Does Block Chain Fit into ECM?

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Block chain, one of the underlying technologies of cryptocurrencies, is being touted as the technology to watch in 2018, but will it disrupt enterprise content management (ECM) systems, and does it need to be on the radar of CIOs in this respect? The answer is a resounding yes.

What is block chain?

Block chain is a hot topic right now, but what exactly is it? Many will associate it as the technology underpinning bitcoin. Block chain is a distributed ledger where data can be recorded and verified, but unlike traditional ledgers it is stored on a number of computers. Digital records are grouped together in “blocks,” which are chronologically and cryptographically chained using complex algorithms, which makes them very secure.

The concept is hugely transparent as everyone within the network has an up-to-date view of the ledger and because of its consensus model, it can’t be altered or tampered with, only added to.

Block chain’s big appeal is that its distributed power can be separated from cryptocurrency transactions and used for almost everything from asset tracking to smart contracts.

Sizing up block chain and ECM

On the one hand we have block chain, a highly secure, self-auditing system built on anonymity and a lack of any central authority, and on the other ECM, which has been designed to ensure that data is managed in accordance with policies and regulations.

From this, we can see that block chain and ECM follow very different paths. Here are four fundamental differences.

1.Traceability versus anonymity

Here we can quite clearly see the flexibility of ECM over block chain. An ECM system offers track ability and audit trails to comply with legislation and enterprise policies. With block chain, transactions are traceable, but thanks to anonymity they can’t be linked to an individual. In addition, new information must be stored in new blocks in a public block chain, which means that deleting or altering content is impossible. Any small change, even the inclusion of an exclamation mark, would have to be verified by everyone in the network, which can be very time-consuming.

2.Data security versus public accessibility of data
Unlike ECM systems, where data is kept private and secure, block chains are public and accessible, thanks to the large number of users involved in verification processes. Today, many enterprises are still wary of security issues, preferring to run ECMs on premise as opposed to in the cloud. For them the idea of storing data in block chains must be intimidating. In the future, however, private block may loosen anonymity and deletion policies that will make block chain an appealing addition to ECMs.

3.Central administration versus distributed ledgers
When deploying ECMs, enterprises encompass data security, sovereignty and compliance as key goals. These interconnect with a central, internal administration, ensuring efficient user and data management. With block chain, all validations are carried out via distributed ledgers making it impossible to link them to individual user profiles and for administrators to stay in control.

4.The question of scalability
It is glaringly obvious that ECMs win hands down on scalability when you examine the way block chain makes validations. Block chains work by sharing every transaction with every person on the network. This makes it incredibly easy to check transactions, but difficult to add them.

Block chains validate transactions using what is known as a proof of work mechanism in which the nodes in the block chain compete to be the first to validate a block. A new block is created after lengthy calculations, which work to prevent the rewriting of the history. This process, which results in blocks being linked into a sequential chain, is extensive and time-consuming. The classic block chain is not scalable, either up or down.

The block chain conundrum

Even if enterprises wanted to move their ECM to block chain right now, they couldn’t. Why? Because the technology just doesn’t have the capacity and it can still only carry out transactions of representations. But, although block chain doesn’t satisfy many ECM requirements right now, it could bring some interesting benefits in the future. They include:

  • smart contracts,
  • automated payment processes,
  • Private block chains with flexible editing and deletion, and
  • secure and compliant profile systems that are self-managed and respect individual privacy.

One thing block chain is doing is inspiring innovation. The technology, along with new capabilities coming down the pipe, will do much to strengthen the ECM platform, ensuring its place in the enterprise armory for years to come. 

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