Blockchain Center of Excellence
Mary Lacity, professor of information systems and director of the Blockchain Center of Excellence, with Paul Cronan, professor of information systems, left, and Zach Steelman, assistant professor of information systems, right.
Established in May of 2018, the Blockchain Center of Excellence in the Sam M. Walton College of Business provides information about blockchain technology to Arkansas business and government leaders and trains students on the commercial and security applications of the emerging technology.
At the center, faculty and students collaborate with local business leaders to establish research partnerships focused on the latest developments in blockchain technology, and students create new applications for startups and established businesses. These academic-industry partnerships disseminate knowledge to the broader business community to accelerate industry adoption of blockchain technology.
The goal of the center is to make the Sam M. Walton College of Business a premier academic leader of blockchain application research and education.
“By now, most people know about Bitcoin and perhaps have heard of blockchain,” said Mary Lacity, professor of information systems and the center’s director. “But do they know what it means? Well, that’s part of our mission, to educate and explain what blockchain is, how the technology works, and then demonstrate its business and social value.”
Blockchain consists of various information technologies that, in unison, create distributed ledgers containing “blocks.” These blocks consist of of shared data, such as records, business transactions, security credentials, alternative currency such as Bitcoin, and many other pieces of information. Secured with cryptography and other tools, these ledgers are distributed across participants in a decentralized network. Transactions on the ledgers are recorded chronologically and exist on a linear chain that does not change over time.
Proponents of blockchain technology assert that it could significantly decreased or perhaps eliminate the need for intermediaries such as bankers, attorneys and various kinds of brokers.
“I am convinced that blockchain technologies could generate trillions of dollars of value, but there are many technical and managerial challenges that need to be addressed first,” said Lacity. “These are also part of our mission. We want to help our students and industry partners address these issues to deliver real business and social value.”
The center hosts an annual conference to educate the public and share expertise and new information with the business community. Workshops with the center’s executive advisory board members throughout the year help Walton College conceive topics for white papers. The Student Hackathon is a fun event at which the center’s board members and industry partners pitch use cases to students. These cases become the students’ team projects in graduate and undergraduate courses.