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Records Disrupted: Blockchain as a Transformative Force

Authors: Alan Pelz-Sharpe (Deep Analysis) & Steve Weissman (Holly Group)


If records and content management issues such as security, privacy, and compliance seem everlasting, that's because they are! What aren't everlasting though, are the so-called information governance "technologies" we use to bring these matters to heel.

In recent decades, we have cycled through imaging, document management, records management, content management, and endless combinations of the above – only to learn that these, really, are business disciplines, not technical tools.

We have also learned that the effectiveness of these disciplines depend entirely upon best-practices that are so extraordinarily similar as to be essentially identical (e.g., approaches to meta-tagging, etc.). So you would think, that at some point, some new technology would emerge that would enable us to bring these solution stacks together and help us unify our information strategies.

Well guess what? That day is … tomorrow!

Next-Gen Governance, Thy Name is Blockchain

The new technology in question is called blockchain, which actually does exist today and is best known as the engine powering the alternative digital currency Bitcoin. Tomorrow, though, it is likely to utterly transform the way that we approach information security, privacy, compliance, and many of our other infogov bugaboos.

In simple terms, blockchain adds a new, non-repudiable, irreversible, cryptographically-secure block to the chain of custody every time a bit of critical information is touched. (See figure below.)

Fundamentally a peer-to-peer technology, blockchain decentralizes control and verification of the custody chain. This, plus the presence of hashing at its core, eliminates the ability for something to ever be tampered with without being detected.

The Game Will Be Changed – Forever

To be sure, the description presented above is a gross simplification of what blockchain is and how it works. And that's OK, because the point of this piece isn't to dissect the underlying technology, but rather to alert you to the potential it has to disrupt our current methods of protecting, updating, auditing, and reporting on information.

Consider the power blockchain has to upend the way:

  • transportation companies document the content and ownership of that content in their container ships and oil tankers and 18-wheelers
  • law firms ensure the integrity of depositions, courtroom transcripts, and client case files
  • hospitals and medical practices to share and secure patient records
  • public companies to administer shareholder voting

It's true that at least some of these organizations are handling these functions just fine at present, but you can't tell me that they wouldn't jump at the chance to bolster their records management to a level approaching inviolable if given the chance.

Maybe …

And maybe that's the question we should leave off with right now: just how near or far is that chance from where we are today? At present, no one knows, and it will be some time before the eternal issues of economics, technology, and risk are understood well enough to prompt forward motion.

One thing is very clear, however: blockchain is real, it is here to stay, and it will disrupt records and information management as we know them. It may not be for everyone, but how will you know it's not for you if you don't start paying it some attention?

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