Governments across the globe are keen to get citizens to use transactional digital services. Making Digital Government Work for Everyone is a clear and simple strategy that can deliver huge benefits to citizens and governments. It’s not fun when you get it wrong though!
The GDS GOV.UK Verify service has been getting some heat recently as they announced the public beta. Some farmers reacted angrily at being shut out of the new online service for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) applications and payments as they were unable to certify their identity using the government identity assurance scheme. The opposition Labour Party weighed in calling on the government to urgently address the issues with “Verify”.
Identity Assurance is a core digital building block that enables public digital services. However, it is a complex and emotional minefield that must be managed carefully to protect public concerns on privacy. I was fortunate enough to have implemented the myaccount service in Scotland which was adopted by City of Edinburgh Council. What is more the service transformation was implemented in 6 months once the OJEU procurement process was completed.
The Scottish Government myaccount service transformed and modernised an outdated system whose golden data sources are owned and managed by the 32 Scottish local authorities. All councils know their citizen details because they must provide services to each and every household and individual throughout their lives whilst they remain within their jurisdiction.
The GDS strategy for identity assurance adopted a different approach where commercial identity providers were contracted to verify and assign trust to the identity of an individual. The accuracy of any identity match will depend on the quality of data and the information that a citizen enters during registration. The easier we make it to narrow down the name and address of a citizen, the simpler the process. Establishing trust is another matter!
The myaccount service establishes trust by linking a citizen name (as held by the health records) and citizen address (as held by the OSG) and then establishing a known fact or secret that only an authentic user can provide which must match to a trusted golden data source of transaction related data held by a local authority. For example, a citizen may need to provide the myaccount service with a council tax reference number that can be linked to their name and registered address to assign an online and real-time level of assurance. The service has an impressive accuracy for getting a match at first attempt. Where exceptions occur, a manual overnight batch process kicks in to investigate multiple matches and create a myccount.
These technical details aside. The most critical measure by which any public service will be measured, especially an identity assurance service like Verify or myaccount, is going to be based on the spectrum of services that a citizen can access once they have gone through the process of registering for an online identity and provided the necessary proofs. The more the services, the less will be the focus on the few users who could not be registered or make use of the service.
Digital services are driven by the dream to deliver faster, better and smarter. Unfortunately, most public sector organisations and government departments that run such projects tend to work at a very slow pace. Every digital project that is live within government adopts agile, scrum and whiteboards are plentiful. However, the timescales for delivery has time horizons of 5 years. Agile!!?
My own experience is that the public sector is managed and driven by people who have good intent. Sadly, the public sector and government in general has a very poor track record of managing innovative IT initiatives. Keeping it simple and following a truly agile approach to delivery can lead to results faster but the strategy has to be driven by content first! Health, Education, Council Services, etc. How can the citizen access new services easily, efficiently and with reduced delays.
The GDS team are making great inroads and will succeed as the service uptake gathers pace. Innovation and change takes time to bed down. Good things will eventually follow. I’m an optimist!