Episode 3

Does the blockchain have anything to offer the records and governance field? | Anthony Woodward & Kris Brown, RecordPoint

Can blockchain improve records management and information governance? Anthony and Kris discuss the proposal, and whether the tech and the userbase are ready.

In this one-on-one episode, Anthony and Kris discuss the concept of using the blockchain for records management and information governance, an idea that has gotten a lot of attention in the industry and has come up in customer conversations following the publication of an article by analyst firm Deep Analysis.

They also discuss:

  • Whether the use-cases make sense, the technology is ready, and whether the real challenge is convincing a broad enough userbase to adopt it.
  • The technology’s potential use-cases like confirming land sales, university degrees, and ID verification at “nightclubs”.  
  • As little about cryptocurrency as possible, with no mention of the phrase “non-fungible token.”


Links

  • Deep Analysis - Records Management & Blockchain.
  • Wired - blockchain explainer
  • Solid - homepage
  • Resources:

    🎧 FILED S01:E11: Automating ugly freight in an evolving world | Cate Hull, Freight Exchange

    🎧 FILED S01:E01: AI perspectives from a records commissioner | Pauline Toole, City of New York  

    📨 FILED Newsletter: ChatGPT: Is this popular new technology a threat to data privacy?

    📨 FILED Newsletter: Generative AI will offer up identifiable data if you ask nicely

    Transcript

    Anthony Woodward  

    Hi everybody. Welcome to FILED. FILED is a monthly conversation about the convergence of data privacy, data security, data regulations, records and governance. I'm Anthony Woodward, who's the CEO of RecordPoint. And with me today I have my FILED co-host, Kris Brown. Kris is the VP of Product here at RecordPoint.

    Anthony Woodward  

    Today, Kris, we put together a pretty interesting topic around blockchain. Something that's come up with a lot of discussions with customers in partners, and I know you and I have been having, having a real discourse around it. I know recently both of us came across an article that’s been out on the internet for a little bit by the crew out at Deep Analysis really riding around blockchain and some of the usage of blockchain.

    Anthony Woodward  

    What are you seeing out there?  

    Kris Brown  

    Yeah, look, it's interesting. Obviously tie to blockchain generally is all about crypto, but this article was positing that, you know, can this be the next generational change or the next big thing as it relates to records. I'm actually interested to understand that in the sense that what additional value is it giving over and above what we already do?

    Kris Brown  

    It's, it's an interesting space as it relates to, using that technology that is blockchain, you know, a, a distributed database. It's transparent, it's verifiable.  

    Anthony Woodward  

    Is it worth the audience potentially even defining that? You and I were having this debate as well around what actually is blockchain before we even talk about the context of record keeping, you know, as you say, this, This decentralized distributed ledger across a whole bunch of different servers and then debating, well, well, what is the providence?

    Anthony Woodward  

    You know, how does that prove the digital asset? And the great thing about a blockchain is it's storing that cryptographic hash as a data reference check, but it doesn't actually have the record in it, right? It just has the signature that's associated with the record in that cryptographic hash. So, you know, as that, that come together.

    Kris Brown  

    Yeah. And, and I think you're making the point there that, that, at the end of the day, what does that actually give the organization, the citizen, the resident, as it relates to more immutability? The, the, the idea as a, as a cryptocurrency that I can know that a transaction occurred is, is important and I can verify it and I know how much.

    Kris Brown  

    That I have in terms of maybe a Bitcoin or something along those lines, but the act of, “I have a record, I have a, a land title,” is a good example, right? Like something that you might wanna verify if you were buying. It's like, well, is this the land title that I'm buying? Is it verified that this is the owner?

    Kris Brown But in actual fact, if there's a single entity that I can only collect those land titles and verify from anyway, and it's a, a government regulatory agency. Do I necessarily need to then add on top of that blockchain? Is it giving me any additional value as a consumer, a property buyer, for example? That's the interesting piece.

