Note: If you are not yet familiar with the concept of Blockchain, take a look at the first article of this series BIM and Blockchain (Part 1): Basics of Blockchain to understand the fundamentals of the theory behind Blockchain.
The digital transformation brings its fresh share of new buzzwords almost every week. The latest (and probably most enigmatic) concept to enter in the BIM World, the Blockchain, might not be as useless as you think. Indeed, once the functioning principle of the Blockchain is laid out, the potential for practical applications is also easier to understand.
By definition, Blockchain enables users whose identity is protected to achieve secure transactions that are approved by a distributed network and stored in a public, decentralized database. If the database is visible for every user of the platform, transactions stocked in the Blockchain are cryptographically protected according to three levels of restriction (private, consortium or public). The flexibility and reliability of the Blockchain with regard to data access control allow a multitude of possible uses in several areas.
Applications of Blockchains
Classical examples of potential practical applications for Blockchains are bank transactions and virtual currency exchange. As a matter of a fact, Blockchain is often associated with the cryptocurrency (virtual money) Bitcoins for one obvious reason: Bitcoins were created from the Blockchain and are one of the oldest and most developed structures of the Blockchain. Further applications are (among others): electronic voting, insurances (policies, claims), health care (record of patient’s medical history), legal and notarial (patent rights, heritage, contracts), etc.
Blocks of the Blockchain contain encoded information, but their very limited capacity does not allow the storage of traditional data exchange files (i.e. PDF, Microsoft Word documents, etc.). Nevertheless, one of the most useful characteristics of the Blockchain is that it allows its users to prove the existence of data without storing the data itself. In this way, a typically written agreement between two parties (such as a contract) can be referred and sealed in the Blockchain. Once the proof of existence of the contract is integrated to the Blockchain, there is absolutely no way to edit any single character of the contract, otherwise it will be automatically invalidated by the Blockchain. Only users possessing the crypto key can trace back to the document.
Blockchain technology constitutes a safe and neutral way to stock data (or proof of the existence of data) but there is another reason why it is completely innovative: the algorithmic nature of the Blockchain supports the execution of computer protocols (smart contracts) containing recorded agreements, without the need of any human intervention. Using conditional programming instructions (if … then…) the Blockchain can verify the presence of prerequisites for the execution of smart contracts.
BIM and Smart contracts
Digitalized construction contracts present many advantages. First of all, following the agreement of the smart contract (and its entry in the Blockchain), terms and conditions of the contract are defined through a numerical protocol which can be linked to (or communicate with) the BIM Model. Digital execution of key steps of the project are recorded and can be transmitted from the BIM Model to the Blockchain, enabling the achievement of various automated actions: launching tendering process, sending payment requests, documentation archiving, controlling model accesses, updating transaction settlements, and much more.
By entrusting the Blockchain to execute smart contracts, professionals of the AEC industry are making a step towards the avoidance of traditional contractual conflicts that are often undermining the trust between collaborators of a same project.
Other applications of the Blockchain for the construction industry
Blockchain and its smart contracts can also be valuable for other innovative topics related to the construction industry. Smart Cities, for instance, can also benefit from the Blockchain. Lately, Dubai collaborated with IBM and released a concrete strategy to foster various applications of Blockchain in the city.
For cyber connected devices (Internet of Things), the Blockchains can present a very interesting potential for the secure management of object-to-object transactions. The Blockchain also has the power to control accesses and authorize communication between smart objects and all data monitored by IoT devices can also be stored in the Blockchain. Furthermore, most IoT devices can’t achieve computational work by themselves but a connection to the Blockchain platform could permit them to reach much higher performance level.
More broadly speaking, the Blockchain enables a better tracking and administration of contractual documentation which cannot be achieved with BIM Models. Raising operational efficiency by digitalizing the storage of contracts in a secure manner is a big step forward for the construction industry. Combined with BIM Models, Blockchain is representing a very powerful and promising tool for the future of the AEC industry.