The first principle of good on-line service design is to put the customer first. This can be quite straightforward when an organisation is in complete control of an online transaction. It becomes a lot more difficult when other organisations are involved. This is often the case in local government transactions where information about a customer’s entitlement or eligibility for a service is held by Government departments. The customer can then get lost in a difficult and time-consuming paper chase as they assemble the evidence they require to secure the service they need.
In those situations putting the customer first means finding a quick and efficient way of sharing eligibility and entitlement information on-line, in real time while the customer is filling out their on-line application form. And eliminating the paper chase isn’t only good for customers. It means local and central government can deliver services more efficiently and at lower cost.
The first challenge, then, is to develop effective, real-time data sharing mechanisms that allow eligibility and entitlement information to flow between organisations.
There is a problem, though. There have been a number of reports recently (see for example a recent report by the Digital Catapult) showing that the public do not trust organisations with their data and don’t know how that data is being used. This fear is fuelled by repeated stories of data breaches in both the private and public sectors.
So the second challenge is to share data in a way that customers understand, trust and are prepared to accept.
Warwickshire County Council has been working with The Government Digital Service and private sector partners (Verizon, Mydex andNorthgate Public Services) to deliver a number of Open Identity Exchange (OIX) sponsored projects that address these challenges head on. Last year we demonstrated that putting the customer in control of the data that is being shared in an online transaction can build trust and acceptance. The customers understood what data was being shared and why it was being shared. They were also delighted with the way the data sharing improved service delivery.
In our latest OIX project we have demonstrated that it is possible to build a technical solution that allows this data sharing happen for real. You can read about our findings in the white paper and technical paper on the OIXUK web site. We call the solution attribute exchange, and it has a number of key characteristics:
- Data is shared online, in real-time so that complex transactions can be completed there and then
- The customer is in control of the data that is shared and has to give consent before data is shared
- We know it is the customer who has consented because they have used their highly assured UK Verify credentials to log in
- Only the minimum data necessary to drive the transaction in hand is exchanged. In many cases the service provider only needs to get a yes/no answer back from the attribute provider. In our use case Warwickshire asked the DWP a simple yes/no question: “is this customer eligible for a Blue Badge?”
- The solution meets the relevant privacy principles developed by the Privacy and Consumer Advisory Group for identity assurance
- The solution is generic and standards based. It could be used for any service and any service provider/attribute provider pairing. It is applicable to the private and public sectors and could handle transactions that require a combination of private and public sector data
Attribute exchange can address the two challenges of providing online, real-time exchange of data in a way that customers trust, accept and welcome. The next challenge is to bring this solution to the market as a live service in order to deliver its transformative potential. This needs both the private and public sectors to participate. The private sector needs to provide the attribute exchange mechanisms. The public sector needs to embrace this opportunity to make life better for our customers while at the same time meeting demands for greater efficiency and lower costs.
There are signs that the private and public sectors are both prepared to step up to the mark. Watch this space.
Ian Litton. Warwickshire County Council