Rhode Island RFP Has Long List of Uses for Blockchain

Rhode Island officials are looking to the private sector to help them become the first state to implement blockchain technology across multiple agencies, thereby increasing government efficiency in several areas.

Rhode Island has issued a new RFP aimed at exploring the viability of blockchain technology statewide.

Blockchain, for the uninitiated, is a peer-to-peer ledger system where anyone can see other users’ entries. Keyed-in items, however, can’t be altered after submission, which creates a high level of storage, transparency and security. Rhode Island's blockchain RFP is far-reaching, looking to apply the emerging technology to registration and licensing, medical marijuana, records and more, according to the RFP.

Brenna McCabe, director of public affairs for the Department of Administration in Rhode Island, said that this long list of applications is meant to entice more bidders, all of whom are required to submit two proofs of concept for blockchain application. She said state officials did not want to stifle the ingenuity of the industry by limiting the scope of the RFP.

McCabe also noted that the state was motivated to issue this RFP by work being done overseas.

“Rhode Island is one of many states, along with countries, that are working to make it easier to do business,” McCabe said in an email to Government Technology. “In our research, we have seen the use of blockchain technology be introduced and utilized internationally. We’d like to be the first state in the country open to the possibilities of what has happened across the world.”

In a prepared statement, Director of the Department of Business Regulation Liz Tanner said she believes blockchain technology represents the modernization of government and would poise Rhode Island as a leader in bureaucratic efficiency.

"This will encourage blockchain businesses to demonstrate their value to government entities, and I encourage blockchain-based businesses to consider Rhode Island to test blockchain technology within government," Tanner said.

Chief Information Officer Bijay Kumar said in a release the RFP will allow the state to explore what methods might be applicable and how submissions would meet the needs of the listed departments and others.

"I am excited to see the possibilities and to learn more about how this new technology is helping other public and private entities reach new levels of innovation in business, security and other areas," Kumar said.

The proposals will be reviewed by a technical evaluation committee composed of staff from various state agencies, according to the RFP. The initial contract period is estimated to begin Aug. 13 for a time period determined by the winning bid(s), the RFP states.

McCabe said the state is not looking for a certain project, at least not one they can specifically conceive of just yet. She said officials are more interested in the proofs of concept that will be gleaned from submissions.

“There are a lot of variables here, and we’re leaving it open to ensure that we can gain insight into how this new technology can help the state and our customers: Rhode Island taxpayers,” McCabe said. “We see a lot of potential, but until we can dig into these proofs of concept, we can’t really determine what kind of project would be palatable in the future or how we would implement it.”

She said anticipated problems will stem from laws, regulations and licensing structures that would require changes to allow for blockchain use. She said state leaders will have a better idea of what needs to be tweaked once proposals are reviewed.

“Rhode Island sees the opportunities that blockchain offers for the immutable storage of data that could be useful to business,” McCabe said.

The deadline for the RFP is June 21.

Patrick Groves was a staff writer for Government Technology from 2019 to 2020.