Blockchain technology vital in the race to make cities smarter

“Smart cities.” It’s a term you’re likely to hear frequently these days in conversations about urban planning. Governments at every level around the world – and the companies eager to partner with them – are focusing their attention on new technologies that allow them to manage and deliver services more securely and efficiently. For example, the Government of Canada recently launched the Smart Cities Challenge, offering a $50 million grand prize to the municipality with the most innovative ideas for using data and connected technology to address local issues.

Governments and other stakeholders are also discovering that an emerging technology can play a vital role in this race to make cities smarter. “Blockchain” is another word that seems to be popping up everywhere – usually in connection with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Its true capabilities, however, extend far beyond enabling decentralized currencies. Blockchain technology actually has the potential to make many of the systems we rely on more secure, transparent and easily automated – which also happen to be the key objectives of the smart city.

One local company is helping fund and develop the kind of blockchain systems that could be a natural fit for smart cities. The Vanbex Group has been working with clients in blockchain technology since 2013. Originally providing marketing and support services for companies looking to launch initial coin offerings (ICOs), Vanbex has since expanded its suite of services to include building intuitive, easy-to-use smart contract solutions. Etherparty is one such tool: a platform developed by Vanbex that allows users to easily create and manage their own smart contracts on the blockchain. The company has also established Vanbex Ventures to fund promising blockchain startups.

HealthSpace Data, one company in the Vanbex Ventures portfolio, is using blockchain to provide precisely the type of optimized services that smart cities are looking to implement. HealthSpace Data provides inspection, information, communication and data management systems; to date, the company has developed both enterprise and mobile internet apps for over 300 government organizations across North America.

Its cloud platform, for example, offers built-in payments, billing, signature capture and printing abilities, all of which were developed with speed and accuracy in mind. Governments can use HealthSpace Cloud to send permits or receipts by email, eliminating the need for printing, mailing or in-person delivery. Meanwhile, HealthSpace Touch is a suite of native mobile apps that allows inspectors to conduct paperless field inspections via smartphone, tablet or laptop. While blockchain technology is not essential to develop similar platforms and apps, it does offer the advantage of being virtually hack-proof. As more and more data moves to the web as cities get smarter, citizens are also becoming more aware, educated and concerned about the security of their confidential information.

Yet the breadth of products HealthSpace offers covers just a few of the areas where blockchain technology can make a transformative impact. A recent PwC India white paper outlined 11 major areas that blockchain technology could benefit, including land use, energy and waste management and public safety.

According to Vanbex founder Lisa Cheng, smart cities underscore the need for more companies to invest in blockchain technology.

“Smart cities bring with them a host of new opportunities for technology companies. When you consider what smart cities are looking for with respect to their data – things like security, efficiency, resiliency – it’s hard to imagine a technology with more possibilities than blockchain.”

Based in Vancouver, Vanbex has been developing, marketing and investing in blockchain technology solutions for clients since 2013. It is currently the only full-service blockchain consultancy and development firm in the market.