Department of Industry stands up Australian Public Service Blockchain Network

The group of public servants are charged with working out why the Australian government should care about blockchain.

The Australian government in February published a National Blockchain Roadmap centred on opportunities across the economy that it believed could be seized and enabled by the use of blockchain technology.

The roadmap contains 12 "signposts", with one seeing the establishment of a group comprised of a bunch of government blockchain users.

Signpost four dictates the group would be created to discuss the learnings from existing government use cases, promote and diffuse these learnings across government, and identify further government use cases.

Speaking at the Digital Transformation Agency's 2020 Digital Summit on Thursday, Chloe White, who is part of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources' Emerging Technologies team, said this group has been focused on continuing to build capability in blockchain within government.

See also: Blockchain: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

"Our goal is really to set up a network to uncover who are the public servants that are interested in blockchain, what are the lessons learned that we can share with each other, how can we empower each other, and make sure that we've got those good information flows," White said.

"The fact that the technology is evolving so quickly, our understanding of it is changing, and there's so many different aspects in blockchain -- having a network to share knowledge with something that is a really a big priority."

The Australian Public Sector (APS) Blockchain Network is a community of practice for blockchain enthusiasts, the department stated. It's open to any APS staff -- federal, state, local -- that are interested in the technology.

White said the network is one of the first signposts the Emerging Technologies team has actioned on.

Elsewhere in the roadmap that the government hopes to execute before the end of 2025 are plans to create definitions for use cases and then to progress work on them. It also hopes to define what blockchain actually is.

"The reason why we use a broad definition that encapsulates what people in the industry would call DLT, or distributed ledgers, and also more narrowly blockchain and other types of technologies in this category is that the technology is evolving so quickly and our collective understanding of what it is and what it can do is still evolving along with the technology itself," White said.

"There was a perception that you could lift a database, transfer it across and dump it in a blockchain, and it would be your new store of data. I think one way in which the industry has moved since the peak of the hype cycle in 2017-18 is that we're no longer thinking about blockchain as a data store necessarily, or primarily, so we're also looking at blockchain as some technology that can give you assurance around some kind of signature or identity or authority so that idea that -- one of the most well-known properties of DLT or blockchain is that it is immutable, thinking about immutability as a service or immutability as a selling point."

The roadmap followed the Digital Transformation Agency giving advice over two years ago to those getting lost in the buzz of blockchain that they should turn their attention elsewhere.

The agency's chief digital officer Peter Alexander previously dunked on its use, adding to the above that "for every use of blockchain you would consider today, there is a better technology -- alternate databases, secure connections, standardised API engagement".

"Blockchain: Interesting technology but early on in its development, it's kind of at the top of a hype cycle," he said.

The government entity has even published a questionnaire for organisations to self-evaluate before bothering with something that can just be stored in a secure database.

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