ICT Principles 3 of 8: Single Identity

2

May 8, 2012 by Jim Morton

This is the third of eight blog posts which will describe our general principles for ICT; these are the major ideas that underpin our formal strategy documents and will influence our decision making in the coming years. For a list of all of the principles see this previous post.

“Single identity: Access to all ICT services and electronic information will be through a single electronic identity.”

WHAT IS IT?

Historically most of us have only had one identity to worry about, one driving license, one passport and various other documents and records that allowed us to prove that we were indeed this single person and allowed us to drive cars, go on holiday, get drunk and vote (although hopefully not all at the same time).

Even small changes to your identity (e.g. changing address, or your last name changing due to marriage) can cause all sorts of problems and stress. So spare a thought for former drug smuggler and alleged MI6 operative, Howard Marks, who had to juggle at least forty different identities to travel around while dodging all sorts of career related difficulties.

Although I imagine that most of the people reading this are probably not international smugglers, or spies, or both – everyone using the web now has a trail of different on-line identities and electronic alter-egos that have expanded like crazy over the last five to ten years. How many forgotten, obsolete or superseded online identities do you have? Mine must number in the hundreds, very few of which share any characteristics.

Even within the cosy confines of our organisation, every system that I use has its own ID and password for authentication and access. While this problem is mitigated to a certain extent by our clever simplified sign-on software, WCC are making use of more and more web based and external services (twitter, yammer, wordpress etc.) so the problem is beginning to emerge again.

This principle is about using a single identity as the key to all of the services that you want to use, whether you are an external user, or someone more deeply involved with WCC like a member of staff, an elected councillor or working for a partner organisation.

WHY DO WE WANT TO DO THIS?

The most obvious reason for using a single identity is that of simplicity, why have the chore remember loads of identity and password credentials when you can use just one.

Fortunately this model is already spreading across the consumer web, I can use a Google, Facebook, Yahoo or OpenID identity to access a whole load of services from different web sites and suppliers using one trusted identity, rather than creating new ones.

Crucially, on many public facing sites I can still choose for my name/picture to be different so I can post ill-informed opinions about modern cinema and Morrissey’s recent output without fear of cultural retaliation or identity theft, while making the world think I look like some kind of cartoon samurai.

There is no reason why the same model can’t work for WCC – of course the degree to which we would trust an external identity provider will be closely linked to the nature of the service provided. It may be that we only trust services with a more rigorous sign up procedure for more sensitive information or procedures.

In addition to simplifying everything for the user, a single identity model would clarify our user administration processes and standardise application design: heavily reducing the effort and resources needed – not an insignificant benefit in an organisation with several thousand registered users and hundreds of applications.

On top of these rather practical benefits, a single identity allows us to understand a user’s requirements more fully, leading to targeted and intelligent services. However further discussion of this area of personalisation must wait until a future installment of this series of blog posts on our strategic principles – specifically the one cunningly titled ‘Personalisation’.

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2 thoughts on “ICT Principles 3 of 8: Single Identity

  1. Stephen Such says:

    Is this the same thing as single customer view?

  2. Jim Morton says:

    This particular principle is more about managing electronic identity than managing all of the information that we would hold on a customer, or rationalising our references to an individual (which is more the concern of the second principle, Reuse).

    There is definitely overlap though, especially when we think about giving access to people to manage their information as held by WCC, or when we start to interface with external personal data stores rather than holding personal info ourselves.

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