User-centric Identity

This month, I once again contributed an article to The Paypers’ Voice of the Industry where I covered user-centric data and its impact on customer transactions. You can read the original post here.

User-centric Identity

We are in a time when customer expectations concerning their online experience is becoming ever more sophisticated. In tandem, some of the negative aspects of online privacy are becoming better understood and questioned by those customers. These issues affect us not only as merchants but also as consumers and it is impacting the design of consumer identity – globally. With user experience, speed of transaction, user control, privacy and security all featuring highly on the consumer’s agenda when transacting online, the key question is whether the current status of online identity offerings can provide the type of system that today’s customer expects.

Or do new user centric or consumer identity models hold the key to frictionless customer transactions?

Imagine if as a consumer you could….

Book a flight providing just the identity information needed and no more, pay, and do it all with just 3 simple clicks on your mobile.

or
Register a new business, register said business for tax and open a business bank account – without having to send paperwork off or visiting a physical branch.

or
Vote in an election from the comfort of your own living room, securely, and on your mobile.

So what is user centric or consumer identity?

The aim of user centric identity is, as the name suggests, a system that holds the customer at the centre of the design. The user is able to share previously verified information with the required organisation to allow the transaction to take place, without having to share more personal information than the transaction requires.

Let’s use an example where the customer is required to be over 18. Rather than be required to provide larger quantities of personal information that can also provide friction during a transaction, the user would only need to share previously verified information to confirm that yes, they are over the legal age or no, they are not. Information such as full name, DOB, address, ID card’s, passport or driving license wouldn’t be necessary since the user is already age-verified and would then be allowed to purchase the age-restricted goods or services.

Some will object to this design because they fear a lack of consumer data from such transactions. This is because the merchant only has access to the information it needs to make the transaction. But if merchants want more data for their own analytics, they simply need to request this data from the user or ask how much information the user is willing to share. Granted permission from the user means that consumer data will be easier and safer than ever before. This design also protects the user’s privacy whilst simultaneously reducing the security burden on the merchant.

Enabling a digital society

The aim of a user centric digital society is to enable users to access public and private services securely and conveniently in a privacy-enhanced and secure way. But to achieve this we need to understand the differences between now and what could be.

One of the critical differences in a user centric digital society is enabled through the infrastructure. Instead of one single, all-encompassing central system or identity database, the design is based on an open, decentralised system that links together multiple identity and security service providers. All of these security service providers would have met a set of standards to ensure they can be trusted to deliver into the ecosystem. This allows the safe, convenient and flexible exchange of private, government and corporate data.

The global economy

A number of countries are already using new security standards and identity models, openly stating the financial benefits it has had on their economy. One example has been in Estonia. Here, they have gone straight to mobile identity that allows users to verify their identities using their mobile as a secure token. Many more countries are moving in this direction including the US, UK and New Zealand amongst others. All of which are adopting slightly different approaches but the context remains the same.

Whilst there is not yet a global interoperable infrastructure for electronic identity, there are a number of programs already looking at how each country’s standards would work to allow these digital identities to not only federate within a given country but into other countries too.

Future opportunity not threat

If user centric identity design becomes widespread then the cost and speed of verifying a customer should (in the long term) significantly reduce. It should also enable customers to feel more secure and encourage a channel shift from offline to online. These moves can only bode well for ecommerce in country and cross-border global commerce.