INSEAD, the European Institute of Business Administration with campuses in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, has just introduced blockchain to their business studies with the appointment of Don Tapscott, a leading authority on the digital age, as Adjunct Professor. The graduate school has also signed a partnership with The Blockchain Research Institute (BRI).  

The INSEAD–BRI partnership will advance research on the evolving blockchain technology and its impact on business and society, and prepare future business leaders to tap into the potential of this exciting emerging technology.

Smart Investor had the opportunity to ask Tapscott to talk a little further about how blockchain will revolutionise businesses.

Smart Investor (SI): Can you give a quick lesson on blockchain, its applications and the industries that require it most urgently?

Don Tapscott (DT): Blockchain represents nothing less than the second era of the internet. The difference is that the first era was defined by a system that enabled the exchange of information while the second era is founded on an “Internet of Value”, where anything of value can be exchanged digitally without the need for big intermediaries.

Blockchain enables that by creating a vast network of computers, all working to verify transactions on a ledger. Using cryptography and some clever code, blockchain enables you to transact digitally, peer-to-peer.

Just like the internet, this is going to transform every industry. That said, these are the early stages, and right now I think the majority of innovation is concentrated in financial services and supply chain management.

SI: Blockchain is usually associated with cryptocurrencies. Why is that so and what are the uses of blockchain beyond cryptocurrency? Can you also explain Smart Contracts? 

DT: Blockchain is the underlying technology behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Bitcoin is to blockchain as email is to the internet. It’s the first big application, and it’s still one of the most important foundations of the technology, but there are many more applications for blockchain beyond cryptoassets. Think of the ways our global supply chains could be transformed if everyone on that chain worked on a single digital ledger.

Like I said, anything of value can be put on a blockchain. It’s transforming the way we collect and share, not just money, but stocks, intellectual property, votes, carbon credits, or even data. It can also support something called “smart contracts,” which are self-executing digital contracts.

SI: Blockchain is an emerging technology that is constantly evolving. What is BRI researching to keep up and predict what is going to happen tomorrow?

DT: The BRI is conducting the definitive study into blockchain’s impact on business and society. We have about 80 in-depth research projects, which focuses on 10 specific sectors: energy, financial services, government, healthcare, manufacturing, media, retail, resources, technology and telecommunications.

We also conduct research into the ways blockchain is going to affect the overall management of organsations across all industries. We have research into blockchain’s impact on the Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and so-on, all across the C-suite. It’s a hugely comprehensive research agenda, but a technology like this demands it. There’s just so much going on in this space that requires study!

SI: Most businesses have already invested in traditional technologies such as having their own computer network and servers. What is going to happen to these older systems and what will be the cost of implementing blockchain technology?

Blockchain is in its early stages. If we’re comparing it to the timeline of the first era of the internet, this is 1995 in blockchain technology. So, while it is absolutely vital to get ahead of this, there is also time to make sure your existing infrastructure and management is prepared. Planning is going to be crucial.

The key thing to remember is that blockchain is a team sport. While your company may have its own network and servers, with blockchain, the key will be participating in new consortiums of organisations. You’ll have to work alongside competitors to establish governance standards, and determine from there the IT infrastructure needs of your organisation.

SI: How will INSEAD-BRI bring blockchain to Business Education?

DT: This is a really great partnership we recently formed. I recently became a Professor at INSEAD, and alongside the BRI, we’re working together to develop the definitive Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on blockchain to help leaders understand this technology and how best to strategise around it. We’re hoping to see tens of thousands of students all around the world using this resource to help accelerate the blockchain revolution.

The key is to help these students understand enough about the mechanics and principles of blockchain to truly grasp its strategic potential. Once we have established that baseline of knowledge, then we can start to discuss the innumerable ways this technology is going to impact various processes and management strategies. Our focus is going to be on the enterprise and on blockchain strategy, which is entirely unique.

Working with INSEAD was a no-brainer. They’re consistently ranked among the top three business schools worldwide, and they bring an international focus which is so consistent with blockchain.

It’s an exciting project, so keep your eye out!