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The role of blockchain in information governance

While blockchain got its start as the foundation for different cryptocurrencies, it can also be beneficial in content management. Here's how it works.

Blockchain has gained much traction in the world of content services in the last few years, with many vendors putting forth blockchain products, prototypes and other services to show how they are on the cutting edge of this latest trend. But how realistic is the use of blockchain?

Blockchain is quite successful as the foundation for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The country of Estonia uses blockchain to provide electronic health records as part of its Keyless Signature Infrastructure. In the U.S., the state of Delaware permits corporations to use blockchain to create, maintain and communicate information. This includes sharing stock ledgers, account books and meeting minutes.

These are a few positive examples in the sea of hype. However, the more important question remains: Can blockchain address information governance needs?

Using blockchain to audit shared content

Today, businesses are finding success with a federated content approach using content services. They are building applications that call content services without consumers' knowledge of which underlying system the content resides. Within an organization, it is possible to access the content across different content services platforms (CSPs) using a single set of content services.

However, content exists outside the control of a business. For instance, government embassies, immigration agencies and law enforcement organizations act upon visa applications at different stages of a visa process. Each organization has its own system for tracking visa applications, and each needs access to the latest information at all times.

Similar multi-organization interactions occur in healthcare as patients move between different providers. Each provider adds content to the patient's record creating a complete medical history. The need for instant access to the latest content can have a life-or-death impact.

Distributed content services model
This illustrates a distributed content services model with common auditing blockchain.

In both of those scenarios, blockchain can store a common audit trail between the different groups to verify the validity of content throughout the process. Each group can use the virtual ledger kept in the audit blockchain to know which organization has the most current copies of the records for retrieval. It also serves as a check to ensure that the content and information in the record are not corrupted.

The creation of a single content services interface for content, regardless of the source, allows for the insertion of advanced technology such as blockchain and enables consistent auditing across all processes.

The more distributed a business's content and the more regulated the industry, the more important it is to look at blockchain.

Providing irrefutable evidence

When dealing with E-discovery requests, it is easy to respond with email messages, but volume is the challenge. The authenticity and history of each email is clear -- people create and share email from within the same system, and all the proof exists in one place.

Proving the same history is more challenging for content. People create documents in one system and store them in other systems, and many users download and share that same content via email or other channels. Finding information is a challenge that CSPs address by returning the correct content where it resides, even when that location has changed.

Verifying content authenticity is still a challenge. Multiple CSPs exist, all with their own auditing processes. The audits typically don't track what changed, just that someone made a change. Complicating the verification process is that CSPs store audit logs in a database lacking adequate security protocols.

Blockchain example
This figure illustrates auditing blockchain built around an individual's medical record.

Blockchain addresses the challenge of creating an immutable record of an audit trail. As disparate systems make requests, the CSP creates a full record of the action as a new block to the blockchain. Each block stores the verified identity of the person performing the action, key identifying metadata about the content, the change made and a fingerprint of the content. The system encrypts the resulting block of information and adds it to the blockchain.

When businesses make content available to external parties, there is a critical need for a trustworthy content record. When businesses share content, each organization adds every action to the blockchain. The result is a complete history of the actions taken.

Can blockchain help your business?

The more distributed a business's content and the more regulated the industry, the more important it is to look at blockchain. Organizations should work with existing vendors to understand where they are investing and determine if their direction matches business needs.

Gartner predicts that blockchain will add $360 billion in business value by 2026. By 2030, that value will increase rapidly to more than $3.1 trillion. It is important to begin working with blockchain today before the rapid growth cycle begins. Businesses that take advantage of blockchain technology today will be in position to capitalize on the gains when blockchain becomes part of the default infrastructure.

Start now or forever hold your peace

Keep in mind that blockchain technologies outside of the realm of digital currencies are still immature – CSPs and partners that offer this technology do not offer full blockchain capabilities. There are some viable blockchain-based products in the marketplace, but it is too early to identify which vendors and ecosystems will prevail.

Businesses that have a mature content services environment should begin by piloting blockchain as enhancements to the current CSP and map how it delivers value compared to alternate products available today. Organizations that begin using blockchain for information governance today will be able to drive the standards of tomorrow.

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