Working with R3 – a partner’s-eye view: Steve Holt-Bjørnerud, Co-Founder at CertChain

Tell us a little about CertChain and the problem you set out to solve?

Stephen Holt-Bjørnerud: Our mission at CertChain is to provide a safer and more effective built environment. We’re a construction technology company, and we know that the ultimate issue with poor quality in the construction sector is that it can kill people. But if you look down today’s construction industry value chain, there are huge pressures on all participants, resulting in impacts ranging from regulatory fines to huge overruns due to supply chain disruptions. There are also big problems with rework, misrepresentation and fraud.

We’ve created our platform to address these issues, based on four principles:

  1. Is someone competent to carry out the work both as a contractor and a supplier?
  2.  Can you maintain that competency throughout the construction project?
  3. Can we streamline building control and design, and make sure that decisions are visible rather than opaque?
  4. And, most importantly, are the products being used safe and sustainable?

By ensuring the safety, wellbeing and sustainability of the built asset throughout its lifetime, we believe we can create major benefits for the construction sector and everyone living and working in buildings, through a platform that progressively improves quality.

You decided to use DLT as the basis for your platform. Why did you choose DLT?

Stephen Holt-Bjørnerud: Our current core focus and point of market entry is a new regulation in the UK called the Building Safety Act 2022. It was enacted after the Grenfell disaster demonstrated the need for more overseeing of ‘high-risk’ residential buildings. There was also a public inquiry, which produced two main messages. First, after five years they still couldn’t work out who was to blame for the disaster because of the opaque web of decision-making. Second, there should be a ‘golden thread’ of information from the start of planning for a big asset all the way through its occupation to the time it’s demolished.

That golden thread should clearly be digital. In fact, this is mandated in the regulation. So, we at CertChain, decided that what’s needed is a data source that’s immutable, and that would be able to follow every single decision made by multiple parties – from clients to government to construction companies, architecture firms, operators and owners of the buildings and assets – all the way through to the moment that the asset is actually disposed of. Only DLT covers all of these attributes.

…and why specifically R3’s Corda?

Stephen Holt-Bjørnerud: We knew that public blockchain wouldn’t enable full control of who uses the system and accesses the data flowing through it. The platform will need to undertake millions of verifications every day around people, assets and companies. This means data confidentiality is key because it will go into highly sensitive areas like nuclear. When we conducted a market analysis based on these criteria, R3’s Corda emerged as the only viable choice. For us, the real clincher was that we’ve developed a concept called ‘regional networks’ that have authority over different elements of the data. Because Corda works on a need-to-know basis, and we can segregate the verifications, we can also make the platform more sustainable. Therefore, Corda ticked all our main boxes.

You’ve just been through the Ideation and planning process to develop the CertChain solution and turn it into reality. To support and accelerate your progress, you used R3’s QuickStart service. How has that helped?

Stephen Holt-Bjørnerud: I can’t speak highly enough of R3’s QuickStart team. When we explained what we were looking to do, they got it straight away. What we’re doing is highly complex, but the R3 guys used a top-down approach to break it down into easily understandable chunks. They applied a structured business process that walked through our platform’s key features, aspects and needs. And then we were able to work together to transpose those elements into what they actually mean on Corda, zeroing in on how to tackle the problems we need to solve to generate real business benefits.

Within a matter of days, we were able to start turning the business processes into technology, and to begin to actually ideate and develop how the interactions between our off-chain layer, our AI layer, our analysis layer, ingestion, and all other different moving parts – including the front-end of the application – would work. Then we were able to move this all the way down to the different libraries we would need to finally develop the application on Corda. What’s more, it was all super coherent, meaning we could take it to different areas of our business and show them what we were doing. The beauty of it was that we were able to give it to our own developers, and they understood it perfectly.

Looking back, it’s not like we had gone through some complex process and can only ever use R3 because everything’s written in jargon that no-one else understands. The hallmarks throughout the process have been simplicity and clarity. To be honest, we’ve got a few other tech partners that we attempted to do a similar thing with, and it didn’t work quite as well. I think this is quite a unique capability that R3 brings to the table. Overall, working with R3 has been a fantastic experience – and I’ve even learned a lot about DLT myself!

You mentioned you’re working with other tech partners, and we know you’re incorporating technologies like AI alongside DLT to create your solution. How has QuickStart helped you build the bridges you need between the different technologies?

Stephen Holt-Bjørnerud: We’ve basically classified our tech components into either ’on-chain’ on Corda or ‘off-chain’ meaning everything else. We’re using generative AI within the solution to solve various regulatory problems and manage workflows. When we began with R3’s QuickStart, we were wondering how we would integrate our AI layer to assist with the front-end interface, workflows and compliance issues – and then also transpose that into the ‘golden thread’ of our immutable audit log and claims that could potentially exist for 100 years. The QuickStart team put this all together for us really quickly. We realized that it’s just a set of APIs – and as long as we can agree a schema for those, all of the different technologies can coexist very nicely. With R3’s help, we got all of this sorted out within a month.

  • Stephen Holt-Bjørnerud

    Co-Founder at CertChain