Blockchain Research Institute seeks to get past NextBlock controversy

Blockchain Research Institute
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The Blockchain Research Institute is trying to move past controvesies around the way it communicated about its proposed faculty — as well as misrepresentations from a company led by one of its co-founders — and focus businesses on how to take strategic advantage of the distributed technology.

Executives from large business and several governments converged in Toronto Wednesday night for one of the first major events by the Blockchain Research Institute, which was co-founded by Don and Alex Tapscott, authors of the book Blockchain Revolution. The timing of the event, however, was overshadowed by revelations in Forbes about NextBlock Global, an initial coin offering (ICO) that was being taken public by Alex Tapscott. Forbes discovered several people listed as advisors in a deck sent to potential NextBlock investors, for example, had either declined or did not confirm their participation.

The Forbes investigation also revealed, meanwhile, that some experts touted as “proposed faculty” by the Blockchain Institute when it launched were also misrepresented.

In his keynote Wednesday night, however, Don Tapscott spoke only vaguely about the controversies to the sold-out audience, and took no questions following his talk.

“My collaboration with Alex was, and continues to be, a vey joyous one,” he said. “We were hoping to hear from Alex tonight, but he’s quite busy addressing some challenges in his own business, NextBlock Global.”

(NextBlock Global recently announced it would no longer go public and would be returning money to investors after CIBC, one of its supporters,  pulled out.)

Instead, Don Tapscott focused his remarks on a different area of trustworthiness: how blockchain could bring confidence to all manner of digital transactions. This includes trade finance, Internet of Things environments and many other areas, he said.

“This is a trust protocol. Trust is native to the medium,” he said.

Besides Tapscott, several other Blockchain Research Institute members discussed their involvement or progress in developing corporate blockchain applications. This included Kevin Humphries, senior vice-president of enterprise infrastructure services at FedEx, who said the technology could do much to address traditional IT concerns around performance, scaleability and stability. At the moment, however, he said his organization is taking baby steps.

“We are at the beginning of our journey. It’s like, Day 2,” he said, adding that initial projects will likely revolve around how blockchain could assist with the ability to audit what happens to a package over the course of being delivered. “You would be surprised how much dispute resolution goes on” in a multi-party supply chain, he said.

Iliana Oris Valiente, managing director and global blockchain leader at consulting firm Accenture, said other industries delving into blockchain outside of financial services include the food sector, which is looking at validating things like whether poultry is free of antibiotics, or automotive firms that want to be able to trace parts in the event of a recall. However she encouraged firms to take a thoughtful, holistic approach as they experiment.

“Often there is this ask from the lager enterprise clients to have a fully baked business case,” she said, including all costs and ROI benefits. “(We say to them), you haven’t even figured out who the other stakeholders are yet.”

Vendors like IBM are not only looking at helping companies make use of blockchain but to transform its own business with the technology, said Jerry Cuomo, an IBM Fellow who is focused on blockchain.

“Customers are asking us to make blockchain real — to get it off the front page and get it onto their systems,” he said.

Firms may need that extra help in part because they are struggling to just bolt blockchain onto their standard processes, added Marley Gray, principal program manager for Azure blockchain engineering at Microsoft.

“LOB heads realize they need to rethink their business model, but they go to their technology heads and it just doesn’t translate,” he said.

Tapscott said the Blockchain Research has more than 75 projects underway, the first results of which will likely be published in May 2018.

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Shane Schick

Shane Schick

Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.