OpenCerts is a blockchain-based, open-source platform for issuing and validating tamper-resistant digital academic certificates. Users will not have to worry about any personal information being leaked as academic records of the certificate and personal data are not published on the blockchain. Since a public blockchain is owned by the community and easily accessible by anyone, there is no need to run or maintain services to verify OpenCerts.
The educational digital certificate space is fragmented with many solution providers, each often only operating within their own country. Even within Singapore, there is no clear consensus on which solution would prove to be the most acceptable. The existing solution providers lock certificate holders into using their proprietary platforms, by ensuring that they are the only trusted issuer, verifier, and safe keepers of the certificates.
The team saw an opportunity to develop an open and portable solution that would give students control over their educational certificates. To achieve that, these certificates would have to be developed on an open standard as well as have a low barrier to entry. The outcome of this development would be to enable students to have certificates that they can bring with them on their lifelong learning journey, even if it crosses borders.
The key differentiators of OpenCerts are:
- Fully open source: Educational institutions can easily create digital versions of every academic certificate that has been or will be issued, and publish them on a public ledger.
- Selective disclosure of document contents: Certificate holders can decide which sections they want to show or hide.
- Decentralised with no central authority on issuance: Since these records are made on a public blockchain, they cannot be altered or destroyed by a single person.
- Custom rendering of document: Issuers can customise the look of the certificate, and include multiple views of the same certificate if they wish.
To become an OpenCerts issuer, the institute simply needs to deploy a Document Store smart contract with 1 click, and design a visual template for the certificate. They can then begin to issue credentials for as cheap as US$0.5 per batch of up to 50,000 certificates.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The Singapore Government has never before collaborated with the private sector in a joint venture to develop a digital utility for the commons. This alone is innovative, but in addition to that, the decentralised nature of blockchain is being exploited to lower the barrier to entry as well as decentralise the control of the system.
What is the current status of your innovation?
OpenCerts has rolled out across most of the major educational institutions in Singapore, with plans in progress to have institutions from around the world onboard as well. Having achieved this with OpenCerts, the team was approached to extend the technology to be applied to trade documents. Tradetrust hopes to change the status quo by providing an open platform that is compliant to the UN framework for electronic transactions. On top of the technologies provided by OpenCerts, it extends the ability to track ownership of transferable records. It does this by employing smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain to provide a decentralised and global source of truth to track the ownership of a document. TradeTrust is currently being developed.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) and SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) were key partners in OpenCerts. NP was the pioneer in the project that preceded OpenCerts, and rallied all other Singapore Polytechnics to come onboard after the successful pilot. SSG is the custodian of the OpenCerts consortium, and was involved in the policymaking and funding. For TradeTrust, the Infocomms Media Development Authority (IMDA) provided domain knowledge as well as legal legwork to allow TradeTrust to be legally binding.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Educational institutions can benefit from the cost-savings and reduced amount of time for verifying issued certificates.
Students can easily obtain their certificates, decide which sections they want to share and send them to future employers.
Employers or companies can then also use the platform to easily and quickly check the authenticity of the certificate.
Government officials are empowered to help more citizens when mundane tasks such as manual verification of documents are reduced
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
OpenCerts has been implemented by over 18 local education institutions in Singapore since the MOU signing on May 2019. The technology has been used to verify over 5000 education credentials monthly. This translates to estimated manpower savings of up to 7 man-months per institute.
With more adoption of OpenCerts, especially in the private training sectors, we aim to see more certificates being issued. And with the education of employers and integration with job platforms, we aim to see high levels of certificate verifications.
The initial results of OpenCerts has led to exploratory work for TradeTrust. Even in the early stages, a company has completed a trial for Trafigura and DBS bank to trade USD20 million worth of iron ore from Africa to China.
The next goal is to complete a trial with Netherlands to transfer a bill of lading from Singapore to Netherlands. In addition, we aim to complete the first draft for transferrable records to be published in UN/CEFACT as a standard.
Challenges and Failures
Standardisation: As many standards are being developed in tandem, some standards perform similar functions. This results in a need for standards alignment or managing interoperability between different standards.
Driving Adoption: A growing number of solutions in the space of verifiable certificates means that driving adoption becomes a challenge. However, working with government agencies in Singapore, international government entities and standardisation bodies allows us to quickly achieve buy-ins from both governments and businesses.
Mindset Shifts: People are used to hard copy or PDF documents. We have to educate that while OpenCerts can be printed, they lose all properties when printed. We also have to educate that OpenCerts lose all verifiable properties when saved as PDF files. Plus, most people do not know how to recognise or open an OpenCerts document, and are not aware of its benefits, which may result in interactions falling back to paper or PDF documents.
Conditions for Success
Space for Innovation: In general, it is rare to find truly whitespace innovation in the public sector due to the nature of public sector accountability requirements. This project was successful due to the space given to the team as well as it being a public-private collaboration.
Open Source Development: Open source development was also a key factor in success, as it allowed a small team to build rapidly upon existing software. This resulted in the majority of the effort being spent on innovative development rather than reinventing basic technologies from scratch.
Strong Leadership: Above all, a strong and astute leadership is necessary. In the various projects, we have worked with agencies or consortiums who are invested in the success of the projects, and are experts who are respected in their respective domains.
The initial success of OpenCerts has proven the technology and paved way for other projects within Singapore and outside of Singapore.
1. TradeTrust - A legal and technological framework for the trade industry to create and process trade documentation.
2. Identity Wallet - A mobile app created in collaboration with Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) to store and transfer OpenAttestation documents
3. Seafarer Certifications - An e-certification standards for seafarers.
4. Workpass - A proof-of-concept to create digital identification document for foreign workers in Singapore
1. UN/CEFACT - Standardisation work for trade documents
2. Netherlands - Interoperability trials for sending electronic bills of lading from one country to another.
Starting Small & Fail Early
In the early days of the project the project team has worked on other failed projects while tinkering with blockchain technology. With only a team of 2 and some whitespace fundings, the team is relieved of external pressure to deliver and is allowed to experiment freely and fail early. This allows the team to pivot by dropping the unimportant projects and focusing on solving the problem of unverifiable paper and digital documents.
Finding a niche alone does not make a project successful. The team owes its success to the various partners for different projects. In the early days, we find ourselves surrounded by parties who are into our technology solely because we employ the blockchain. It was only when we found invested partners who have clearly defined problems which we can solve that we see how the different pieces of the puzzle fall in place. One such example was our early partnership with Ngee Ann Polytechnic to solve their problem of spending too much resources to attend to graduated students who are still requesting for verified graduation certificates.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
15 November 2021