    Kris Brown  

    Like why would I want to independently verify a land title outside of a purchase?  

    Anthony Woodward  

    I mean, I think those applications make sense for the blockchain, for keeping information that you're talking about in these very structured transactional things. So, you know, civil certification, things like birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates that, that need to be referenced in some way.

    Anthony Woodward  

    And look, those things that a generally have. Some sort of number on them that can be validated. The chain is another way of storing that validation and creating immutability for that certificate. But that's a very particular type of record, right? It is that certificate red and maybe it goes further. It applies to, you know, your university degree, the educational institution issuing that certificate.

    Anthony Woodward  

    But it's those kind of scenarios where the blockchain's kind of in use at the moment. I think there's a great case study that we can, we can add as a, a reference into. This edition of FILED, you know, from PWC around what Estonia has been doing around how they're using the blockchain for civil certification.

    Anthony Woodward  

    But when it comes to true records, I think that's only a very small amount of the corpus a traditional organization would have.  

    Kris Brown  

    That's kind of that piece where there's a lot of hype around, oh, well, blockchain's gonna be the next big thing in, in the, the record space. But we are really talking about very specific use cases there.

    Kris Brown  

    I, I love the idea of I can have a blockchain verifiable version of my university degree, and therefore I could, you know, share it with any potential employer potential speaking event or others just to prove the validity of my claim. However, that starts with the immutability of the source. So, for those who are in that chain, you would have to trust that the university is constantly producing certificates that are valid, and they'd need to be able to prove those.

    Kris Brown  

    And I think that comes back to that piece that we were talking about with, with every record. Is that really necessary? A rec, a traditional record system today in a court of law. Effectively acts as the diary, if you will, for that record, providing that providence, this is when we captured it. These are the times that we made these changes.

    Kris Brown  

    This system can prove that that particular version of the record has not been changed over that period. And if I represent that in the court of law, am I adding any additional value to that by saying, Owen, here is, its proof in the blockchain that we have those records because ultimately, You still need to believe that I, when I put it into the blockchain, put that document in its original state into that certified state.

    Kris Brown  

    The proof is no more or no less  

    Anthony Woodward  

    To take the counterpoint argument to some extent, because the chain is distributed, you can have a higher trust in the proof because the proof doesn't just live in one place. Therefore, it can be validated across those different places. The issue though is now that you've stored that in an encrypted form, in many places, the data is now in many places.

    Anthony Woodward  

    So, you know, one of the core tenants of record keeping is that we try to keep copies to a minimum, because the more copies there are, the harder it is to manage that, that object, at least as the record in inverted commerce. I don't know if you've seen in your conversations with people, it becomes a quite a, a difficult conversation when you start to talk about providence of a thing that is striped across many servers and where therefore the record is at a point in time on the chain across these different encrypted endpoints.

    Kris Brown  

    I think that it's interesting and the article pointed it out that, you know, everybody had their own opinion depending on where they sit, right? If, if they're sitting in it potentially like, well, you know what, then, then our data's leaving our network. And yes, it's encrypted, but there is still the potential for A hack at the end of the day.

    Kris Brown  

    Is it safer on the chain? Encrypted with a key than, say, in my own environment, encrypted at rest? You, there's a firewall between me and, and that environment. The destruction and disposal. How do you guarantee across that chain that the file. And the hash isn't able to be discovered elsewhere upon, you know, reaching the end of its life cycle, for example, might be a really, really interesting piece.

    Kris Brown  

    And I'm sure, you know, you can destroy the hash and therefore you can destroy the, the opposite key. And there's all, all of those technological pieces that might actually actively destroy in place or time bomb per se. But I think that if I'm a customer and I'm worried about records, am I. The first thing they talk about is today already is, is that security and where is that information?

    Kris Brown  

    Who's moving it? Who's got access? And while yes, it's encrypted at rest, it's like, well, but who, how do I know that that still can't be gathered and, and taken away? So, if something lived across a peer-to-peer environment forever. How do we guarantee that it's been destroyed and no longer discoverable, is probably the big one that comes up.

