To the average layman, blockchain technology is synonymous with cryptocurrency and bitcoin – not that even above-average laypeople could likely pass a pop quiz on any of those terms. But Alpha Corporation Market Strategist Andrew Lindsey, who could write and grade that quiz, says it’s dangerous to confuse blockchain with its nefarious currency origins. And when he talks about the technology's promise for the AEC industry, he’s not just at the edge of his seat, he’s leaping out of it.
Since spring, Andrew has been on the steering committee for the Construction Blockchain Consortium (CBC), an extension of University College London. Thus, the aforementioned seat from which he leaps is a front-row chair at the dramatic, disruptive performance of a lifetime: the collaborative convergence of new technologies, STEM leaders, policymakers, and the built environment.
Andrew’s session at the Infrastructure Imperative conference Nov. 13-15 in Cleveland is titled “How Rapidly Changing Technology is Impacting Infrastructure Design and Construction.” Our interview with him this week is but an opening prelude to the exciting, real-life tale that’s unfolding real-time in our industry.
Concrete Construction (CC): Would you mind breaking down blockchain to its simplest definition?
Andrew: It's a digital ledger of transactions between two or more parties that is immutable, tamper-proof, decentralized, and encrypted.
What you often see now in digital communications is a value exchange that reflects a value exchange happening outside the digital landscape. If I make a trade on the stock market, that’s not actually the trade that’s happening – that’s a cue on a digital interface that tells a bank to make that trade.
That’s Web 2.0. And the people who hold the keys to that digital interface now control all the power. You’re seeing that with Google, with Facebook, with Verizon. Whoever controls the data flow controls everything.
CC: How do you help people make the mental separation between blockchain and bitcoin?
Andrew: Using blockchain interchangeably with cryptocurrency and bitcoin is very dangerous. The original use for bitcoin was for nefarious purposes [buying illegal goods or funding illegal activities], so now there’s a thought association that comes with it. That could be the reason the technology is delayed: Decision-makers may see it as a deviance tool rather than a high-utility streamlining tool.
CC: So how exactly can blockchain help streamline building and infrastructure projects?
Andrew: If you want to understand who holds what when and where, you can see a 30,000-foot view of everything that’s happened. It’s all time-stamped, can’t be touched or broken into, and irreversible. That’s the jump off point for construction applications.
In the first level, we’re likely to see the value exchange of the ‘handover’ specifically – handing you my design specs, for example.
One of the easiest ways for a claim to come up is over who held what when and who handed what over when. When you have a very clear snapshot of all of that information, you can see what would happen to claims. You’ll only be interpreting the why rather than the what, which is half the battle.
Also, if you also look at supply chain management, the flow of materials, that is really big. In construction management, if you look at the cost estimating, scheduling, or other project controls, whoever can see what is where best has the best service.
Right now, it’s done off a spreadsheet that says "X is going to arrive here within this timeframe with this level of error." But if you have an immediate, encrypted, and immutable ledger of the flow of items, you can identify exactly what is going to be where, when and you can reflect that in schedules, cost estimates, and, more broadly, phase engineering.
This could be the kicker: If I can tell you better information than a major corporation, give a 100% more accurate snapshot, well now you’ve given the keys to a completely different party.
That’s just Level 1 of this technology!
CC: Will you cover Levels 2, 3, and 4 at Infrastructure Imperative?
Andrew: Yes. When we get to 4, it’s a big but impactful pill to digest, which is exactly what this industry needs.
CC: What are the obstacles blocking blockchain adoption in this industry?
Andrew: Adoption is inevitable, but five things will slow it down:
- Technological innovation. To use this technology at scale, another level of technology is required. The real-time processing power isn’t there yet, but it’s coming.
- Regulation. It’s possible to use the technology independently, but then the value isn't there. The best case for using it is when everybody’s using it.
- Market disruption, the inflection point at which this takes hold. When people say yes, we have to switch over to our neighbor’s technology because they’re the ones that are feeding us financially. And that takes time.
- Education. People must know how to use this thing if they’re going to be using it between parties.
- Social willingness. If people don’t want it they won’t use it. For this to work, multiple parties must commit to its use.
CC: Andrew’s not only passionate and articulate about blockchain’s potency within the built environment – he told us he’s eager to channel the synergies of technology, STEM research leaders, AEC industry leaders, and educators toward one specific problem: the $46 billion gap in U.S. educational infrastructure. He ultimately envisions easier accessibility to resources for all K-12 students. Today, Andrew and his mother, Kate Lindsey, CEO of Alpha Corporation, are focused on their newly created International Education Infrastructure Alliance.
Like blockchain itself, the future good of Andrew’s work is immutable. The opportunity to hear this inspiring thought leader in person should not be missed.