Commercial property: Blockchain the ‘perfect’ high-tech fit for industry

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A new collaboration aims to develop blockchain solutions to the data recording problems that can jeopardise complex construction projects.

Edinburgh Napier University is teaming up with newly formed Hypervine following a series of industry scandals which have highlighted the need for strong audit trails for undertaken work.

A blockchain is a growing list of records secured using cryptography and resistant to modification.

The technology can reduce the risk of problems such as documents being lost or actions not followed up.

The university’s new Blockpass Identity Lab uses cutting-edge blockchain research to drive innovation.

Hypervine, based in Glasgow, focuses on digitising construction to improve the reporting and recording of data, enabling companies to adapt to fast-changing economic, environmental and governmental policies.

Professor Bill Buchanan, the lab’s director, said: “The nature of the construction industry is that there are many stakeholders involved, and making sure that each part of the process is working as it should can be difficult.

“A blockchain solution will aim to integrate digital signing into the key parts of the process.”

Liam Bell, the lead blockchain researcher in the lab, said: “The application of blockchain into the construction industry, where strong levels of trust in the process are required, is a natural one.”

The collaboration comes after the sector was criticised following events like the Edinburgh private finance initiative schools crisis and the Grenfell Tower fire in London.

The annual spend due to construction errors is estimated to be around seven times the annual profit of the UK industry.

Paul Duddy, chief executive and founder of Hypervine, said: “Digitising infrastructure, construction and facility maintenance industries through blockchain technologies will yield significant improvements across the sector that will have wide-ranging positive economic and social economic impacts for both private and public sectors. The aim is to help eliminate the kind of problems we have seen in the UK.

“Blockchain technology means you can make the data more reliable and more traceable. It makes it a lot easier for problems to be found.

“It was developed for use in finance but can absolutely be applied to construction, it is a perfect fit.”

He says, however, that the technology is not being adopted in isolation, that something of a revolution is happening. “You have advances such as drone use, 3D printing and telematics. Together all of these will make the industry safer and more efficient.”

Hypervine and the university’s School of Computing were brought together by Interface – which works with businesses to translate their ideas into dynamic briefs for academics.

The collaboration is supported by the Scottish Funding Council’s Innovation Voucher scheme, which Interface administers. Ruth Oliver, business engagement executive at Interface, said: “Hypervine is helping construction companies build faster, safer and more cost-efficiently.

“Exploring how to incorporate secure methods of recording data in complicated supply chains and transactions is a key element of this.”

Duddy says: “We have had some industry engagement already and some companies will understand and lead the way, while others will have to play catch-up.”