    Anthony Woodward  

    Yeah, it's a great point. You know, the, it's all very well for it to be highly immutable and not therefore changeable, but if it's not removable in terms of that immutable, that becomes a, a barrier to, to the use. One of the things that people talk about, I think again, was in that paper, was around the ability for the chain to, in effect handle.

    Anthony Woodward  

    The tracking of, of Providence, so you know who did what when, and those processes, which obviously helps in the different scenarios of protecting data and managing the access to data. But again, the problem then in the chain is the speed at which it can do it. You know, one of the things I know we are discussing is the speed of the blockchain.

    Anthony Woodward  

    It's not very fast, is it?  

    Kris Brown  

    No, it isn't. And, and there's already a number of trials, you know, especially as it looks to like the, the food chain and for example you know, diamonds coming from conflict zones. And if you start to think about, well, it's still distributed computing, it's still peer-to-peer network.

    Kris Brown  

    Someone's still got to be paying for this and it's not owned by one individual. Their need to process this at a pace versus your need, who, how do you pay for it? How do you ensure that scalability is, is a real interesting thing. As I said, blockchain processing is, you know, quite slow. But imagine if every single transaction globally, you know, like we have, for example, for Visa and MasterCard, all of a sudden had to use that same process.

    Kris Brown  

    We, you know, we grind to a halt. So, it's almost, we're both EV owners and it's. A little bit of the argument around, well, what happens when all of us have electric cars and the gas stations, you know, I've only got five charges, and it's effectively the same argument, is that, you know, the technology itself probably isn't ready for even a, a large organization's ability to say every transaction, every single change, every single document, and then distributed globally.

    Anthony Woodward  

    When you start to think about the explosion of that and the technology and the standards that sit behind it, it really brings in some concerns around privacy, right? Because one of the things around privacy is the designation of ownership. So, who owns my identity and who owns the use of that identity?

    Anthony Woodward  

    Transitions over time. But if that is not reflected in the blockchain, even though at the time I gave someone the key to use my identity or use something associated with what, as a personally identifiable piece of information, how that then gets scrubbed or is processed as a technology standard. Now, these are no doubt solvable things in the future, but it’s not currently truly solved.

    Anthony Woodward  

    So, how therefore do you have privacy control and understanding some of those privacy dilemmas within the design of that blockchain and using the current technology we have has some real limitations today, possibly something solved in the future but not solved today.  

    Kris Brown  

    No. And I think one of the other ones there is literally that, that human element, the public trust.

    Kris Brown  

    So, okay, let's imagine we solve those problems. As you've just mentioned, I have the ability to scrub. If I'm now supporting multiple ways to do this, you know, who at what point in time does all of the organization or all of the customer base, or all of the citizenship trust in? So, I know in the Estonia case, you know, it's, they were effectively, the government said, you know, this is how we're going to do it now.

    Kris Brown  

    And they were all able to come on that one way. But if you're going to support both, what advantage are you providing? Because ultimately there's still a separate way to collect this information, which isn't on the blockchain. And yes, they could duplicate that effort while they're doing it so that, you know, they can perform the act of the customer or perform the act of that untrusted entity.

    Kris Brown  

    But again, if I, if I have to as an organization, keep it both ways, I'll probably just stick with the one that everybody already trusts. So, there is that element of how do you, how do you make that leap of faith almost from, you know, I'm happy that this solution has my private data, and I am comfortable that from here on in I will always transition.

    Kris Brown  

    I remember, and it, you know, it's mostly irrelevant, but. But it makes the point of the, the trust element of the Australia card, if you will, right. The, that, that, that one citizen card, that would be, that would rule them all. It would be the ability for us to sort of identify ourselves universally across any government agency.

    Anthony Woodward  

    Kris is really showing his age here. Wow. I dunno what you speak of this “Australia card.” Is that in the eighties?  

