The public sector tends to be slow at adopting new technologies, especially when compared to the rate of digital transformation within private business and the daily headlines we see calling for a new improved information management systems.
Indeed, it was only earlier this year that the NHS experienced major back-office failures when tasked to transfer patient’s medical histories to new places. Several issues were reported, including delays in receiving vital information. This example supports the findings of several reports, which point to the NHS continuously struggling to technologically innovate, as well as the difficulties third parties face when attempting to integrate technologies with the current outdated system.
All-in-all, there is clearly an opportunity to improve document management across the public sector; it could to reduce internal inefficiencies, errors and drive additional value from the services that the public critically rely on.
Blockchain for document management
Distributed ledger technology (DLT) shares and processes data across the network of participants, replacing the legacy, centralised IT architecture. Blockchain, one of the forms of DLT, stores data in cryptographically linked blocks, making them immutable by design. Such tamper-proof records can include the date and time of information uploaded, a history of transactions, as well as any information changes. As just the tip of the iceberg, these qualities are clearly useful for document management.
A blockchain-based document management solution therefore creates an immutable record of communication, ubiquitous access, and secure storage. A prime example of a sector struggling with record management are financial institutions. This highly regulated sector faces technically difficult to combine expectations from lawmakers and its clients. On one side regulators want full transparency of the bank-client contractual relationship, on another, clients want secure and easy access to their documents, but they want to have little interaction with the bank and no paper correspondence. Luckily, blockchain comes as a hero on a white horse. Blockchain offers immutability and full audit trail for documents and secure, easy, multichannel access for the banking customer.
Polish Credit Office (BIK), largest CEE credit score provider, and an institution owned by the largest banks, early saw the potential of the distributed ledger technology for its 24 million individual customers and 1 million corporations. With existing systems unable to achieve reliable and secure access to documents that could be authenticated and verified, BIK decided earlier this year to offer banking customers a new, innovative and as cost efficient as internet itself, but powered by permissioned blockchain.
The benefits blockchain offers the public sector
In the case of the NHS earlier this year, adopting a decentralised ledger based document management could have avoided numerous issues. Eliminating third parties which verify and transfer medical data or documents from practice to practice, which lower the risk of data leak. More importantly, it would let patients access their digital documents instantly, and eliminate the need for physical transfer from one practice to another.
A decentralised document system is much more reliable than centralised, as the data recovery and redundancy is built in. For the NHS, a reliable decentralised document system which has no downtime reduces frustration of the medical staff who often experience downtime when they search for documents using traditional, centralised storage or practices waiting for document transfers. In decentralised/blockchain systems, one instance access to documents can be removed and given, and less downtime means more time to service a larger patient group and better customer service. Less time spent locating and verifying medical information or documents could also be spent on patients, helping reduce waiting lists which are reported to be increasing due to limited resources and funds.
Looking beyond the public health sector, the features embedded in blockchain and decentralisation offer a highly attractive proposition for any number of departments. With all documents cryptographically stamped, no details on documents can be tampered with or changed. What’s more, access to documents can be restricted to authorised personnel. Together, these elements not only create an irrefutable audit trail of documents, they reduce security vulnerabilities across departments, an attractive feature considering the sensitivity and importance of the documents the public sector handles.
A future blockchain back office system across the public sector could transform interactions both within and between departments. For the law department, all case evidence could be digitally accessed or transferred between courts and police stations. While for social care, information on family histories and health records could securely be stored and accessed by the authorised personnel. In all cases, the time saved by utilising blockchain alongside the security benefits presents an attractive case for the public sector.
Considering this, we hope governments across the world begin to embrace distributed ledger. Once the enabler of volatile and ethically dubious cryptocurrencies, it will soon drive innovation across the public sector.
Iza Murawska is head of corporate communications and strategy at Billon.