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Germany to build its own decentralised messaging app on Matrix for healthcare sector

Europe’s growing discomfort with everything from US software telemetry to the CLOUD Act, via the supposed concentration risk implicit in the adoption of US hyperscaler cloud services has not gone unnoticed by most. (Gaia-X is perhaps its greatest, if most inchoate manifestation.) One major beneficiary of this malaise has been Matrix: an open standard for interoperable, decentralised, real-time communication over IP that lets users build decentralised private communication networks, hosted (oh the novelty) on their very own servers.

Matrix has already been something of a quiet triumph in France in particular; where the government has used it as a base for its own customised encrypted messaging application that serves some 5.5 million civil servants. Element, a company set up by Matrix’s founders that offers Matrix hosting as well as its own encrypted app built on Matrix meanwhile in 2020 won a landmark 350,000 seat deal to underpin comms across the German education system. And Matrix itself now cites something in the region of an impressive 35 million users.

Now it looks set to underpin communications across Germany’s healthcare sector as well.

See also — One to Watch #5: Element. Getting to grips with the encrypted messenger provider & Matrix host.

The news came July 21, 2021, with German federal agency gematik — majority-owned by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Health, and responsible for the digital transformation of Germany’s sprawling healthcare sector (think a German NHSX) — creating a “nationwide decentralised private communication network – based on Matrix – to support potentially more than 150,000 healthcare organisations within Germany’s national healthcare system” as Matrix’s team put it.

gematik itself published plans the same day for its own instant messaging standard, the TI-Messenger, to be built on Matrix. In a July 21, 2021 whitepaper, gematik said the “first TI messengers will enable instant messaging on smartphones, tablets and desktops as early as spring 2022”, emphasising in a blog that “the concept of digital ad-hoc communication is also playing an increasingly important role in the healthcare sector.”

(By 1 October 2021, TI-Messenger will initially specify how communication should work in practice between healthcare professionals, Matrix’s noted in a blo, adding that “Physicians will be able to find and communicate with each other via TI-Messenger approved apps – specifications include secure authentication mechanisms with electronic health professional cards (eHBAs), electronic institution cards (SMC-B) and a central FHIR directory. The first compliant apps for HCPs are expected to be licensed by Q2 2022.”)

So why not WhatsApp? Or Slack? Or Teams, et al?

gematik hinted why not in its introduction (Google Translated from German), saying: “Users are currently facing various hurdles including lack of interoperability between messenger providers, partially inadequate protection of sensitive health data, lack of uniform certification as well as lack of uniform requirements for authentication. TI messengers, on the other hand, will set new standards for communication in real time based on the open source messenger protocol of the Matrix.org Foundation. The new communication standard in the TI guaranteed nteroperability – and thus cross-sector and cross-provider exchange, integrity thanks to a high level of out-of-the-box security, end-to-end encryption, and nnovation through continuous development.”

It’s an intriguing move. Matrix expects it to “support potentially more than 150,000 healthcare organisations within Germany’s national healthcare system. It will provide end-to-end encrypted VoIP/Video and messaging for the whole healthcare system, as well as the ability to share healthcare based data, images and files.”

Bring your own device (BYOD) is clearly rapidly becoming Bring Your Own Decentralised E2EE Open Source Communication Network and Build Your Own Messenging Application On Top in a growing number of large public sector institutions across the continent. (We’ll expect to see the trend in a Gartner hype cycle soon…) Both large software providers and investors would be wise to keep an eye on this growing shift towards self-built, decentralised messaging communications: Matrix experts, meanwhile, look set to be in growing demand.

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