    Kris Brown  

    But it was a wholesale pushback because it's like, well, no, no, I. Don't trust that and unless we all do it, there was a very little advantage for the effort to be put in to support it, and rightly so.

    Kris Brown  

    Lots of concerns. And, you know, no blockchain to support that data at the time it would've, data would've been kept. You know, who, who knows how. But that public trust element is, is a real key to the implementation of a technology like this where data goes beyond the limit of things that I can control.

    Anthony Woodward  

    Now, I think there are some pros when we talk about the blockchain in this context. The one thing it's very good at is creating a series of transactions that prove the evidence trail. So, if we really wanna look at accuracy, reliability, and authenticity. The blockchain's very good at that. However, for the amount of compute and the other processes that are required for the blockchain to run, there are other technologies that can do that, aren't there?

    Kris Brown  

    Yeah. Look, ultimately the same technology that blockchain's built on that, you know, public-private key pair ultimately allows me to sign a document with another trust, identity and hand you. That key to, to verify that, you know, at a point in time that that happened and it, the record systems that are in place today will have those audit trails.

    Kris Brown  

    There are, there are lots and lots of, yeah. Not even highly technical solutions to these problems today that don't require the cost and the compute, the distributed nature, the, the networking always online nature. Of these things that allow us to, you know, to verify and, and you know, some are as rudimentary as some of the things that are on our, you know, cash today.

    Kris Brown  

    That be it, you know, security markings or, you know, particular colored threads or inks. There, there's lots of other technologies that ensure the verifiability without needing to go to the blockchain.  

    Anthony Woodward  

    You know, do you envisage the reality of the blockchain becoming a convergence of these technologies?

    Anthony Woodward  

    Like where, where, where would you see this going in the future? Is it, you know, I mean, I know we we're seeing the blockchain here as, as something that, you know, certainly what I see is it's a fairly immature set of technologies that has some interesting solutions to problems that are solved in different ways already.

    Anthony Woodward  

    And some of those. Problems still come through with the blockchain, but what's your view on the evolution of it? Where, where does it go and how does it evolve to simplify? Some of these problems become more integrated if you eliminate trust  

    Kris Brown  

    If you eliminate compute, if you eliminate some of the other technological points that we've said and imagine that those problems are solved in the future.

    Kris Brown  

    A universal, simple way to verify anything has huge benefits to society in every transaction, be it public records, the purchase and sale of the vehicle, the. The act of showing your age at a door at a nightclub versus, you know, the proving that you are married, or you know, all of these other things.

    Kris Brown  

    If there was a universal way to do that, there are economic benefits for the globe. So, use the simple example that I've put in there, which is the nightclub industry. Many, many jurisdictions have an age.

    Anthony Woodward  

    We're talking about the eighties again, is that half, half eighties?  

    Kris Brown  

    I'll hark back to my days as a, DJ but if you, but again, if you think about it, even more recently, every jurisdiction has an age limit or,

    Kris Brown  

    Or some other entry criteria for participation in drinking alcohol. Obviously, a, you know, a legalized drug in its own right. But in the States, it's 21. In Australia it's 18. Cos you know, we, we love a beer, and nightclubs have to verify that people coming in the door are of age. And you've done that through driver's licenses, which, you know, once upon a time you used to be able to peel them away and slide your own photo in or.

    Kris Brown  

    To printer, you know, look at you being old, innocent. Like that's never ever, ever, you've never seen one of those before in your life. But, you know, at a nightclub we would see hundreds of them.

    Anthony Woodward  

    Not student cards. I would never, never. Student card. Yeah. Yeah.  

    Kris Brown  

    Obviously the technology improved and we had the plastic cards that are printed on, but you know, you can buy one of those printers relatively cheaply and buy a bunch of blanks, and I'm sure if you really, really wanted to, you could find a way to, to, to accrue those.

