Posted by: Katherine Raleigh
Programme Manager on Thu 01 Mar

Welcome to the latest in a series of brief interviews with guest experts from KnowledgeBrief’s Innovation Programme, providing a window into the experts’ latest ideas and new advice for executives.

Following the Innovation Day in February, Jeanne Meinholt, Head of Research at KnowledgeBrief (KB), interviewed Dr Phil Godsiff (PG) from Surrey Business School to discuss how executives need to be aware of the benefits of blockchain for resilience, flexibility and innovation.

KB: What’s the key business challenge that organisations need to address that your research tackles?

PG: As the world goes “digital”, the landscape – commercial, social, regulatory, and governmental – is changing rapidly. These “exciting times” (to paraphrase the Chinese curse slightly) mean both danger and opportunity. At the Surrey Centre for the Digital Economy (CoDE) based in the Business School at Surrey University, we believe that the keywords in this environment are risk, value and trust. Suppliers and their customers increasingly need to be able to know that goods and services are authentic, genuine, ethically produced, and that the customers’ best interests are paramount. Blockchain technology, a secure distributed record of all transactions in a network, can help deliver some of these necessities through its design qualities of immutability, resilience, flexibility and also help provide innovative solutions.

KB: What advice would you give to executives, based on your findings?

PG: It is important to concentrate on the positives of the blockchain technology, rather than be unduly influenced by the understandable noise about the undesirable uses of cryptocurrency, and the rather extreme fluctuations in cryptocurrency values and the associated possibility of price bubbles and crashes. Some blockchains, particularly the Bitcoin blockchain, can consume enormous amounts of energy, but not all need to. It is the innovative digital technology underlying cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin which should be the real subject of attention. Cryptocurrencies can be seen as research and development for blockchain. The blockchain technology provides immutability, resilience and consistency (and transparency according to its design). This makes it ideal for acting as a record of transactions in long global supply chains where you and your customer may not trust or even be aware of everybody further upstream. A number of companies such as IBM, Maersk and Walmart are trialling blockchain technology in supply chains and are claiming significant cost and time savings. Executives need to be as aware of the potential benefits as they probably are of the risks, and probably need to be at least experimenting in the uses of blockchain technology. So, my advice would be not to ignore it.

KB: How does your latest research approach this? What do the results indicate?

PG: Our research at Surrey covers a multitude of uses for blockchain, from better healthcare diagnostics, through resilient archiving, to secure voting systems. Generally we have found that across the research and development community progress seems to be slower than anticipated a couple of years ago. This is probably due to a number of factors ranging from technical difficulty, issues with cost and scaling still being addressed, and of course overhyping. However, these should not prevent commercial investigation of blockchain possibilities.

KB: What did you learn or take away from meeting with the executives in the KnowledgeBrief Innovation Programmes?

PG: I was very impressed by the enthusiasm and knowledge about blockchain technology. At least one organisation had already successfully trialled blockchain technology and digital solutions in their business, and there was a lively engaged, and constructive debate around benefits and costs. These sorts of discussions are important and valuable in raising awareness and stimulating people to explore the new digital world.

With thanks to Dr. Philip Godsiff, Senior Research Fellow, University of Surrey Business School.

Next month, we will be talking to Dr Christine Unterhitzenberger, Liverpool Business School, on the perception of fairness in the workplace. Find out more here.

Part of a series of brief interviews with expert guests from our Innovation Programmes, we cover insights from the latest research and key advice for executives to stay ahead in management and innovation.

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