By David Fisher, Founder, Integra Ledger.
This is the first instalment in a four-part series that explains the Integra Ledger ecosystem for universal document and contract automation.
Today, Integra Ledger is announcing a new type of software for the world’s legal industry – a blockchain wallet to manage document credentials. It represents a complete paradigm shift in the way we think about documents, contracts, permissions, and automation, and it holds the promise of ushering in a new era of universal interoperability for the legal industry
Before answering the question, “What is a document credential?” it is important to review the current state of LegalTech, as concerns identity and access control for documents.
As an employee of an organization, you are granted credentials that give you access to that organization’s systems – things like email, file storage, and enterprise software. To save or retrieve a document, for example, you first must log into your organization’s network or software application. This is the way it has always been done, going all the way back to paper documents and filing cabinets. 50 years ago, you wouldn’t lock up each individual document, you would put them all in a filing cabinet and use one lock and key. Current enterprise software works in a similar way.
In current practice, enormous effort is expended to ensure that the digital filing cabinet (the organization’s network and software within it) is highly trusted and secure. Additionally, unlike the paper filing cabinets of that bygone era, enterprise software can manage complex associations and behaviors for every individual document, especially with DMS and CLM systems. All of the security and logic for each document or contract exists within the software that manages it.
While a digital filing cabinet is certainly more efficient and functional than a paper one, there are several problems with this arrangement that are well known to IT executives around the world:
- Managing everything with centralized software and systems creates central points of failure – for example, if a network is breached, the offending party can gain access to a vast trove of private data – a bit like breaking the lock on an actual filing cabinet, giving access to everything inside.
- What happens if a document or contract “escapes” the centralized software and storage of the organization? This already happens frequently when documents are saved in the wrong place or are emailed elsewhere. A document that exists outside of an organization’s systems is no longer under any type of control of that organization – no security, no automation, no audit trail.
- It is very difficult to collaborate with other organizations on a document or contract because it typically requires that the involved organizations directly connect incompatible software systems or utilize a cloud intermediary to facilitate the necessary data transformations and connections. In the former case, it’s generally cost-prohibitive unless the scale of the business relationship is vast, and in the latter case there is somewhat less complexity involved but new costs and data security concerns are introduced.
This brings us to the new technology and Integra announced today – document credentials.
Integra’s original innovation in 2017 was the Integra Ledger blockchain, an enterprise blockchain (no cryptocurrency involved) with the sole purpose of registering the proof of existence of documents. In simple terms, you can maintain a document in your private data store and register its existence on Integra Ledger using a time and data stamp, Integra ID (a random number), and an associated hash – a digital fingerprint of the document. The document always stays private to you, as only the random number document ID and hash of the document are recorded on Integra.
The significance of this seemingly simple action is that after a document or contract is registered in that fashion, it can be saved and emailed repeatedly to multiple software applications, even at different organizations, and no matter where it is located or how it is transmitted it can be confirmed as exactly matching the original.
The new Integra Wallet takes this a step further, with “document credentials”. Because an Integra-registered document has a permanent ID that never changes, no matter where the document is stored or how it is transmitted (and the document hash confirms that the document hasn’t been altered), the Integra Wallet can then associate permissions, access controls, and document logic to the document’s permanent ID. Our term for this is “document credentials.” So, rather than abstracting a document’s permissions, access, and logic to expensive and complicated centralized networks and software, the Integra Wallet binds document credentials directly to the document’s blockchain identity.
The implications of this arrangement are profound. Because document credentials are immutably associated with the documents themselves via their IDs, it’s no longer necessary for documents to live within complex enterprise environments to be secure and automated. All that’s necessary is that a user or organization be running the Integra Wallet to manage the creation, receipt, and processing of document credentials between organizations. All existing software stays intact, including DMS, CLM, CRM, and ERP software. The Integra Wallet’s only role is to communicate document credentials (document permissions, access, and logic) between users and organizations.
The first sectors that will benefit from this technology will be high value, high volume, contract intensive ones, such as banking, insurance, real estate, and supply chain. Binding document credentials to contracts will reduce friction across entire ecosystems, while increasing data integrity and data security.
In the next instalment in this series, we’ll explore how document identity and document credentials will give rise to a new generation of LegalTech software – things like sophisticated enterprise wallets to manage document credentials at scale, universal and free document encryption, document-to-document messaging (e.g. send a document to a document, such as an amendment, notice, statement of work, or invoice), and organization-to-organization automations that are defined by the documents and related document credentials.
About the author: David Fisher is the founder of Integra Ledger, ‘the blockchain for law’, as well as the founder of the Global Legal Hackathon, which is the largest legal innovation event in the world.
[ Artificial Lawyer is proud to bring you this sponsored article by Integra Ledger. ]