What do you know about blockchain? Most people know it has something to do with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. More recently, you may have heard about blockchain in relation to non-fungible tokens (NFTs) for the trendy and overcompensated. (If you have some Bitcoin burning a hole in your crypto wallet, you can essentially buy electronic access to a picture of Melania Trump’s eyes.) In short, blockchain is often associated with high-risk and novel approaches to asset ownership. But guess what— blockchain for information and knowledge management is also a thing, in a good way, and blockchain may be one of the most disruptive technologies to our industry that we have seen.
Blockchain for information management
The use of blockchain for information management will never compete for eyeballs as Mrs. Trump does. Nevertheless, developers and enterprise innovators are actively exploring and beginning to use blockchain under the radar. I’ll leave the “how” of the underlying technology for another day. In this article, I want to focus on the fundamental conceptual reasoning behind using blockchain for information and knowledge management.
Blockchains only do one thing, which can be hard to get your head around. Blockchains eliminate the need to trust other people. That’s it; that is all there is to it. Under the covers, there is some very complex technology, underlying security, and math. But in practical business terms, blockchains remove the need to trust other people, companies, partners, or suppliers when they tell you something or give you a document. Trust is deferred to the system itself.
With a blockchain, you all have the same version of the “truth.” Or, to put it another way, blockchains provide a trustless system, removing the need to trust one another.
Defining the truth
Defining what is or isn’t the truth, and whom to trust (or not) should be a simple task, but as we all know, it is not. Logically, something is either true or false, but practically speaking, my version of the truth may not be the same as yours. I’m not talking about “fake news” or “alternative facts.” It is, rather, that knowledge, document, and information management systems have long been marketed as a “single source of truth.” They are, generally speaking, locked and secure repositories of information that are closely guarded and managed. They are essential systems of record, but they are ultimately the document-holder’s version of the truth. What I mean is that if a system has a datasheet, contract, or document stored in it, there is a high likelihood that the same piece of information is duplicated somewhere else. And there is generally nothing to stop someone from making a change on one version that does not get made on the other party’s version (whether intentionally or not).