    Kris Brown  

    So, it's, imagine having a technology that would allow you to verify that uniquely and cheaply and universally. In Queensland, we have a program that does that again, but the clubs, in order to participate, have to buy certain equipment and then if the legislation was to change, that equipment becomes redundant.

    Kris Brown  

    Now, that's economically not great, and so, as I said earlier, a universal way. That was cheap and easy to verify, and all of those other problems went away around scale and public trust and, and whatever else. There's an economic benefit there. I think the technology has merit. However, while it remains niche and while it remains proprietary in a way.

    Kris Brown  

    Like if you, even if you look at the crypto environment, there's thousands of different cryptocurrencies. Obviously, there's some very strong ones, but for the most part, there's a handful of those that that are, you know, traded and you know, are, are, are viable if you will. The rest are almost Ponzi schemes.

    Kris Brown  

    Sorry for those of you who've invested heavily in doco or something along those lines. But you know, if you are the one who started the crypto and you can get it. Spoken about and it can go up 10, a factor of 10 or 20 X overnight. You are the one who's making the money there. It, it's, it's almost that proprietary nature of it makes it rife for that sort of problem.

    Kris Brown  

    I think it needs to become universal. I think it needs to be an acceptable standard for all. And then all of the technological changes that would come with that, if you were going to have, you know, there can—Highlander theory—there can only be one.  

    Anthony Woodward  

    The problem then becomes who owns the chain, which is one element, but then also who owns the longevity of the content in the chain.

    Anthony Woodward  

    Because you know, in record keeping, we have a few things going on. We have to think about the stuff that needs to be gotten rid of, but also stuff that has to be kept permanently. And again, that may not be the sort of more certificate records, if I can call it, that. They can be different ways to represent different pieces of data.

    Anthony Woodward  

    So, the chain itself is gonna have this long lifespan. Are you seeing any approaches to dealing with long-term preservation on the chain so that it can be read in 400 years' time that we can think about the interchange of content? I certainly haven't come across any that provide that key.

    Kris Brown  

    No. It's interesting problem, isn't it? And it's, it's almost that. But it gets lost in “storage is cheap.” Like it's that misnomer that, oh, well it's, it's just a little bit of information that, that, that, that has all of this magic in it. But when you start to talk about the volumes of transactions that would need to be required to provide the outcomes that we are already dealing with, and then centralizing, duplicating and distributing it so very broadly and widely.

    Kris Brown  

    As you say, who owns it, but also who's willing to pay for it. Hmm. Like if you know why, why would I pay to verify my ID when I already have a piece of paper from the government that verifies my id? That will probably be the. The kicker, how, how do I gain benefit and how do I pay for that? And is it globally governments need to come together?

    Kris Brown  

    Public trust on, that's probably not gonna be particularly great. And you know, the globe we're, we are still, you know, well we have the United Nations and we're still not an entirely together on a lot of things. Yeah, the technological challenges, I think are simple. The big one. May be cost. And that really does come back to, you know, if it's going to be the history, it has to be kept a, a lot of, lot of data.

    Kris Brown  

    Yeah. Will need to be kept for very long periods of time and someone's gonna pay for that.  

    Anthony Woodward  

    So, one of the underlying principles of blockchain is the notion of decentralization. And, you know, stepping away from blockchain technologies to, to a limited extent are, are you across the Tim Berners-Lee's solid project and the what he would describe as Web 3.0 in a counterpoint to the kind of blockchain web 3.0  

    Kris Brown  

    I've only read a little, but I, I, I'd be interested to understand what you've seen there. Cause I know you've spent a little bit more time having a look at it.  

    Anthony Woodward  

    Well, I think it's interesting, and I think it's a, a real counterpoint to the blockchain notion of decentralization is it's decentralized data, but it's completely under the user's control.

    Anthony Woodward  

    So, what it says is that the token is placed into the system that accesses the data, but the data is controlled within your own gates, if you will. So, so basically you own all of your data. So, all of Kris's data is owned by Kris. All of MasterCard's data is owned by MasterCard and all of Anthony's data is owned by Anthony.

