Caught in the middle? Strategic information governance disruptions in the era of blockchain and distributed trust

Victoria L. Lemieux (School of Information, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)
Chris Rowell (Sauder School of Business, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)
Marc-David L. Seidel (Sauder School of Business, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)
Carson C. Woo (Sauder School of Business, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)

Records Management Journal

ISSN: 0956-5698

Publication date: 15 April 2020

Abstract

Purpose

Distributed trust technologies, such as blockchain, propose to permit peer-to-peer transactions without trusted third parties. Yet not all implementations of such technologies fully decentralize. Information professionals make strategic choices about the level of decentralization when implementing such solutions, and many organizations are taking a hybrid (i.e. partially decentralized) approach to the implementation of distributed trust technologies. This paper conjectures that while hybrid approaches may resolve some challenges of decentralizing information governance, they also introduce others. To better understand these challenges, this paper aims first to elaborate a framework that conceptualizes a centralized–decentralized information governance continuum along three distinct dimensions: custody, ownership and right to access data. This paper then applies this framework to two illustrative blockchain case studies – a pilot Brazilian land transfer recording solution and a Canadian health data consent sharing project – to exemplify how the current transition state of blockchain pilots straddles both the old (centralized) and new (decentralized) worlds. Finally, this paper outlines the novel challenges that hybrid approaches introduce for information governance and what information professionals should do to navigate this thorny transition period. Counterintuitively, it may be much better for information professionals to embrace decentralization when implementing distributed trust technologies, as hybrid models could offer the worst of both the centralized and future decentralized worlds when consideration is given to the balance between information governance risks and new strategic business opportunities.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper illustrates how blockchain is transforming organizations and societies by highlighting new strategic information governance challenges using our original analytic framework in two detailed blockchain case studies – a pilot solution in Brazil to record land transfers (Flores et al., 2018) and another in Canada to handle health data sharing consent (Hofman et al., 2018). The two case studies represent research output of the first phase of an ongoing multidisciplinary research project focused on gaining an understanding of how blockchain technology generates organizational, societal and data transformations and challenges. The analytic framework was developed inductively from a thematic synthesis of the findings of the case studies conducted under the auspices of this research project. Each case discussed in detail in this paper was chosen from among the project's case studies, as it represents a desire to move away from the old centralized world of information governance to a new decentralized one. However, each case study also represents and embodies a transition state between the old and new worlds and highlights many of the associated strategic information governance challenges.

Findings

Decentralization continues to disrupt organizations and societies. New emerging distributed trust technologies such as blockchain break the old rules with respect to the trust and authority structures of organizations and how records and data are created, managed and used. While governments and businesses around the world clearly see value in this technology to drive business efficiency, open up new market opportunities and create new forms of value, these advantages will not come without challenges. For information executives then, the question is not if they will be disrupted, but how. Understanding the how as will be discussed in this paper provides the business know how to leverage the incredible innovation and transformation that decentralized trust technology enables before being leapfrogged by another organization. It requires a change of mindset to consider an organization as one part of a broader ecosystem, and for those who successfully do so, this paper views this as a strategic opportunity for those responsible for strategic information governance to design the future instead of being disrupted by it.

Research limitations/implications

This paper presents a novel analytic framework for strategic information governance challenges as we transition from a traditional world of centralized records and information management to a new decentralized world. This paper analyzes these transitions and their implications for strategic information governance along three trajectories: custody, ownership and right to access records and data, illustrating with reference to our case studies.

Practical implications

This paper predicts a large number of organizations will miss the opportunities of the new decentralized trust world, resulting in a rather major churning of organizations, as those who successfully participate in building the new model will outcompete those stuck in the old world or the extremely problematic hybrid transition state. Counterintuitively, this paper argues that it may be much less complex for information executives to embrace decentralization as fast as they can, as in some ways the hybrid model seems to offer the worst of both the centralized and future decentralized worlds with respect to information governance risks.

Social implications

This paper anticipates broader societal consequences of the predicted organization churn, in particular with respect to uncertainty about the evidence that records provide for public accountability and contractual rights and entitlements.

Originality/value

Decentralized trust technologies, such as blockchain, permit peer-to-peer transactions without trusted third parties. Of course, such radical shifts do not happen overnight. The current transition state of blockchain pilots straddles both the old and new worlds. This paper presents a theoretical framework categorizing strategic information governance challenges on a spectrum of centralized to decentralized in three primary areas: custody, ownership and right to access records and data. To illustrate how decentralized trust is transforming organizations and societies, this paper presents these strategic information governance challenges in two blockchain case studies – a pilot Brazilian land transfer recording solution and a Canadian health data consent sharing project. Drawing on the theoretical framework and case studies, this paper outlines what information executives should do to navigate this thorny transition period.

Keywords

Citation

Lemieux, V.L., Rowell, C., Seidel, M.-D.L. and Woo, C.C. (2020), "Caught in the middle? Strategic information governance disruptions in the era of blockchain and distributed trust", Records Management Journal, Vol. 30 No. 3, pp. 301-324. https://doi.org/10.1108/RMJ-09-2019-0048

Download as .RIS

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below

You may be able to access this content by logging in via Shibboleth, Open Athens or with your Emerald account.
To rent this content from Deepdyve, please click the button.
If you think you should have access to this content, click the button to contact our support team.