The faster pace of digital transformation has led us all to review what we are doing as businesses, how we are doing business, and how we are digitally serving our customers. As housing providers and local authorities put more of their services online, we’re seeing some great examples of creativity in the way that they are redeveloping their web sites and mobile applications.
Customers are being encouraged to carry out a variety of business transactions and activities online, which is saving housing providers and local authorities a great deal of time and money. These transactions are largely focused on the principle of ‘My Account’; an online account for the customer to pay their rent, report a repair or anti-social behaviour and other low-level business functions. The information is not controlled nor owned by the customer. At the same time, in the real world, we are increasingly being encouraged to manage our own information and to use this to our benefit.
As more services and transactions move online, people are being encouraged to develop more one-to-one online relationships with a wider range of service providers. For each of these organisations, people are asked to ‘register’ their details and set up an account, each with unique credentials, using different processes and technologies, disparate authentication processes and ever more complex security procedures.
A recent US National Institute for Standards and Technology report found that on average employees authenticate themselves 23 times within a 24 hour period. If we sit back and think about it, how many different online activities do we carry out every day that require us to authenticate ourselves?
For the digitally and financially excluded, we are making it very difficult.
Legal standard of identity
There are a number of steps required to help the digitally and financially excluded to overcome the challenges of multi-service authentication and access, and the Government Digital Service (GDS) has been leading on this with Verify.
GOV.UK Verify is the new way to prove who you are online with the ability to establish who you are once and once only, so enabling people to easily access a wide range of government and local authority services.
Helping vulnerable people to set themselves up with a legal standard of identity enabling them to reuse their credentials to access housing and other public services has to been seen as the best route forward. Providing people with their own unique set of credentials to use and share with service providers not only makes it easier for customers but also supports a number of business efficiencies for housing providers and local authorities.
In order to make digital identity a reality for housing providers and local authorities, the question of how to reach the digital footprints of the demographic who are the highest users of public service must be answered, alongside the need to address behavioural change.
The OIX Discovery project, ‘Micro sources of data, the role of the aggregator’, involving Etive Technologies and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets offers a practical solution for the data gap challenge and addresses the business case for the adoption of Verify for service providers.
Getting identity right
Getting identity right is key to a fully-functioning digital strategy. I believe that getting housing providers and local authorities to think beyond merely making small gains by giving customers a faster, cheaper or better online experience is a big challenge. A recent SOCITM report pointed out that “marginal reductions in transaction costs through cosmetic changes to the customer interface and so-called ‘channel shift’ have monopolised our thinking”.
There are various levels of identity authentication which directly affect a person’s ability to access more complex and expensive transactions. These levels range from Level of Access 1 (LOA1) up to LOA4. At LOA1, no real identity evidence is required but any which involves money will need a higher LOA and verification has to be to a legal standard, not a self-asserted level that is only applicable to one service provider. Just taking a picture of your customer, while useful, is not enough.
The business costs of developing a self-asserted identity are huge, leading to many failed attempts to design, develop and deliver services online, linked to one service provider. It’s usual nowadays for customers to access multiple services from multiple service providers multiple times per day, week and month and need a simple and easy way to access these services.
Combined with this, as customers move between councils, housing providers and service providers their history is lost and we put them back through the process of having to reassert who they are and probably using a different process, technology and time period.
We need to give customers the tools to manage their own information. This is information and history that stays with them wherever they move, ensuring a smooth and efficient access to and delivery of services. Empirical evidence demonstrates that up to 80 per cent of social housing tenants are capable of managing their own information online, already manage their own information and want to continue to do so (source: Birmingham City Council UC Pilot, 2013).
Simply by giving customers control of their own information and enabling them to share it with multiple agencies and services providers using a defined identity standard will help housing providers and local authorities move beyond the confines of enabling tenants to pay their rent online and report a repair. There are also numerous business benefits for them to not to have to manage all this data, especially when GDPR comes into effect next year.
Customers want access to multiple services from multiple service providers yet service providers continue to provide inconsistent and complex user experiences and access. This ultimately makes it more difficult for the customer, so hindering real channel shift.
Stuart Young is managing director of Etive Technologies.