In December, in a first for India, blockchain-enabled letter of credit had facilitated an export shipment between Reliance Industries (RIL) and one of its US-based clients. And now India's richest man and RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani has announced far grander plans to leverage this Distributed Ledger Technology, which rose to prominence as the underlying technology for Bitcoin. "Over the next 12 months, Jio [Reliance Jio Infocomm] will install across India one of the largest blockchain networks in the world with tens of thousands of nodes operational on day one," Ambani announced to shareholders at RIL's 42nd annual general meeting.
For the uninitiated, blockchain solutions is a distributed database that maintains a continuously-growing list of ordered records called blocks and is deemed to be very transparent as all the stakeholders can view progress real time. DLTs allow the recording, sharing and transfer of data or value without the need for a central record keeping as in the case of a traditional ledger. Such records are immutable and non-repudiable.
Recently, an inter-ministerial committee headed by Finance Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg acknowledged that DLTs boast the potential to improve the efficiency and inclusiveness of the financial system as well as transparency in government services for citizens. "The DLT-based systems can be used by banks and other financial firms for processes such as loan-issuance tracking, collateral management, fraud detection and claims management in insurance and reconciliation systems in the securities market," the panel said in its report, while cautioning that scalability, transaction speed, cyber-security and data protection are key technological hurdles along with the issues regarding interoperability and integration into existing financial systems. In addition, there are the many legal and regulatory risks and challenges involved with DLT.
"On the back of Jio's [engineering] talent we are now investing in scaling-up advanced technologies in our country even ahead of the rest of the world," he said. The inherrent risks nothwithstanding, Ambani is convinced that using blockchain, the company can deliver unprecedented security, trust, automation and efficiency to almost any type of transaction, adding that this is a vital capability for India especially for modernising the country's supply chains for agricultural produce and other goods that form the lifeblood of the economy. "And using blockchain, we also have an opportunity to invent a brand-new model for data privacy where Indian data especially customer data is owned and controlled through technology by the Indian people and not by corporates, especially global corporations," said Ambani, adding that "data is wealth" and Indian wealth must remain in India.
Ambani also informed shareholders of a new partnership between Reliance and Microsoft that will facilitate tech-in-business across the country. "Jio and Microsoft have entered into a long-term alliance to accelerate the digital transformation of India to launch new cloud data centres, ensuring more organisations can access the tools and platforms they need to build their own digital capability," he said, adding that part of this alliance, while Jio sets up a network of large world-class datacenters across India, Microsoft will bring in its Azure cloud platform to power them.
"In combining efforts, Jio and Microsoft aim to enhance the adoption of leading technologies like data analytics, AI, cognitive services, blockchain, Internet of Things, and edge computing among small and medium enterprises to make them ready to compete and grow, while helping accelerate technology-led GDP growth in India and driving adoption of next-gen technology solutions at scale," the companies said in a joint-statement on Monday.
At the AGM, Ambani also talked about the $700 billion New Commerce business opportunity that aims to "completely transform the unorganised retail market, which accounts for 90 per cent of India's retail industry". He explained that the company is deploying blockchain, IOT, AI and other new technologies on a pan-India basis to this end. "By removing inefficiencies and value destruction in today's market ecosystem, New Commerce will transfer significant new value to consumers, producers and merchants," he added.
With PTI inputs