The ‘ABCD’ of Scaling Up Blockchain in Kerala

ABCD

Thiruvananthapuram: Blockchain came to the notice of world technocrats following the phenomenal rise of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Although Bitcoin was not really welcomed pleasantly or in the same manner in various parts of the world, Blockchain technology which facilitated the distribution of Bitcoin was extricated over the years for legitimate and more meaningful applications.

The main goal of Accelerated Blockchain Competency Development (ABCD) is to ready a pool of full stack Blockchain developers, architects, trainers and researchers

While Blockchain technology has created ripples in various sectors like banking, FinTech and insurance globally, Kerala is gearing for a quantum leap in harnessing the available IT talent.

The country’s first such government initiative, the project is being implemented through the Kerala Development and Innovation Strategic Council (K-DISC), the State’s think-tank mandated to formulate and implement path-breaking plans to create a healthy and conducive ecosystem with the help of new technologies. K-DISC recently launched a major programme to train students in Blockchain technology, providing them with the early-mover advantage in this cutting-edge tech system, which has huge job potential in India and abroad. The Accelerated Blockchain Competency Development (ABCD) will be held in association with IIITM-K and ICT Academy of Kerala (ICTAK) at Technopark. Classes will start in August this year.

“The initiative is aimed at turning Kerala into a national hub for talent in Blockchain and related technologies. It is meant to position the State as the largest supplier of Blockchain technologists. K-DISC has set an ambitious target of producing 25,000 Blockchain technologists in three years. It is expected that over 5,000 certified students can be trained in the first twelve months,” said Dr. K M Abraham, Chairman, K-DISC.

The initiative will help ready a pool of full stack Blockchain developers, architects, trainers and researchers and grab the opportunities arising in the field, going ahead of the curve this time. ABCD programme with two-part certification will have Blockchain Associate programme, Blockchain Developer programme and Blockchain Architect programme. The programme is being developed and delivered by Kerala Blockchain Academy (KBA) which is an advanced R&D wing of IIITM-K. Students will have to certify certain grades for enrolling in the Blockchain Training Programme.

Blockchain Developer programme delivery and certification will be conducted in partnership with Blockchain Education Network (BEN), the international body for Blockchain. Interested students, through an internship programme, can work with KBA and they will be provided with Blockchain Architect certification.

THE BLOCKCHAIN ELITE

While computation technology is closing in on feats like one million encrypted digital transactions per second, shying away from actionable changes happening in the global IT sector could prove to be a zero-sum game for Kerala’s IT sector. Even though immigrant and indigenous technology firms are benchmarking on worldwide tech disruptions, a conscious effort by the State’s policy and decision-making circles to set new standards of R&D in IT could ensure a level playing field for the talent pool in Kerala.

And just in the right direction is Dr. Asharaf S, Associate Professor at Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management – Kerala (IIITM-K) who is leading a geek squad dexterous in Blockchain technology, the new rage in global financial and technology markets. It was under his skillful leadership that Kerala Blockchain Academy (KBA), India’s first Blockchain Academy, was founded in March 2017.

At the outset, the Blockchain R&D facility trained 20 students from IIITM-K in Ethereum and developed several Proofs-of-Concept (PoC). KBA came into the limelight after its Agrochain – a blockchain-based marketplace for farmers won the hackathon organized by Niti Aayog and Profer, a London-based Blockchain startup.

The KBA was founded as a chapter of BEN). Following persistent efforts to draw the attention of movers and shakers in the field, Asharaf and team succeeded in bringing high-profile visitors like Michael Gord – Founder and CEO of MLG Blockchain Consulting and Sathya Peri of the reputed MIT Bitcoin Club, to Kerala.

“We worked on multiple prototypes, demonstrated them to multiple entities, including the State Government. What followed was very surprising. Corporates, including UST Global and Ernst & Young, started coming down to our KBA garage and hired almost all our students. TCS Blockchain Group in Thiruvananthapuram started off operations with our students,” says Asharaf.

‘FIRST MOVER’ ADVANTAGE FOR KERALA

According to Asharaf, Kerala is currently being watched closely by all global stakeholders and beneficiaries of a technology which is disrupting markets and marketplaces on ginormous scales. “We have a huge pool of people who have a background in computer science and if we can reposition, at least say ‘X’ percentage of it into this domain, it can be a potential opportunity as it is an upcoming technology,” he adds.

The two underlying principal goals of Asharaf’s efforts are; one – project Kerala as the next technology destination; two – build KBA as a brand in the technology spectrum of the world.

“We are engaged in dialogue with most of the Blockchain-based corporate and non-corporate entities around the globe. We tell them that our aim is to build capacity and that we can attempt to solve problems, mostly with social relevance. We will build the knowledge here, solve it and hopefully scale it up. And that is the model we want to set and that is why we want the brand to grow,” he says. As an initial step towards that end, KBA got its trademark registered recently. KBA has connected with over 200 volunteers from across the world who continuously serve as resources and work with the academy. The members of the volunteer groups help develop PoCs through Special Interest Groups hosted in encoded platforms. The community as a whole has helped to plug in KBA to open source Blockchain-based computing platforms and tools like Hyperledger and Ethereum. In short, the answer to ‘Why KBA is important to the Blockchain ecosystem?’ is that it is nothing but a repository of large volunteer groups, high-capacity trained resources, knowledge and ambitious PoCs.

Technocrats in Kerala are betting big on disruptive technologies and key players like Asharaf believe that it is important to be consistent with the efforts to stay relevant.

What makes Blockchain a revolution in Kerala is simply the fact that it is housed under IIITM-K, which again is led by a man who is ‘in search of that elusive unicorn’, or that’s how Dr. Saji Gopinath, Director, IIITM-K and CEO of the Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM), likes to put it across.

“Maybe for the first time in the recent past we are going ahead of the trend. In this process, we will ensure that we are moving towards future technologies,” says Dr. Saji Gopinath, who received his PhD from Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.

Having established a formidable Blockchain powerhouse in Kerala, KBA wanted to refine its potential, widening the prospect and making the State the single largest hub of Blockchain in the country. Dr. Saji facilitated a meeting between Dr. K M Abraham, former State Chief Secretary and Chairman of Kerala State Development and Innovation Strategic Council (K-DISC) and Dr. Asharaf S of KBA and Michael Gord, Founder and CEO of MLG Blockchain Consulting, which resulted in formulation of Accelerated Blockchain Competency Development (ABCD) – a scheme to scale up the operations of KBA.

“In order to survive, the State has to regain its ability to export and create manpower. The government has taken the Blockchain opportunity as a challenge and K-DISC is just an instrument in the process,” Abraham said during the launch of the scale-up initiative.

Saji Gopinath underscores the need to approach potential emerging technologies and intervene with an R&D mindset.