Block Gemini: streamlining Vodafone's CCM
Christopher Fernandez was already a serial tech entrepreneur when he founded Block Gemini in 2016. Since then the Dubai-based company never looked back, meeting a growing demand for blockchain implementations particularly in the supply chain and fintech space. “The fact that we are now working with a company like Vodafone on a truly innovative blockchain project is testament to what we’ve been able to achieve in such a short span of time,” he says. Cryptocurrencies like Ether and Bitcoin may have been what got everyone talking about blockchain, but Block Gemini is bullish about its long term potential to disrupt many industries. Enterprises are waking up to this technology and its tremendous operational upside, as shown by Block Gemini's rapid expansion of its operations to Canada, India – and with the support of Tomorrow Street, a joint venture between Vodafone and Luxembourg's national incubator Technoport, to Luxembourg.
Any industry that deals with transactional ecosystems that are tracked and monitored digitally can be greatly improved through the use of blockchain technology. “The project we’re currently deploying for Vodafone, using blockchain and smart contracts to manage complex contractual agreements with their suppliers, is an example of the value that blockchain can create. Of course, managing procurement contracts is not specific to the telecoms industry, but there are many other areas specific to the telecoms industry that can benefit from the use of blockchain.”
In 2020 Block Gemini went into partnership with Vodafone Procurement Company (VPC) to tap distributed ledger technology (DLT) and help Vodafone transform into a digital procurement company. VPC manages a growing portfolio of some 50,000 contracts. Manual processes were time-consuming and vulnerable to human error. Another problem was that VPC and its suppliers maintain multiple versions of the same contracts during the negotiation and reconciliation processes, resulting in longer contract lead-time and value leakages. Block Gemini's solution gives Vodafone a blockchain-based CCM platform that ensures compliance and identifies value leakages in its contracts. It brings transparency and cuts contract lead-times from weeks to minutes.
Over the last two years the collaborative relationship between Block Gemini and Vodafone developed from identifying opportunities with blockchain, to establishing a proof-of-value, building a POC, then a MVP, and on to the pilot stage. “Block Gemini has been supporting the project from its conceptual stage all the way to the deployment and maintenance of the solution. From consulting and advisory to services, to design and development, every aspect of the project has been managed and delivered by our dedicated in-house team - I believe this has been the strongest driver for our continuing partnership with Vodafone on this project. Considering Vodafone’s long term strategy for fully digitising their procurement operation, the project is only in its initial stages and I see Block Gemini bringing a lot of value to the future growth and expansion of this solution across their internal procurement systems.”
Fernandez has a lively appreciation of Vodafone’s welcoming attitude towards a startup like Block Gemini. “They provided a lot of support during our initiation into their supplier ecosystem, and once we were in we were given the chance to prove our capability.” Looking forward, he sees plenty of opportunities for ongoing collaboration. Tomorrow Street will now help Block Gemini to bring its services and expertise to Vodafone's wider circle of enterprise customers.
Blockchain has the power to transform the global telecoms ecosystem, Chris Fernandez concludes: “Take the example of fixed-line leasing services - huge amounts of bandwidth are bought and sold across millions of customers worldwide. These transactions need to be negotiated and settled between many discrete telecoms service providers, and that's a very resource-intensive process. With blockchain, the entire manual settlement could be replaced by a smart contract settled instantaneously!”
Future-tech and IXAfrica: Full Life Cycle Expertise
Future-tech is unique among data centre consultancies for a number of reasons. Not only does the Reading-based firm have high levels of expertise in markets ranging from Helsinki to Johannesburg, but Future-tech offers services across the complete life cycle of a facility.
“We are involved with projects from the initiation to completion,” explains James Wilman, Future-tech’s CEO. “We go from initiation phase - which could mean the site selection process or technical due diligence for a merger or acquisition - all the way through establishing the brief, the various design stages, construction oversight, commissioning, operation, end of life cycle replenishment, and can start right back at the beginning with refurbishment.”
While some factors, like the facility requirements for major tenants, remain the same no matter where you are, Wilman explains that “it's the environmental conditions, construction methodologies, supply chain, and skill sets available in different locations that vary, and that makes this a very interesting job.”
Future-tech was selected by IXAfrica as the life cycle design strategic partner for its hyperscale campus project in Nairobi, Kenya. Wilman explains that, over the past year, Future-tech has been leveraging its strong local knowledge, working closely with Kenyan architects and engineers, and collaborating with both Guy Wilner and Clement Martineau, to help IXAfrica successfully deliver Kenya’s largest hyperscale data centre.
“Future-tech did its first project on the African continent in 2012 in Kenya. I've been involved in the data centre space there for a long time, and have known Guy for a number of years through projects and interaction in Europe,” says Wilman. “As the IXAfrica project came into being, Guy and I spoke about it as he knew that we were already quite familiar with the area. We assisted out with the initial planning and project design, and the relationship really grew from there.”
Wilman adds that the experience helping Future-tech support the IXAfrica project has been hard-won. “It's been a steep learning curve, figuring out how to work in Africa. Some of our earlier projects were quite challenging, but we're fortunate to be at a point now where working throughout the region feels really comfortable,” he explains. “One of the things about Nairobi - which we found out when we were working on our first project in the city back in 2012 - is that, because it's about 1,200 metres above sea level, the altitude actually de-rates the onsite equipment. Having your equipment perform less well because of the altitude can massively impact the whole facility.” Understanding the factors that define a local environment can be the difference between success and disaster for a data centre, and Future-tech’s extensive experience in Kenya is a key supporting factor for IXAfrica’s success in Nairobi.
Wilman has also developed a strong collaborative relationship with Guy and Clement. “We've got over a gigawatt of design projects going through our office at the moment with different clients, which means that we're always learning new things. What is refreshing about working with Guy and Clement is that when we bring them a new idea, they listen to us,” says Wilman. “We've had a good run in Nairobi with IXAfrica built off of a long relationship, and I hope we get to continue working with them on their future projects.”