Cloud Commerce: Recording Business and Financial Data from the Cloud

Cloud commerce is growing more common.  Cloud commerce means that an institution – like a government payer – presents key information to a customer or constituent only online.  The customer or constituent can access the information only through a web browser, a mobile app browser or some other dedicated application.

Cloud commerce uses no paper and little if any email.  All of the business, financial or other critical evidence is in the computer cloud.

Adsense Exemplifies Cloud Commerce

Adsense is an example. Google, the institution that pays publishers under Adsense, presents advertising results and financial information almost exclusively via the cloud.  I am a publisher.  I allow Adsense ads on my blogs.  I get paid for allowing those ads.  Google uses the cloud to present to me almost all of the business and payment data and results under my Adsense account.

To report to me regarding my Adsense account, Google sends me no paper.  And it sends me very few emails.  Instead, it presents to me a web page that looks like this:

Vapor in Computer Cloud
To access all of the information, I click here and there.  Google regularly updates this data.  From time to time, it also changes the format of the web pages it presents to me.

To its credit, Google allows me to download a good bit of information in spreadsheet format.

Incompleteness and Mistakes Abound

But not all cloud commerce institutions are as friendly as Google Adsense.  Many institutions report results through “portals” or mobile apps that make downloading or offline storage inconvenient.

The institutions (a.k.a. service providers) can make mistakes or provide incomplete information.

For instance, MERS is a large cloud institution known for mistakes.  The Mortgage Electronic Registration System is a national database for recording ownership of home mortgages.  It relies on participating banks and lenders to enter accurate information.  However, foreclosure battles have revealed that the information in MERS changes from time to time and is subject to error.

Make Good Records

From the point of view of the customer or constituent, acquisition of a good record that memorializes valuable data can be difficult.  As a customer peers into the cloud, she sees evidence (e.g., details of a transaction or representations about rights and obligations).  But that evidence is ephemeral.  It can change or disappear in an instant.  How does the customer capture this evidence for legal or tax purposes?

Auditors Require Evidence

Further, this record acquisition trouble could frustrate an auditor.  The auditor seeks objective evidence that money is owed or assets have transferred.  But if all the auditor can access is a poorly-configured web page, the auditor is challenged to collect and preserve reliable evidence.  The auditor may visually observe the evidence as an eyewitness looking through a web browser, but eyewitness memory is imperfect for preserving complex evidence.

The evidence may involve interacting with a web site, clicking this and that, typing here and there, listening to audio and so on.  The auditor can try print-screen to memorialize what the auditor sees, but that can be awkward if the data are complex.  If multiple screen prints are necessary, the auditor must work manually to stitch all of the prints together into an intelligible report.

How to Bolster Eyewitness Memory?

One of the problems with eyewitness memory is that the witness (the auditor) might not be available months or years later to vouch for the record of what she remembered seeing.

A good tool for addressing these issues is a split-screen screencast.  Here is an example:

The screencast is explained in more depth in this blog article.

The screencast above records the auditor narrating – in a real-time webcam window – what he observes as he types and clicks around the cloud commerce environment.  The screencast above shows a commodity trading transaction.

The screencast records more than just data.  It records the format and functionality of the cloud environment.   Format and functionality can be relevant to understanding data.

From Insurance to Bitcoin to EDI

Other examples of cloud commerce might be:

(A) a web site where government commits to pay subsidies for health insurance provided to low-income people;

(B) a mobile app that reports to the owner of a virtual currency (like Bitcoin) the amount of the currency in the owner’s account and the transactions through the account;

(C) a web portal that reports to a health clinic the processing of transactions under which a government health plan intends to pay for care provided to covered patients;

(D) a service provider that processes electronic data interchange (EDI) transactions, such as purchase orders and invoices, for a small-to-mid-size business.

Please Comment

Dear reader:  What do you think of my screencast idea?  Am I nuts?

Update: This case describes use of screencast evidence in court.

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