Focus on research: Dr Kosala Yapa, Insight

Dr Kosala Yapa, Insight
Dr Kosala Yapa, Insight

Gaining a new level of trust in the public service

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16 November 2020 | 0

Dr Kosala Yapa is based at Insight, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Data Analytics at NUI Galway. In this interview he talks about his work with Dept of Public Expenditure & Reform using blockchain to identify and solve problems in the public service.

Tell you came to be interested in blockchain.

I started my academic journey as a computer science graduate from the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka. Then I received scholarships to read MSc in Information Technology Security from the University of Westminster in London and a PhD in Computer Science from Dublin City University. After completing my PhD, I joined with several multinational companies and universities to work as a software engineer, lecturer, and researcher.

I am a reader of Red Hat Developer news and reports. I read the story Why Red Hat joined the Hyperledger Project in 2016 and was interested in exploring Hyperledger project. Hyperledger is an open source blockchain project for the business from IBM. This project has good documentation for a starter to read and develop prototypes. I started developing several supply chain prototypes and started understanding the strength of Blockchain concepts to build a decentralised, secure, and transparent society.

 

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In 2018 I got an opportunity to join with a blockchain project at the National University of Ireland in Galway under the supervision of Prof John Breslin. He is very well known for high-quality research and innovation. Since then, I have been working on several blockchain projects.

You’ve looked at using Blockchain to authenticate legal documents. How did that project work?

Blockchain technology promises immutability, trust, and transparency of records and reliable access to information. In my opinion, we can use blockchain technology to revolutionise court services. For example, court orders can impose various constraints on people and organisations.

Blockchain technology can develop these constraints providing transparency and reliable access to information for the relevant parties and organisations. This is important within the EU because countries have their own court services, and people have free movement between countries.

Moreover, there are other potential blockchain applications in the court service demesne. For example, preserving the authenticity of court judgements, protecting the chain of custody, providing notary services, automating regulatory validations, protecting intellectual property, etc.

As the first step, I developed a small prototype to record court judgements on a blockchain. The Courts Service of Ireland has online details of courts related activities. I used judgements recorded on courts.ie. Currently, this prototype can record court judgements on a blockchain, view all recorded judgements, and verify the authenticity of judgements. However, I still need to expand this initial prototype for various use cases in the service.

You will be working with the Dept of Public Expenditure & Reform. What attracted you to that department?

Citizens have been calling for more transparency from governments from centuries. On the other hand, blockchain technology promises transparency, security and immutability of records, and reliable access to information. This is an ideal technology to develop public services. Estonia is a very good example as an adopter of distributed ledger technology at the governmental level.

The Irish public sector is focussing on innovation connecting with the latest technologies to enhance public sector services. Here, DPER playing a leading role and I am glad contributing them to investigate transparent and citizen-centric services. I believe this is an excellent direction to show policymakers the potential improvements to public sector services towards citizen-centric developments. This innovation-based approach will help policymakers to develop necessary future policies and legislations without unnecessary delays.

Government departments provide department-centric services. When you need assistance from many government departments, sometimes you may have to give the same information to each one separately. They still do not have inter-department trust sharing methods.

Opening a bank account is another example.  You should provide identity verification, address verification, employment verification, etc., which are already available with different departments. However, blockchain technology can enable trust sharing between departments and organisations so that you may no longer need to provide the same information. Moreover, the update of data is visible to all the departments and organisations so that they can make better decisions based on the most recent data.

Having worked in industry how does it compare to the public sector?

The role I am playing in the public sector has the freedom to think in a broad spectrum of possible developments. I am investigating blockchain-based research and blockchain applications.

The European Blockchain Service Infrastructure (EBSI) and Chinese Blockchain Service Network (BSN) are two major blockchain infrastructure projects other than public blockchains. It is vital to investigate their developments to understand improvements which we can bring to public sector transformation in Ireland. However, in the private sector, mostly we would work in an agile team environment to fulfil small and dedicated tasks.

Do you see any further use cases emerging over here in the near future?

Countries may need to clear their legal barriers to implementing distributed trust and trust sharing between departments and organisations to realise blockchain services. However, Estonia has become the world’s most digital country and the example of using blockchain for public sector services according to a PWC report. 

Estonia’s e-health record system uses blockchain technology to help ensure data integrity and security.  A blockchain-based driving licences made available as an option in South Korea in May and that hits 1 million drivers recently. I hope, EBSI and BSN infrastructure faster realisation of blockchain applications for real use in the coming years.

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