HR Leads Business

Jan 2, 2019 | Geoff Whiting

How Blockchain Could Change How We Track Credentials

Blockchain can track a diamond from the mine to a specific store shelf on your block, or a steak from an Australian farm to a Chinese consumer’s table. And someday it could track the credentials you earn or that a potential hire claims.

With companies expected to invest more than $1.5 billion in blockchain technology this year alone, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before some of that bleeds into HR. Before that happens you’ll need to learn more about the tech and what it all means.

“The essential role of a blockchain for a network is to provide a single source of truth about the history of transactions on that network,” said Chris Jagers, CEO of verifiable digital records company Learning Machine. “In the case of credentials, it keeps track of when an institution conferred credentials to recipients. The blockchain acts specifically as a global notary to verify the authenticity of digital credentials.”

Let’s look at three ways that this technology could affect the way you run your department and your day.

Simplifying Verification Processes

One of the biggest potential changes from blockchain isn’t about the credentials themselves but about who says they’re valid. The expectation is that data aggregators and service providers could build a system that houses multiple credentials and other HR data, so you would need fewer tools to track information across all jobs and titles.

A credential claim is placed on the blockchain, and then the issuer can choose whether to verify it. When you want to check the credential, you’ll access the same blockchain to see whether the issuer provided that verification. It’s a single interaction that likely replaces many emails and phone calls per credential.

If multiple credential groups or aggregators were to work together, you could access one blockchain for all credentials, further reducing those calls and other steps.

You’ll likely be interacting with the same companies, at least initially, says Tony Winders, CEO of The Winders Group, which has provided marketing and industry analysis for blockchain businesses. “A project like that would take so many resources to gain traction, so the biggest companies in the certification process will likely lead the way. We’ve seen this in other industries: Established brands have not only the financial wherewithal but the reach and existing audience to make these large changes.”

Changing Trust

Blockchain’s promise of simplicity comes with an important caveat that HR departments will have to tackle: How do we trust it?

Assume an employee claims they have a credential. You check and see that it’s listed as verified by an authorized party from the company that issues the credential. What else do you need to know to trust that this verification is authentic?

Initially this will require checking the authorized party’s ID against information published by credential companies. Winders says this may only be necessary when credentialing bodies aren’t part of the groups managing the blockchain.

Regardless of who is behind the blockchain, the ultimate goal is to have it authenticated by enough issuers and other companies that you can trust it without having to check each time.

“Ideally the user shouldn’t care or need to know about the underlying blockchain elements — like when you get in your car, you don’t necessarily care how the fuel injector works, you just know that your car will do this function for you,” says Dan Kinsley, engineering lead and co-founder of Civil, a blockchain-based journalism project. “Verification wants to get there, but there are experience barriers that demonstrate we’re not there yet.”

Perhaps in the interim we’ll see something similar to credit card company logos on a store window or an online checkout form, where HR professionals look for credentialing bodies’ logos when determining who to trust.

Employees Take the Lead

Blockchain might also introduce process changes and limitations for how a variety of information is verified. One movement within the blockchain community is to create a self-sovereign identity (SSI) that gives each person ownership of their data.

An SSI solution would use a blockchain to connect every record and piece of ID the person has, then invite appropriate partners to verify each item. However, to see that information, you would need specific permissions for each piece of data. A résumé permission could show you verified work history but not insurance information, even if it was on the same chain.

This could limit an individual HR expert’s ability to perform bulk verification that other blockchain technology promises while making a greater number of HR experts use blockchain. Kinsley says SSI’s level of granular control, initiated by the employee, is potentially a safe way to ensure compliance with different national data privacy regulations, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

Today, in 2 Years, or Never?

There’s no clear consensus about when you may be interacting with blockchain to track and verify credentials. You could start today with available enterprise software if you wanted to track the credentials that you award. For credentials from others, you’ll have to wait until pilot projects yield results and get the ball rolling.

“Real adoption happens bottom-up, one institution at a time, building steam and learning lessons until it reaches a tipping point,” Jagers says. “This incremental adoption is how fundamental change happens, which is different than an entire industry simply adopting it overnight.”

At the same time, it might not happen for at all for credentials. “There has to be a compelling business case for companies and industries to use this and not a regular database,” Winders says. “We don’t know if or when that will happen.”