Ben Cooper-Woolley, an associate with Arup Digital and blockchain expert, explains how the widespread adoption of blockchain technology will eventually change processes within the architecture, engineering and construction sectors for the better.

What impact will blockchain technology have on the Australian built environment?

Blockchain as a technology simply allows for an open public ledger of transactions. As such, I think the direct impact on the built environment will be increasing transparency in the supply chain particularly for government funded projects.

An example of this is governments maintaining a public ledger of all the information they have about the design of a project, through a Building Information Model (BIM). If a ledger was maintained throughout the lifecycle of a project from initial design, construction, operations and maintenance of who was updating components smart self-executing contracts could be implemented.

Another example would be related to the risks associated with the underground utilities from investigations for major projects. A blockchain ledger would significantly reduce the cost associated with recollecting this information at every stage of the project, or even for multiple projects working it the same area.

A blockchain could record the source of the data, when it was collected, by whom and for what purpose would be a great public utility and have a major impact on the cost and risk associated with major project delivery.

Indirect impacts are much broader. As more people realise the opportunities that community driven initiatives that generate local shared value, as opposed to corporate organisations extracting value from the economy be centralising currency and value, technologies like blockchain have a significant role in facilitating this.

Has this technology been used in Australia in the construction sector previously, and if so, where?

I am not aware of any examples in broad use yet, but the governance for this either needs to be driven top down (client side) to ensure its widespread adoption or bottom up through an application that generates some aspect of shared value for all involved in the supply chain, like how bitcoin has been evolving.

Federal treasurer Scott Morrison says blockchain will deliver "significant productivity, security and efficiency gains" for the Australian economy.” Is this true in your opinion?

Blockchain itself is just a mechanism for maintaining a ledger and increasing transparency of transactions, but if the right policy and governance exist, then absolutely, blockchain can be applied to a range of scenarios to provide broader benefits.

Will blockchain help with sustainability as well as being able to eliminate corruption, waste and modern slavery? If so how?

The decentralised nature of blockchain means that for benefits to be realised all parties involved need to be comfortable having their transactions available for all to see. From this perspective, absolutely, corruption could be reduced as transparency would be increased, but again this relies more on policy, governance and culture then technology as a means to implement these changes.

Can blockchain make things more open and transparent across both government and the construction sectors? If so, how?

I think that government implementing blockchain to bring transparency to transactions is an ideal application of the technology. Most of governments transactions are for public benefit so having a distributed record of these would be a big step forwards both in terms of efficiency and trust across the industry.

This ledger of transactions could also enable a much more trustworthy circular economy to function, with an accurate and verifiable record of how previous materials or objects were previously used, by whom and for what purpose.

What is the connection between blockchain and cryptocurrencies?

Cryptocurrencies are benefitting from the decentralised nature of blockchain by not having a central authority (like a bank) to govern the system and dictate the rules. Blockchain came to fame in 2009 through the implementation for bitcoin, which enabled value to be stored in a way that wasn’t regulated by a central bank but recorded openly through a blockchain.

There are however productivity benefits to using blockchain style systems of distributed databases that don’t necessarily have to be open and public that I’m sure financial institutions and other organisations are looking at primarily for private productivity gains.