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FAYETTEVILLE -- A conference organized by the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville to discuss block-chain technology will be the first of what is planned to be a yearly event for researchers and industry representatives, said Rhonda Syler, associate director of enterprise systems at UA's Sam M. Walton College of Business.

"As far as I'm aware, it's the first of its kind in our state," Syler said of the April 6 event taking place at Fayetteville's Chancellor Hotel.

Along with organizing the conference, UA is seeking approval from university trustees for a new block-chain-focused administrative unit, according to documents presented to university faculty members.

Syler described block-chain as the underlying technology supporting bitcoin and similar efforts to develop what are known as cryptocurrencies.

But the focus of the coming conference is not on the Bitcoin craze and the currency's headline-grabbing appeal to investors, Syler said. Instead, discussions will be about ways businesses can make use of block-chain, which utilizes decentralized computer database technology to create encrypted ledgers of events or transactions.

"Some are still exploring what it is, how it might apply to their organization," Syler said of businesses in Arkansas, while other organizations "are on the leading edge."

An example of block-chain use would be the tracking of a product "from point of origin to final destination," Syler said.

"Every single transaction, every single thing that happens with that product -- that document, whatever it is that's being tracked on the block-chain -- every single transaction is added to the block-chain and you can't change it," Syler said. "There's no disputing who owns it as it moves through the stages of a product being developed or manufactured or transported."

The conference, with a $150 registration fee, is aimed at industry professionals, Syler said. The registration deadline is Friday, with details available at

The event will include participants from what's known as the Enterprise Systems Blockchain Consortium, which includes ArcBest, IBM, J.B. Hunt Transport Inc., Tyson Foods and Walmart.

Syler said the consortium began after UA faculty members in the Department of Information Systems last year reached out to industry to discuss block-chain applications.

In February, UA's faculty senate was notified of plans for the Blockchain Center of Excellence, considered a new unit housed within the J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. Center for Academic Excellence.

"Blockchain technology offers a secure, verifiable way to maintain an encrypted accounting ledger of business transactions across multinational borders," states a document presented to faculty members that lists industries, including health care and banking, that can make use of block-chain technology.

A proposal shared with faculty members describes the center having an industry advisory board and an academic advisory board. A director for the center would answer to a steering committee that includes Walton College dean Matt Waller.

A "target budget" for the center includes receiving $750,000 per year from industry board memberships, industry-sponsored projects and contributions, with expenses estimated at $375,000 yearly, the proposal states.

The proposal describes the center as involving undergraduate and graduate students.

A goal for UA is to train students in uses of the block-chain technology, Syler said.

"We'll be providing students that are going to be skilled and able to work with these companies in the block-chain space," Syler said.

Metro on 03/24/2018

Print Headline: UA plans block-chain technology conference

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