"Blockchain is actually all around us already. We use the technology in our daily lives, without realising it,” explains Jan Veuger. On 1 February he will start as professor in Blockchain at the new Saxion research group, which, together with three schools, will develop research and teaching in this new technology. The multidisciplinary combination of three schools and a research group is a novel development at Saxion.
'With this new research group we are going to take a completely new approach. Together with the Schools of Finance & Accounting (FEM), Governance, Law & Urban Development (ABRR) and Creative Technology (ACT), we will approach Blockchain from three different angles. Blockchain is often mistakenly seen as a technology that is only used in the financial world. The technology has a much wider impact,’ argues Jan Veuger.
What role does Blockchain play in our daily lives?
'Blockchain is a system that we use to make all kinds of processes run more smoothly and safely. If you buy an online ticket for a Broadway show or concert, you are already using Blockchain.
An e-ticket in your name entitles you to a seat in the theatre or concert hall. The ticket is provided to you, one- on- one, within a closed system. You cannot trade or exchange your ticket and the theatre cannot sell your seat to someone else. You can compare the principle of Blockchain with the structure of an organisation or network, in which information is exchanged continuously. If I make an arrangement with three people, I already have a system. You can technically ‘cast’ this arrangement into a safe and closed system and then it is called a Blockchain.
There is nothing more to it than that. However, there is still a gap between our perception as a society of how secure Blockchain is and the security that Blockchain actually offers us. This is caused by our unfamiliarity and uneasiness with the new technology. And maybe also by the disruptive nature of Blockchain. The technology is going to overturn a lot of business processes which we have become accustomed to over the years. ‘
Does Blockchain represent an opportunity or a threat to the business sector?
"A huge opportunity. Not only for the business sector, but also for us as consumers.
Anyone who wants to buy a house and applies for a mortgage, is obliged to request, collect and submit a large number of separate documents. This can easily take a couple of weeks to complete. Wouldn’t it be great if you could apply for a mortgage in one go, and that the system can instantly assess whether you are actually eligible for that particular mortgage? Or think of the accountant who, as part of his or her tasks, performs more or less the same type of actions for a company's annual accounts every year. If you were able put those processes in a Blockchain, this would no longer be necessary.
This offers the business sector huge opportunities to assign these type of professionals to other tasks, perhaps at a more strategic or analytical level. This would offer such organisations much more power to innovate. It may take some time to get used to this idea, however.'
Blockchain represents a huge opportunity not only for the business sector, but also for us as consumers.
Is it safe to conclude then that Blockchain has proven itself technologically, but not yet socially?
The question of social acceptance is a relevant point, absolutely. In terms of trust, we still have a ways to go, whereas we are already using the technology. I always say: 'A Tesla cannot be built in one week, so we should allow some time to get used to Blockchain’.
This technology is going to make our lives safer and easier. Closer to home, Saxion could already start building its certification/graduation processes on Blockchain principles, for example the process of exchanging official documents with foreign countries.
When I started doing my PhD at Erasmus University, I had to supply the administrative office with a pile of official documents. All these documents had to be copied and signed off. There must be a safer and faster way of doing this.
What can you tell us about the research agenda of the research group?
We will focus on four research tracks.
In the 'Blockchain for disruption’ track, we investigate what effects the technology will have and what its significance will be. In the 'Blockchain for acceleration' track, we will look into how Blockchain can strengthen and accelerate processes.
The third research track focuses on Blockchain in the financial sector. Think, for example, of Fintech, crowdfunding and the mortgage industry. The fourth track focuses on 'Blockchain for good'. Governance and ethics are the main themes here. How and in which situations do we rely on data?
You were a lecturer in real estate at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. What were your views of Saxion?
‘During the 8.5 years when I worked at Hanze, I was already occupied with the Blockchain phenomenon. I focused on social developments affecting the real estate industry.
A year and a half ago, I published an article on the agile real estate economy and the effect that Blockchain had on the sector. After a presentation in Florida, I was approached by a U.S. publisher to join the editorial committee for a book on Blockchain technology and its applications. Sitting on an editorial committee has been an exciting process. The book will be published shortly.
During this period, I already knew that Saxion had a vacancy in this area and that is how I got into contact with Saxion. I see many opportunities in working together with three schools here at Saxion.'
The way I see it, is that Saxion is looking beyond borders and doing the right things, adopting a down-to-earth attitude. The focus is on spotting opportunities and chances. That appeals to me. I look forward to working together at the interface of education, research and the professional field. I already see many lines of research to explore.
How unique is this Blockchain research group at Saxion?
At other universities of applied sciences, Blockchain is approached indirectly from other disciplines, such as Big Data or Supply Chain theory. Blockchain is part of larger research area. At regular universities, a number of professors also work on Blockchain, but these are mainly explorations within their own professorship.
Saxion is unique in the Netherlands in setting up this Blockchain research group. What is also unique, is that the research group involves a broad range of disciplines within the university. Outside Europe, the technology is developing rapidly. I find it fascinating to contribute to this development in my position as Saxion lecturer.