Focus on research: Dr Trevor Clohessy, BiOrbic

Bringing blockchain technology to the bioeconomy
Dr Trevor Clohessy

5 August 2022

Dr Trevor Clohessy is a lecturer in business information systems and transformative technologies at ATU Galway School of Business since September 2018. Dr Clohessy is also an academic collaborator with BiOrbic, Science Foundation Ireland’s national bioeconomy research centre, and a member of the Blockchain Ireland working groups for education, innovation & skills, and start-ups. In this interview, he talks about Industry 4.0, Ireland’s adoption of blockchain, and why collaboration is essential.

Tell us about your academic career to date?

For the past 10 years my research and teaching has been focused on the concept of digital transformation. I completed my PhD at the National University of Galway Ireland in conjunction with the SFI software research centre, Lero. My PhD research focused on the impact of cloud computing technologies on supply chains, and examined how that cloud computing impacted the business models of organisations providing and supplying cloud technologies to customers.

My research into cloud computing provided me with a fundamental understanding of how of how new technologies can impact organisational supply chains and this led me into examining how other technologies could potentially impact supply chains. One technology that caught my eye was called blockchain technology, which I began researching in 2015. At the time not a lot was known about blockchain technologies, and it was mostly associated with the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

In 2018 I moved to the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, which is now known as Atlantic Technological University (ATU) Galway. For the past four years here in the ATU we have been developing blockchain courses in conjunction with conducting blockchain research in the areas of digital transformation, Industry 4.0, agri-tech and the marine industry. I have worked extensively with organisations to help them adopt blockchain technologies and also with the Blockchain Ireland working group for education, skills & innovation for determining a strategy for enhancing blockchain awareness and education.

The project you’re working on is titled ‘Industry 4.0 supply chain blockchain applications’. What role will blockchain play in Industry 4.0?

Supply chains create a natural set of business use cases for blockchain technologies. Industry 4.0 will create a multitude of opportunities for blockchain technologies to be deployed as part of a technology stack. I think the word ‘technology stack’ is important as blockchain is a power technology when used in unison with other emerging technologies such as AI, IoT, automation/robotics, augmented reality and so on. Blockchain is currently being used for product/component/assembly identification which facilitates provenance authentication and enhanced product recalls. For instance, I conducted a study which examined how blockchain could be used by the pharmaceutical industry to track and trace medications. Blockchain will also enhance the security of data and information being shared along supply chains using sophisticated encryption methods.

Blockchain also enables the sharing of real-time data along supply chains which can make supply chains more resilient to global supply chain disruptions that we have seen because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing conflict in the Ukraine. However, we are only at the embryonic stages of determining how and where it can be deployed in Industry 4.0 and bioeconomy settings.

BiOrbic gives researchers access to a thriving research community and opportunities to collaborate with key stakeholders within the bioeconomy.  How important is this aspect of the project?

According to my colleague Prof Graham Heaslip the collaborative aspect of the project is essential. he says collaboration allows for the sharing of ideas; it facilitates working with highly skilled researchers from different backgrounds which leads to better outcomes. It allows the project team to be more productive and more aware of each other’s perspectives, needs, and timelines.

From my own perspective, I wholeheartedly agree with Graham’s sentiments. The ability to collaborate with a research centre such as BiOrbic, who embody a national collaboration of more than 100 researchers, to investigate how blockchain can assist the bioeconomy is really an exciting prospect. I am also really looking forward to exploring how I can add value to their portfolio of flagship research projects.

You worked on one of the first blockchain Irish organisational readiness reports back in 2018. How well do think Ireland has adapted to blockchain in the years since?

I think a lot has been done in the past four years in terms of enhancing awareness and education of advancing knowledge around what blockchain technologies can do, however, think a lot more can be done. For instance, the latest CHAISE Blockchain skills report states that “Blockchain is now accepted internationally as both an emerging technology and emerging skill set. This is reflected in the European Commission’s blockchain strategy.”

As the technology is still developing from the concept to application stage, its labour market impact remains relatively limited. As blockchain technology matures we are going to see more and more courses being developed here in Ireland to cater for this demand in technical and business skills which needed to equip the labour market with the skills that they need to develop blockchain products and services.

Furthermore, I think we will see an enhanced adoption of blockchain technology as part of a technological stack which will incorporate other nascent technologies such as cloud computing, IoT, artificial intelligence, business intelligence and so on. The integration of all these technologies being used cohesively will present individuals, businesses, and public sector organisations with many new value propositions.

One final aspect which will accelerate the adoption of blockchain technology here in Ireland is the decoupling of the technology from cryptocurrencies. Blockchain technologies were originally used to secure the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, however, the technology has a multitude of use cases which can be deployed across Industry 4.0 supply chain settings. I look forward to collaborating with BiOrbic researchers to explore how blockchain technologies can be used in Industry 4.0 settings to assist with the development of a sustainable, circular bioeconomy.

For more on Dr Trevor Clohessy visit his website or join him on LinkedIn:

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