and the reduced operating costs that come from lower standards of living. Global economic uncertainty, unpredictable price fluctuations in commodities and shifting markets make our economy even more vulnerable.

Many of our other problems are structural. Internally, some of the qualities that make Canada such a great place to live, like excellent employee protections and environmental regulations, have added enormous operating costs for companies, especially in traditional resource industries. Red tape has been a hot topic lately here in Alberta, but this kind of complexity touches virtually every part of our economy.

We need to optimize at home while becoming more competitive abroad, and I believe that the change we need is technological. I think few Canadians, if the processes were simplified and streamlined, would wish for less safety laws or environmental protections. It’s not mainly the rules themselves, but the cost of following them. Similarly, we don’t want to lower our standards of living – but our companies need t be able to afford our high wages and benefits.

This is why digital transformation is so critical. In my first year as the Executive Director of the Alberta Blockchain Consortium, I’ve worked with a wide spectrum of industry leaders, government agencies and non-profits to explain the benefits of blockchain technologies for accomplishing exactly this objective – keeping our economy strong while not sacrificing the principles that make us who we are.

How can blockchain work to help build a stronger economy?

Over the last year, there have been so many compelling use cases that show its power to reduce operating costs, cut down on bureaucracy and smooth out the challenging relationship between industry and government. Distributed, shared databases with complete verification of information mean big things for business.

The technology can be used to build smart contracts, which are self-executing agreements programed to trigger automatically based on pre-set parameters. This means that the vast numbers of lawyers, accountants and administrators who currently check documents, verify information and resolve frequent disputes in transactions are no longer necessary, which comes with enormous savings in costs and time. In Alberta’s energy industry, smart contracts are a game-changer for complex transactions, and with companies like GuildOne, we’ve become a global leader in this application.

Large and complex supply chain networks, especially in industries like agriculture, have a huge potential economic benefit from blockchain applications. Linking the full value chain from origin to end user, it can be used to give an unalterable record of a product’s journey through the system. In the case of agriculture, instant, secure tracking of data be used to improve consumer safety by dramatically reducing the time it takes to conduct product recalls, or fully verify the organic or grass-fed status of food.

Financial services are being transformed by blockchain technology, where applications like smart contracts and making trading and transactions less expensive and more automated, and new horizons are opening up for creative financial products and new trading markets using digital assets.

Some of the most interesting applications for blockchain are found in the public sector. Health care has massive challenges with large volumes of data that require extensive privacy protections, and different agencies and health providers could use blockchain technologies to easily share data while monitoring access and protecting it from unauthorized changes. When it comes to regulators and reporting agencies, the use of shared blockchain databases can help companies reduce compliance costs and headaches by instantaneously sharing verified information.

However, there are significant challenges to blockchain adoption. It’s a large undertaking for companies to change a major part of their data management, and with this change comes business risk. In the market, there’s a general lack of understanding of what the technology can do, which is why we have such a strong focus on education, events and advocacy. Most of all, companies are unsure of the first step involved when buying into the promise of blockchain – figuring out how to work together.

That’s why consortiums like ours are the foundation of blockchain adoption. The technology’s primary benefits are when it’s used not just within organizations, but across counterparties in transactions, which can include service providers, partners and even regulators and reporting agencies. The Canadian Blockchain Consortium aims to provide this foundation for collaboration, along with the education and advocacy needed to raise awareness of just how important blockchain applications could be in the evolution of our industries like oil & gas, agriculture, financial services and more.

Throughout the next year, we’ll be making a major push to link Alberta’s technology industry to other innovation centres across the country, including Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. We’ll be expanding our focus from resources and energy to valuable applications like fintech, manufacturing and trade. Part of our strategy is to conduct research studies on adoption and perception, create forums and events to bring a diversity of ideas to the table, and explore projects with our industry partners.

There is so much potential for transformation – and the first step is taking action. Over the past several years, blockchain has moved from being a trendy buzzword to a real-world solution with proven benefits. Unity is the key to levering this early-stage technology into a much larger economic impact, and that’s why we believe in the critical value of a national consortium.

The Canadian Blockchain Consortium has a strong mandate of helping our technology grow into an essential part of the strategy to digitize our important national industries and become more efficient, competitive and optimized. As we build this competency, we’ll increase our international prominence and reputation for innovation. The Canadian economy may be stable, but we can do better. Because our goal as a nation is to create a future where we don’t just survive – we thrive.