Head of Platform Architecture at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Richard Mander, has shared details of the department’s blockchain Proof of Concept (PoC). While he cited the potential benefits as being substantial, hiring and maintaining experienced staff has been an issue.

Speaking on the Govtech stage at Blockchain Live 2018 in London Wednesday, Mander discussed exactly what stage HMRC are at with its PoC, adding that finding people with the right knowledge and skill set to do this is becoming an issue. They hope to expand the project to host a second node in the near future but need to increase the expertise of their team first to make this an easier task.

Mander also outlined future policy issues that HMRC needs to consider in regards to the PoC, including to what extent they want to be accountable for maintaining the future structure of international trade.

The PoC

HMRC have been trialing the blockchain project as a way of increasing the efficiency of cross-government data sharing. Currently, the government model for potential traders in the UK requires them to register with multiple offices who carry out a series of arduous checks before they can receive authorization. Despite the checks being the same or very similar in content, the government does not have a secure way of sharing the information with one another, hence all departments are required to wasteful carry out exactly the same checks.

Mander detailed that if the trader also requires a specific license for selling or purchasing their goods, this can include more departments such as that of international trade or agriculture which are required to undergo these checks – a costly and time-consuming operation for all parties.

He told the audience, ”If we maintained a ledger of all those checks, the outcome would be recorded and could be shared securely and instantly, a huge efficiency benefit for HMRC.”

Phase one of the single node PoC has involved building a private, permissioned blockchain that holds full details of all of HMRC’s audit events and trade applications, with a ledger storing the audit events, outcomes and checks. It has also used blockchain permissions to limit user access to appropriate records by government employees.

”It has been a very successful first trial, it’s proof of the potential benefit of the technology within HMRC.”

Moving forward

It has, however, created some policy issues within government, including the problem that the department’s security premises is based on the idea of single entity data guardianship. A shared, multi-node environment means this would need to be fundamentally changed.

As well as this, with the blockchain trial being such a success, the question has been raised as to what extent HMRC want to be responsible for maintaining the structure for international trades should they continue to develop and launch the PoC.

”Should we be having aspirations of owning blockchain architecture? Do we want to be held accountable if the movement at Heathrow comes to a halt if our application fails?” Mander asked, throwing out potential issues that such a direction might envoke.

”We proved potential value, but at a technology level, there are questions we can’t answer without broader engagement with policymakers,” he concluded.


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Image Courtesy: Amelia Trapp/ Blockchain Live 2018


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