Going “Back to the Future” with Silos
In another life, as “Bob the Movie Man,” I am a prolific film reviewer—so, I often frame business problems in terms of famous movies.
For those old enough to remember “Back to the Future,” Marty McFly jumped into Doc Brown’s souped-up DeLorean and traveled back in time.
What would happen if Marty got into the DeLorean today and went back to 1985? What would Marty have found in terms of local government citizen service?
The answer is he would have found an environment where customer contact by phone was king but was made in a highly siloed fashion. Marty would have found government organizations with a telephone book of numbers that poor citizens had to wade through to reach the specific area of government they needed. He would have found no centralization of customer contact and high inefficiency in staff usage.
This, of course, was massively improved in the first decade of the century with the rise of contact centers based around either one single contact number (also known as a “golden number,” such as “311” in North America) or, at most, just a few contact numbers (or “silver” numbers). Verint solutions led the charge that delivered significant savings through this better management of customer access.
If we rev up the flux capacitor again and return to 2016, we would find that customer contact by digital is now king! But, with an ironic sense of déjà vu that only movie director and producer J.J. Abrams could dream up, most government organizations don’t have a single “golden” web portal with a single user ID and password.
Instead, many have a plethora of departmental portals—for example, one for “Taxation”; one for “Planning/Permits”; one for “Social Care”; etc. And, each of these has its own separate registration and log-in requirements.
Remember the phone book from 1985? Once again, the poor customer is left with complexity and frustration—something that acts as yet another barrier to further channel shift.
A technical answer exists for this problem, and that is the use of an Identity Provider (IdP), which is sometimes also referred to as an Identity Assertion Provider. When you log in to the “portal,” you are passed seamlessly across to the IdP for authentication. Once done, you are passed back into the portal in an authenticated state and, in theory, are authorized to access any of the underlying department-specific portals.
The Scottish Government (in the form of the Scottish Improvement Service) is leading the way in citizen identification. It created an IdP called “My Account” (not to be confused with Verint’s “My Account” digital portal!), which Verint customers in Scotland—for example, North Lanarkshire Council—are starting to connect to.
Another system being beta tested in England and Wales, as a more commercial-outsourced model, is Gov.UK Verify, which started operation in central government departments but is now attempting to be rolled out more broadly across the U.K. public sector. The government of Singapore has instituted its “Singpass” system. The U.S. and Canada currently have no recognized national system.
All these IdP approaches, however, require interoperability standards to avoid extensive customized integration work, with Security Assertions Markup Language (SAML) being the standard that best supports this cross-system authentication. Unfortunately, not all government systems use this standard yet.
The best approach, in my opinion, would call for government regulation that dictates SAML support be a key requirement for inclusion in government frameworks, as well as making SAML support a mandatory requirement of any purchased digital systems moving forward.
In that way, at least, when Marty gets to 2020, we might see an integrated digital environment that is ‘Fit for the Future.’
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