Blockchain standards need definition agreement first: Standards Australia

The standards development body has highlighted that the highest priority for blockchain development is getting the terminology right.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Standards Australia has published a Roadmap for Blockchain Standards, determining the industry should first develop blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) terminology standards as a means to clarify definitions in the sector and set a platform for the development of other related standards.

Australia's non-government standards body was charged with managing the secretariat of an international technical committee for the development of blockchain standards by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in September, with 16 ISO member bodies including Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Estonia, Japan, and South Korea also participating in the development of ISO/TC 307 Blockchain and electronic distributed ledger technologies.

Australia will host the first international blockchain standards meeting for ISO/TC 307 in April, with the Roadmap [PDF] aiming to identify the various technical issues associated with developing, governing, and utilising blockchain and DLTs; identify blockchain and DLT use-cases relevant to Australia; and prioritise the order of standards development activities that could be undertaken in the development of blockchain standards by ISO/TC 307, ahead of the meeting.

Blockchain technology, the underlying system that facilitates bitcoin trading, is a shared, distributed ledger that can store the complete transaction history of not just cryptocurrency but other kinds of records as well.

According to Standards Australia, once terminology surrounding blockchain and DLT has been determined, privacy, security, and identity issues can then be collectively addressed through the development of one or a suite of standards under ISO/TC 307.

Governance and risk-related issues should also be addressed by ISO/TC 307 after the foundational standards for blockchain and DLT terminology, Standards Australia said.

"The development of standards for terminology, privacy, security, identity, risk, governance, and other key issues relating to standards paves the way for the later development of a reference architecture standard for blockchain under ISO/TC 307," the report says.

In addition, the standards body said establishing interoperability amongst blockchain systems should be an overarching objective of ISO/TC 307.

"The emergence of new and exciting applications of blockchain and distributed ledger technologies present far-reaching opportunities for Australia and its international partners," said Standards Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans.

"Blockchain has the potential to support efficient and secure real-time transactions across a large number of sectors; from enabling efficient and accurate financial services to providing visibility along the supply chain, and from streamlining government services to delivering confidence in identity accuracy to consumers, blockchain and DLTs have the capacity to revolutionise the way we do business."

In preparing its roadmap, Standards Australia held industry consultations and conducted a survey on just over 100 people from Australian government, industry, academic/research, and consumer organisations. The survey found that 88 percent of respondents suggested that either national standards, international standards, or a mixture of standards and regulation are required to support an appropriate co-regulatory framework for blockchain-related industries.

The respondents highlighted terminology, privacy, governance, interoperability, security, and risk as main issues -- in order from highest priority -- surrounding blockchain that could be addressed through the development of appropriate standards.

Survey respondents also identified financial services and government services as the two sectors with the greatest potential for use of blockchain technologies, Standards Australia said.

In addition, approximately 15 percent of respondents described the application of blockchain in supporting supply chain management as a priority for Australia.

The roadmap also highlighted that the freedom for blockchain developers to be innovative and for vendors to be competitive is critical in blockchain and DLT progression.

Alongside regulation, standards have a role to play in establishing market confidence to support the roll out of blockchain technology, Standards Australia added.

Whilst the technology is still an emerging one, Standards Australia highlighted that its applications can be foreseen across a wide spectrum of sectors: Financial services; consumer products and services; health; government; minerals and precious stones; real estate; the Internet of Things (IoT); and business.

In October, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, in partnership with Wells Fargo and Brighann Cotton, claimed the first interbank trade transaction combining blockchain technology, smart contracts, and the IoT.

The transaction involved a shipment of 88 bales of cotton from Texas, United States to Qingdao, China, with the trade involving a letter of credit being executed through a digital smart contract stored on a private distributed ledger -- using Skuchain's Brackets system.

CBA is not the only organisation in Australia to toy with Blockchain technology. A project using a shared, distributed ledger that can store complete transaction history has almost been completed by the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

The exchange recently said its blockchain initiative is on track for a final decision in the second half of 2017, with the prototype complete and the organisation moving to build an "industrial-strength solution" to use as its equity settlement and clearing platform.

The ASX had announced last June that it was building a new post-trade solution using blockchain technology, asking for market feedback. This followed the ASX enlisting US-based firm Digital Asset at the start of the year to help it develop blockchain solutions for the equity market.

ASX group executive for operations Tim Hogben also said recently that blockchain is ideally suited for securely recording medical health information.

The Sydney Stock Exchange (SSX) similarly announced a project recently that would see it instantly settle trades using blockchain technology with the help of Sydney-based Bit Trade Labs.

Australia's incumbent telco carrier Telstra also announced in September it was experimenting with a combination of blockchain and biometric security for its IoT smart home offerings.

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