Bringing Blockchain to the Education World with Lev Gonick, the CIO of Arizona State University, and Adam Caplan, the SVP, Emerging Technology at Salesforce

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Blockchain is a technology that can change the way people work, how supply chains run, and, as we learned on this episode of IT Visionaries, how students can take control of their education. We talked to Lev Gonick and Adam Caplan, the CIO of Arizona State University and the SVP, Emerging Technology at Salesforce, respectively, about how the two organizations have joined together to bring blockchain into the world of education.  

Best Advice:

Lev: Strive to thrive with ambiguity.”

Adam: “Focus on less at the beginning. Ask yourself are we solving a problem that matters? Are we really delivering business impact or are we just tinkering? I think in the world of emerging technologies, there’s often an appetite to drive toward hype and fooling around with stuff and it’s like, no, no, no, this is not technology for technology’s sake. …I would say don’t get trapped in that tinkering world and focus on real problems that we can solve.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Bringing blockchain to ASU
  • What makes Salesforce the right blockchain partner
  • Use cases that support blockchain

Lev’s and Adam’s origin stories

Lev has been a university professor for decades, and back in 1993, he took a sabbatical, which is when the Mosaic Browser was introduced. With so much time on his hands, Lev dove into learning Mosaic and he fell in love with the technology. He never looked back after that. He became the CIO of Arizona State University, at which more than 120,000 students are enrolled, including more than 50,000 online students. As CIO, Lev is responsible for end-to-end activities, strategy, security and the  IT vision of the university. 

Adam went to business school in Chicago with dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. After working for a few companies, he found an opportunity to create a consulting firm around Salesforce. Today, he works for Salesforce with a focus on emerging technologies, such as blockchain.

What role is blockchain playing at ASU

Throughout the years, education has been a core part of society. Lev explains that the role of a university is to provide a ticket to opportunity. In today’s world, there is an opportunity to reduce friction around how education and the workforce can develop. The fundamental way to do that is to build more trust among students in order to learn their needs and serve them better. Blockchain came into the picture as a way for students to present a more robust account of all the things they did at university, rather than just telling future employers or schools they want to transfer into the name of their previous institution and what their GPA was. Often, students who are transferring find that their credits get lost because different systems can’t recognize various courses or codes. By using blockchain, you could have a trusted ledger of everything a student has done. This can also extend beyond and before school, including activities such as with the Girl Scouts and other volunteer organizations or workplaces. 

“When you think about the role of universities in our society, I think over hundreds of years we’ve earned the trust that we are a ticket to opportunity, to jobs, to learning and discovery. And the idea is how to take our well-earned trust quotient and figure out how to extend it further and to scale it further. That trust element got me to be thinking about how important it is to reduce the friction and the way the education and workforce development ecosystem works.” –Lev

“The answer to who owns learning is it’s actually the learner, her or himself….One of the things that we are very much working on through the blockchain effort here is to facilitate the inter-organizational capacity to support successful learning.” –Lev

“Part of the objective of working together with Salesforce is to help solve for [the people who don’t finish college] not only in terms of the programs, but reducing the friction that allows people who, when life takes over, not to have to forego dreams, but to find a way to help them accelerate the opportunities to come back to college.” –Lev

Why partner with Salesforce?

Lev explains that partnering with Salesforce was important because Salesforce was able to provide a platform that requires no code or advanced knowledge needed in order to build a system or application that can make a difference. 

“We knew we could launch a blockchain platform and we could go to our customers and say, ‘Hey customers, here’s blockchain technology. It’s easy to use, consume it as you’d like to consume it.” –Adam

The reasons people don’t pursue blockchain

The security of the blockchain is a major sticking point for many people and organizations. They are worried about having all of their information available to anyone who can access the blockchain. In order to address those concerns, Salesforce is working on permission blockchain, which will allow a level of confidentiality to an enterprise using the blockchain.

“One of the big hesitancies to company’s willingness to participate in a network with their suppliers, vendors and customers’ partners is they fear this data will just be out there in the wild. And so we say, ‘Hey, wait a second, we actually can control who has access to the data.’ And this is one of the really innovative things Salesforce is working on.” –Adam

Ethical sourcing as a use case

Adam explains that the focus at Salesforce is always on the end customer and making sure their needs are being met. Recently, there has been an uptick in customers who are trying to learn more about ethical sourcing, which is all about identifying companies that practice moral and ethical means of sourcing products and supplies. Customers want to know where their products came from, what does the workforce look like who were involved in making the product, what are the labor standards and conditions? All these questions, Adam says, can be answered thanks to blockchain and an immutable ledger. 

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Lev Gonick, the CIO of Arizona State University, and Adam Caplan, the SVP, Emerging Technology at Salesforce, stop by IT Visionaries to explain how blockchain is changing the world of education.

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