Is Blockchain Right for Your Agency? Here’s a Quiz to Find Out.


The quiz is part of a step-by-step guide for vendors and agencies looking to bring blockchain to the government.

Federal agencies aren’t always known for being early adopters of emerging technologies, but experts want to make sure government “doesn’t miss the boat” on the distributed ledger system that’s set the tech industry abuzz in recent years.

The American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council published a step-by-step guide for vendors and agencies looking to bring blockchain to the government. Published on Tuesday, the Blockchain Playbook details a five-phased approach that addresses many of the technical, cultural and organizational issues agencies may face when rolling out the new tech.

The guide is “a living document,” which ACT-IAC will update continually to reflect changes in the technology and outside input, said Andrew Vanjani, acting director of the Integrated Award Environment at the General Services Administration, who spearheaded the playbook’s creation. The beta-version only outlines the first three phases: assessment, readiness and selection. Vanjani told Nextgov descriptions of the later phases—implementation and integration—will be added by the end of the year.

The playbook’s goal is to cut through the hype surrounding blockchain and talk about the technology in a practical, no-nonsense way, Vanjani said. The guide not only addresses obstacles facing agencies, he added, but also shows blockchain vendors how to approach government projects.

In recent years, blockchain has become something of a buzzword in tech circles, and while there’s often a tendency to see new technology as the cure to every issue, figuring out whether blockchain is the right answer to the problem agencies are trying to solve is critical.

Anil John, a program manager in the Homeland Security Department’s Science and Technology office, estimates 80 or 90 percent of potential blockchain use cases he sees would be better solved with existing technologies. The assessment section of the playbook demystifies the technology and outlines what aspects of blockchain differentiate it from other tools.

Included in the guide is a nifty quiz to determine whether blockchain is the best fix for a given problem—the higher the score, the better the fit.

Another big challenge of implementing any new technology is determining the scope of the project, which the readiness section of the playbook helps address. When it comes to blockchain, the best approach is starting with small projects that can “fly under the radar” until you get a working product, said Brent Maravilla, a U.S. Digital Service acquisition strategist, at a blockchain forum hosted by ACT-IAC.

“Big buys have more risk—they’re also very visible and you have more people in the agency that want to be a part of that project,” he during a panel. “What that leads to is bureaucracy, which slows you down.”

Federal employees may hesitate to begin experimenting with blockchain because in general, they have few incentives to take risks on new technology, Maravilla said. Still, there are “cultural pockets” within every agency that are willing to take chances, and that’s where those small-scale blockchain projects can find the support they need to succeed, he told Nextgov.

And one those products are up and running, he added, “that’s going to make [leadership] really excited about this technology.”