What is digital identity?
Customers want a way to repeatedly access online services in a fast, simple and secure way. Housing providers, local authorities and government want to give customers quick access to online services to support digital transformation and engagement, improve social and economic inclusion, reduce customer friction and reduce service delivery costs. Yet how do you support the ‘thin-file’ customer and/or the digitally excluded?
The solution is to create a single legal identity that enables a one-off customer verification. This requires a single, trusted, reusable and secure identity that is owned and controlled by the customer.
And digital transformation?
All organisations are digitally transforming the way they deal with customers. Early digital strategies focused on reducing the amount of paper used and moving towards digital transactions. These activities are based on one-to-one transactions and authentications.
Now, however, customers expect to be digitally recognised and expect to be able to use multiple devices. Combined with this is the exponential growth in technologies built around the principles of the internet of things (IoT) and ubiquitous connectivity.
This creates huge amounts of data around customers’ needs which give organisations an immense picture of their customers. This requires knowing who your customer actually is, building the single customer view and one entry point to services. Consequently, digital identity is emerging as the lynchpin of digital transformation.
The ‘thin-file’ customer
A thin-file customer is a person who lacks the basic fundamentals to confirm their identity – a passport, driving licence and credit file. These customers are the most vulnerable in society, in greatest need of support and often the highest and most frequent users of public services. They are also the most disadvantaged by this technological shift to online services.
Tower Hamlets Council is working on a project to use assured identity aligned to Gov.uk’s Verify service as a single trusted verification to access its services.
The first services are tackling housing and homelessness, employment and education through an initiative called Workpath, and benefits and UC, helping to tackle poverty. Standards implemented by Gov.uk’s Verify are the only legal standard of digital identity; creating one assured identity helps reduce the friction people experience when accessing multiple services using multiple access points and authentication details. A reliable solution for online identity will make the delivery of these services more efficient for the council and more streamlined for their customers, supporting greater digital inclusion.
This project is being led by Etive Technologies working with the Government Digital Service (GDS), the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP), the Post Office and Mvine to create a generic and trusted standard of identity for the public sector.
The Verify legal standard of identity
Gov.uk’s Verify is a secure way to prove who you are online, and using other sources of data, we can create a trusted Verify identity, enabling customers to access services. A Verify identity can be used to access many government services, such as DWP benefits.
The DWP said, “We are intent on ensuring that we provide modern, secure and easy-to-access digital services for citizens. As part of this, we will always look to take advantage of new and current solutions and technologies as they evolve. The world of digital identity is a key part of any digital service meaning that DWP, in line with our general approach, will look to explore a range of solutions across the spectrum of identity and trust, known as the ‘pantry’ approach.”
We need to implement solutions that reduce the friction people experience when trying to access multiple online services. However, different suppliers to the public sector have their own ways of authenticating customers and we have our own internet access management (IAM) solutions. These have varying levels of authenticaion and security which create frustration and conflict for customers. How many different authentication details and processes do we expect our customers to use when accessing online services? It creates complexity for customers and higher costs for housing providers.
Towards a single assured identity
An important part of the solution is a customer-centric approach, where the customer has a single assured identity. A customer can use their assured identity with one set of credentials to access housing, local authority and government services. As a result, this means that housing providers, local authorities and government agencies must work together because they are all serving the same customers.
Previous work by Etive, GDS and Tower Hamlets on the implementation and adoption of a single assured identity, identified a wide range of benefits.
Giving customers the ability to control and manage their own information helps to improve digital inclusion, empowerment and customers’ online journeys. Putting consent at the centre ensures that customers can manage who they share their information with, when it is shared and ensure GDPR compliance. The organisational benefits of this include reducing the ICT, security and integration costs associated with running multiple systems which lack interoperability.
Our previous work demonstrated that a metropolitan council with a population of 275,000 people will help to make savings of over £16 million over five years, comprising £4.4 million on identity assurance, £2.5 million on eligibility checking and £9.8 million on service delivery (note: these savings don’t include the costs incurred by housing providers who duplicate the same work).
Tackling fraud is another issue. It’s estimated that fraud costs the public sector £7.3 billion per year, of which 52 per cent is related to identity fraud. According to figures from Network Homes, “tenancy fraud is thought to cost UK housing providers and local authorities around one billion pounds per year.”
Evidence confirms that there are many cost savings to be realised across the adoption of a single, trusted and federated approach to identity.
Social and economic structures of our society
Digital identity also has implications for improving economic and financial inclusion.
Current work in the financial sector, using open banking, is assessing ways in which a single identity will enable financially-excluded people to use their verified identity to fully engage with financial services. This would enable financially-excluded people to open a basic bank account.
You can now sign a mortgage document using a Verify identity, apply for a passport or driving licence or get a DBS check.
An assured government digital identity increases convenience for the customer, reduces friction for accessing online services, enhances the control of identity and data, and will improve the process of digital transformation.
Quite simply, a digital identity is now a pre-requisite to taking part in the social and economic structures of our society.
Stuart Young is the managing director of Etive Technologies.