Caught in the Middle? Strategic Information Governance Disruptions in the Era of Blockchain and Distributed Trust

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.

Marc David Seidel
Carson Woo
Journal Article
Wednesday, April 15, 2020