    Anthony Woodward  

    Whilst, you know, MasterCard may issue you and me both a MasterCard, the transactions that are on that card, that's issued by MasterCard. So, MasterCard passes me a token, that's my token. I go out and use it. The transactions on that MasterCard belong to me, but I share that with MasterCard so that they can bill me for it and the bill belongs with MasterCard, if that makes sense.

    Anthony Woodward  

    You know, blockchain at the end of the day is sequence, sequence, sequence across a distributed chain that's on many computers. This reverses the paradigm where it's not about the sequencing so much, it's about the data ownership, and what I think super interesting about what Tim Berners-Lee's done is then change the problem, which I think is a different, certainly, a problem within blockchain. He's, he's brought on other problems with, with the approach, but he's changed the paradigm to say that data is always owned by someone. If that entity gets to control that data, they can control that in a decentralized form and then share the data across the internet.

    Anthony Woodward  

    So, it's a, it's really turning that notion of record keeping on his head because it, it turns record keeping back. To the ownership problem in terms of if I own it, if I wrote it, I own it. If I did it, I own it, and therefore I can control who's gonna have access to it. But it also comes to the issue then of authenticity that wraps around it and authentication a whole bunch of issues.

    Anthony Woodward  

    And I'll, you know, I'll send those that want to go look at it to solid.mit.edu and they can read more about that project. But the, I think it's a really interesting concept that is a different way to do distributed data.  

    Kris Brown  

    Yeah, and I look by the sounds of that is that it certainly gives that ability to sort of be more applicable to, you know, the record keeping world because you've got that data ownership, like there's, and it, you know, it sort of provides that data trust element as well.

    Anthony Woodward  

    Look, I think we've kind of—unless there’s anything you wanna add to blockchain? I think we had a really interesting conversation there that looked at the different implications of blockchain. And, and whilst I know, you know, w was something I'm gonna keep looking at and I know you are as well, Kris is there anything else you want to add to the blockchain conversation?

    Kris Brown  

    No, look, I think it was a great conversation and certainly this is gonna be one of those ones that comes up. You're going to see it at events, you're going to hear it talked about, it's a watch, this space type conversation. I'm not sure that it's ready for prime time. If this was the hype cycle, it's still very much maybe in that, that hype cycle phase, you know, the hype phase.

    Kris Brown  

    It's definitely not in a trough disillusionment yet, but it. We'll probably get there at some point, but there are issues and they're starting to be seen and so there's gotta be solves to those problems before we come out of that. And that's, I would imagine that, you know, on top of public trust and some of these other storage and cost issues that, you know, you might see something from organizations.

    Kris Brown  

    Outside of that niche nature, and I still think there's definitely some examples where it could be used for some very, very niche use cases. As I said, the university one I think is, is a, is a great example. But yeah, no, I think that it's, it's not ready for prime time today for, for all the use cases.  

    Anthony Woodward  

    I think, as you say, there are other use cases out there.

    Anthony Woodward  

    You know, I think one of the biggest problems that you see with a lot of the proponents of blockchain is sometimes there's a bit of a solution looking for a problem in terms of that maturity of it, it's not quite there yet for, for all those different use cases. Look this has been a really interesting conversation around blockchain and I, I really, you know, thank you Kris for making some time to have this conversation today.

    Anthony Woodward  

    Thank you all for listening. I'm Anthony Woodward. Please remember to follow us on social media. You are here at RecordPoint. There's a Twitter account, a LinkedIn account, and an account for all the different socials. Grab us there, subscribe. Please share this podcast with your friends and if you get the chance in your favorite podcast app, please give us a rating.

    Anthony Woodward  

    It's gonna help us get out to, to more the world. Kris, thank you very much. Yeah, no thanks  

    Kris Brown  

    Anthony. Look at, I'm Kris Brown, everybody. We'll see you next time on FILED.

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