Blockchain, Internet of Things, etc.

How does the “Internet of Things” fit in?

Today approximately 5.5 billion devices are connected to the internet.  Many of them are phones, tablets and computers.  Estimates vary on the expected growth, but numbers point to the possibility of 20 billion devices by 2020.  Many of these devices will be appliances, equipment, vehicles, etc. who equipped with a growing number of sensors will produce an enormous amount of additional data.  The availability of that data and the technologies to interpret it will help improve many processes from Manufacturing, Agriculture, Resource Management, and Security to Retail Experiences, Healthcare, Financial Decisioning and Management, and many more.

One of the hallmarks of our effort is that we try to explain Technology in a way that is easy to understand.  So, we asked a student, Brandon Reed – a Kinesiology junior at CSUMB, who had no prior knowledge of the Internet of Things, to research the topic and create a simple explanation.  Here is the outcome of his efforts:

“Basically, anything and everything can be networked to talk to each other.  There are a lot of things in our homes that could benefit from being a little smarter. A coffee pot linked to my alarm clock would ensure that the coffee is ready when I walk into the kitchen.  A timer can do the trick too, but the timer does not know when I change my alarm clock.  Connected devices exchange that type of information.  We enable the devices through sensors, computer chips, and Wi-fi (or some other form of networking), allowing us to use computer programming to control the devices and have them work together.  Lights and thermostats who can sense your presence in the home, refrigerators and cupboards who keep an inventory of goods and generate a shopping list for you.  In addition to smart homes, there will be the Industrial Internet of Things.  Machines in factories are equipped with sensors, generating data about the production process, the quality of produced goods, the need for maintenance, and much more.  Every step of the industrial process (resource gathering, processing, logistics, manufacturing, assembly) will become much more efficient, intelligent, and autonomous.  The cost of things produced will drop, while the quality increases.”

There are many great resources on the web to learn more about IOT and we encourage you to begin your own journey of discovery.

And what is Blockchain?

After starting the initiative with a focus on AI, then expanding it to include the Internet of Things, I recently traveled on a plane and sat next to a senior manager from IBM.  After explaining ACTION Wisconsin to him, he said: “Don’t forget about blockchain, you would be making a big mistake.”  I had to admit that I did not really get that topic (just like I did not get AI a year ago).  Thankfully one of our core team members found a very basic description on LinkedIn by Jamie Skella, which I am summarizing below.

Blockchain is a technology that allows to record information or a transaction in way that is highly secure.  The nature of that security comes from the fact that each transaction is recorded in many exact duplicate copies of the “record book” or ledger, hence the reference to a distributed ledger.  No single copy can be falsified as it would be noticeable when comparing it back to the other copies, and nobody can access all of the copies at the same time, therefore making it secure.

Potential applications of this technology can be (1) Recording financial transactions between people (in this case even without involving traditional financial institutions because their role as trusted mediator of the transaction is replaced by the secure nature of the technology itself, (2) Facilitating secure voting and recording the outcomes in a way that any recount would create the exact same result, (3) Managing the assessment and payment of Royalties, for example in the music business, (4) Creating a marketplace for trading energy without involving traditional energy providers (e.g. with houses generating energy autonomously and trading surplus and need among each other).   While many applications are in their early stages, the principal idea can be applied to many contexts.  And just as the internet or smartphones once seemed like a fantastic idea and now are a reality, so are the new technologies coming to real life, only in a much shorter cycle of adoption.

A Blockchain Journey of Discovery

One of the great benefits of our grassroots efforts is to meet other experts and passionate individuals.  Heather Sullivan is the associate director of external relations for Marquette University’s College of Business. She and her husband, blockchain expert and Ethereum developer Steven Anderson, had been quietly absorbing information about bitcoin and later blockchain and smart contracts for a few years. After attending the first “Distributed: Health” blockchain hackathon in Nashville in the fall of 2016 and in recognizing the huge disruptive potential of blockchain technology, they returned to Milwaukee wondering if they could locate any innovators in the blockchain space in Wisconsin. Over the next year, Heather put out feelers and began building a grassroots initiative around blockchain and distributed ledger technology.

This fall, in collaboration with faculty and staff from the colleges of Business, Arts and Sciences and Engineering at Marquette, Heather is helping the university take its first step in bringing together a community around this emerging technology via a half-day conference scheduled for Thursday, November 9 from 8 a.m. to Noon at the Weasler Auditorium at Marquette. The purpose of the conference is to discuss the applications of blockchain for industry, government and academia and will bring together regional experts from Wisconsin and Illinois to discuss where the puck is moving. Speakers include Marc West, CTO of Fiserv; Jennifer O’Rourke, Illinois Blockchain Business Liaison and Deputy Director of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology for the State of Illinois; and Lamont Black, Assistant Professor of Finance at DePaul University. There will also be a panel discussion moderated by Dr. David Krause, finance professor and director of Marquette’s Applied Investment Management Program, and featuring panelists including Bob Cornell of Northwestern Mutual, Bill Caraher of von Briesen & Roper, Michael Adam of DocLaunch, Girish Ramachandra of WIPFLI and Derek Urben of Coinigy. Questions about the event and about Marquette’s blockchain initiative can be directed to Heather Sullivan at

Contacts & Resources

View a list of contacts and resources in Wisconsin to get more information.


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