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Brokering, not breaking the Digital Economy


The Prime Minister’s recent Florence speech was designed to reset the floundering Brexit negotiations. Indeed, the speech heralded a new era of cooperation and partnership between the UK and the EU. It rightly considered economic aspects of exiting the EU, using the word 15 times. But I found it telling that the digital economy wasn’t mentioned once in the Florence speech.

And that got me thinking. Is the digital economy being downplayed or, worse still, overlooked? We all saw how prominently ‘digital’ featured in the Conservative Manifesto 2017 .

One of the strengths that British Battlers, even little ones, have is immense expertise of making the digital economy actually work.

We’re all hearing about financial services institutions getting a bit jumpy and threatening to relocate their operations to mainland Europe.

I somehow doubt that The City will ever be drained of talent but there are very real problems ahead for the private sector as well as the public sector if government doesn’t pull its socks up where the digital economy is concerned.

Let’s look at just two industries, both topical for different reasons but they share something common:

Banks have extra compliancy being thrust upon them. Open Banking, PSD2 and GDPR all exert pressures upon their operations. A lot of that extra compliance hinges on how they treat customer information. But with customers comes the challenge of identity.

Airlines similarly need the digital economy to go well. Their entire business model relies on being able to book flights and manage the throughput of passengers without breaking stride. But with passengers comes the challenge of identity.

Regular readers of Government Computing will know I’ve expressed some opinions before on identity. For example, in my last piece , I talked about the possibility of a new “symbiotic relationship” between public sector and private sector in the context of using government-assured digital identity.

The concept of this symbiosis was well received. Technically speaking, it’s all within easy reach without really stretching too hard. Politically speaking, the scene has been set by Cabinet Office. Commercially speaking, straightforward contracts between the parties are all it takes.

For that reason, in the same article, I outlined the importance of a “17-hand clap”, where Whitehall and industry work together to create a new open market on digital identity.

Again, it was well received. But it isn’t happening. Desire for a fully functional identity service only amounts to lip service if that desire is not backed up with action to bring it about. When vested interests get in the way, progress towards the common good for all involved is only going to be frustrated.

Identity Providers (IDPs), Relying Parties (RPs) and hub providers all need the Cabinet Office and each other. In turn, Cabinet Office needs them all to deliver Verify into the private sector.

The temporary logjams of today will clear tomorrow. I am certainly not alone in planning for an open market for digital identity. And with the framework expected “imminently” the market will stampede once that inflection point has been crossed. There will be some amazing people behind it and some amazing technology powering it, even if I do say so myself. What’s of greater importance to the digital economy and yes, to the national interest, is the requirement to deliver citizen verification with citizen consent in flow from an open market.

The Internet was never created with digital identity as part of the construct. It is taking a next generation of platforms for the fabric of the internet to bring you cyber-secure, digital identity services. This is so fundamental to online digital economy, to ebanking and ecommerce in all its forms, that it deserves much more than a soapbox and a few placards to get the message out.

Looking again at all we know about exchanges, for example London Stock Exchange, London Metal Exchange, I’m convinced there’s one stand-out approach that must be tried and applied to the market for digital identities.

Whereas original thinking was for the hub provider to buy from the IDP then resell to the Relying Party, perhaps the trader approach has shown itself to be too conventional for the next generation of digital identity.

Hub providers need to act purely as brokers, not traders, of digital identities. This means the hub provider should charge a fixed fee on each and every transaction, that is to say a known fee to the IDP and a known fee to the Relying Party, to broker the transaction.

If we do that, it won’t be a pep talk in Florence, it’ll be a celebration.

Frank Joshi is director of Mvine, an established British SME specialising in next generation platforms that power the digital economy

First published by Government Computing, 04 Oct 2017

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