The digital future: thinking beyond yourself

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After a long day of work in the digital future, you finally arrive home. As you walk through the door you smell the aroma of a freshly baked lasagne and see the warm glow of the lights as they’re switched on. You sink into the sofa and are surprised to hear a mellow jazz number automatically start playing. It’s exactly what you need right now: a bit of peace and quiet, since you’re not up to watching an episode of Breaking Bad just yet. So how does your house ‘know’ exactly what you want?

Together, we can achieve more. So think bigger – beyond yourself and your own company. Tim Blankers Enterprise Architect

Digital collaboration

For years, we’ve been hearing promises about the digital future, a world in which the internet connects absolutely everything from cars and coffee-makers to people, pets – even your own doorbell. Even so, things aren’t moving that quickly. So why aren’t these cool things a reality yet? Maybe it’s unrealistic to think they’ll ever happen? I think they will, provided we can be persuaded to think beyond ourselves. To become reality, the digital future needs two crucial ingredients: technology and collaboration. We certainly don’t need to worry about the lightning speed of technological development. Collaboration, on the other hand, relies on security and coordination. We need collaboration to learn quickly from each other and to delegate certain tasks. A digital car, for instance, is only really ‘smart’ if it can communicate with all the other digital vehicles nearby. But who will manage the language used? Will a Tesla soon be able to understand a Volvo? And how do you know for sure that your neighbours aren’t going to be able to use your digital coffee-maker to make their coffee? A digital bank asks itself similar questions, since collaboration can only work if it’s based on trust.

Blockchains and security

So how do we move on from here? ABN AMRO is conducting experiments to further shape the digitally secure bank of the future. Through blockchain technology we aim to digitalise collaboration on a large scale, and in such a way that it not only becomes more efficient but also more secure. After all, blockchains were designed to make it extremely difficult for one party to gain exclusive authority. Through smart contracts, we can fully automate interaction between companies and individuals even in situations where trust has not been established. Data is then shared on a need-to-know basis with explicit permission from the data owner. In the digital future, we’ll work together to use blockchains, APIs, the Internet of Things, smartphones, robots and other technologies to create secure digital ecosystems. These are large networks in which many technologies work together to achieve individual and shared goals. We can then work together to tackle major challenges, from climate change to the automation of your overall home experience.

Ecosystems and coordination

Together, we can achieve more. So think bigger – beyond yourself and your own company. We can and must work together to make new products. Blockchains enable us to create these ecosystems. But until people and computers speak the same language, we won’t get very far. And if no-one keeps to the rules, we won’t gain trust, nor will we manage to bring about collaboration. What’s more, collaboration has to benefit everyone in the ecosystem.

Foundations

That’s why ABN AMRO is working together with customers and other companies in the value chain to lay the foundations for a number of digital ecosystems. An ecosystem needs the following four building blocks in order to function.

  1. Participants – We’ll begin by bringing together all the relevant parties, such as (in the case of housing) estate agents, property advisers, legislators, notaries, land registries, tax authorities and other banks. 
  2. Motivation – All the participants must have individual and shared reasons for participating in the ecosystem, such as a desire to achieve sustainability, efficiency and/or data quality. 
  3. Rules – Rules are needed to ensure that collaboration runs smoothly. They are set down in rules and regulations, and in the form of smart contracts. 
  4. Communication – To understand each other, it’s wise to agree on a common language, such as a real estate taxonomy. This will ensure effective communication, not only between people but also between computers.

Making this happen requires somebody to take the initiative. In my view a bank is perfectly positioned to roll this out since we have the experience, the know-how and the skills required. Moreover, we understand the technology involved and can (help to) build it. Together, we’re on our way to the digital future: a world of sustainable and integrated solutions that will amaze us all.

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