Singapore looks to boost blockchain capabilities with $8.9M research investment

Funded by National Research Foundation Singapore, the SG$12 million ($8.98 million) blockchain innovation programme hopes to drive the development and commercialisation of blockchain applications, and will rope in 75 industry partners to create 17 related projects.

Singapore has set aside SG$12 million ($8.98 million) to drive the development and commercialisation of blockchain applications as well as boost the local ecosystem. Funded by National Research Foundation Singapore (NRF), the new blockchain innovation programme will engage close to 75 companies to create 17 blockchain projects over three years. 

These would focus on the trade and logistics and supply chain sectors and involve MNCs, large enterprises, and ICT companies, according to a joint statement released Monday by NRF, Enterprise Singapore, and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). The blockchain innovation programme also is supported by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). 

The government agencies noted that blockchain offered several business benefits as it enabled decentralisation and data immutability, and improved security and transparency. The technology, for instance, could facilitate speedier and more efficient transactions between parties and at a lower risk and cost, bypassing the need for intermediaries.

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The mew initiative aimed to facilitate the "development, commercialisation, and adoption" of real-world blockchain applications, by ensuring technology research efforts were aligned with industry needs. 

Dimuto, for instance, has been roped in as part of the new innovation programme to use blockchain to track and trace high-valued perishables, so farmers' credit worthiness could be improved. DImuto is a trade technology service that evangelises "collaborative commerce", enabling the tracing and tracking of business documents as well as goods and services on its platform. 

The new blockchain programme also would work to make blockchain scalable, so it could be deployed in environments with high transaction volumes. In addition, the initiative would drive blockchain interoperability as well as address current challenges related with siloed blockchain networks.

The innovation programme also would aim to boost blockchain skillsets and enable ICT companies to leverage blockchain technologies. 

Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat noted that the government hoped to deepen local capabilities in blockchain, which could enable transactions even in zero-trust environments.  

Speaking at the opening of FinTech Festival here Monday, Heng said: "In the last few years, the blockchain ecosystem in Singapore has grown significantly but there are also known limitations, such as the energy efficiency of processing blockchains and the ability to connect different blockchain systems. 

"[The blockchain innovation programme] is Singapore's first major blockchain research and translation programme. The programme will expand blockchain research to the needs of the industry and will also look into scalability and interoperability of blockchain solutions."

IMDA Chief Executive Lew Chuen Hong also described the initiative as the first major industry-driven blockchain research programme. "Our intent is to proliferate blockchain adoption to a much broader set of industries, beyond just finance. This includes levelling up industry manpower and know-how," Lew said. "These efforts allow Singapore to build a strong blockchain ecosystem and establish our role as a 'trust hub'."

Enterprise Singapore's chairman Peter Ong said the COVID-19 pandemic had underscored the need for trusted and reliable business systems in digital economies, and blockchain could help embed trust in applications, including in logistics and supply chains, trade financing, and digital identities and credentials.

The Singapore government in September said it developed a blockchain-powered "digital health passport" to manage and secure medical records, enabling healthcare data to be stored in a digital wallet. It said the application was used in a pilot in which COVID-19 discharge memos had been verified more than 1.5 million times. 

Banks here also teamed up to develop a digital trade finance registry on blockchain technology, that would serve as a central database from which they could access records of trade transactions. The platform aimed to drive greater transparency and reduce the risk of trade fraud, including duplicate financing. Led by DBS Bank and Standard Chartered, the initiative is supported by 12 other banks including ABN AMRO, ANZ, Deutsche Bank, ICICI, OCBC, and UOB. Singapore-based blockchain technology startup DLTLedgers has been roped in to develop the platform.

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