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Decentralized digital identity takes the stage at European KuppingerCole event

Decentralized digital identity takes the stage at European KuppingerCole event

A generalized IT trend towards decentralization is finding expression in digital identity, speakers explained during the European Identity and Cloud (EIC) Conference 2022. The conditions are right for change, but come with their own set of challenges.

The digital transformation that has accelerated with recent world events has led to new patterns and increases in risk for businesses, and swung the pendulum of IT ecosystems back towards decentralization, according to KuppingerCole Principal Analyst Martin Kuppinger.

Growth in disruptive times like the present requires leadership, Kuppinger says. Leadership in uncertain times like the present means an increased focus on cloud-based speed and agility and a strategy for sustainability, he argues, with reference to McKinsey analysis.

The challenges posed by new threats also yield opportunity, for those who embrace a new IT paradigm. While ‘decentralized’ is just one of ten characteristics of this paradigm, as presented by Kuppinger, it also informs several other characteristics, such as being ‘distributed,’ ‘collaborative,’ and ‘hyperconnected.’

A series of charts describes the environment in terms of disruption and differentiation, the adaptability of ‘composable’ enterprises, and how leadership can help guide organizations through a shift away from corporate siloes.

Composable IT involves orchestration of decentralized elements, and while the point is made of IT in general, the concept applies directly to digital identity.

‘Don’t mention blockchain’

Former Simprints Executive Sebastian Manhart, now a technical consultant on Identification for Development at the World Bank, spoke at EIC 2022 about ‘Advocating for decentralised identity in Europe.’

Manhart recounts how he became concerned about the centralized collection of digital identity data while at Simprints.

“I started to feel a bit uneasy about that, because I would be, to put it bluntly, with a Minister who wanted all the biometric data of his citizens under his desk.”

From there he moved to Germany’s Chancellery, which was attempting to establish a decentralized digital ID scheme for the country under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The resulting launch of mobile driver’s licenses last September “didn’t go particularly well,” Manhart admits, possibly hindering his attempts to advocate for a common direction across Europe.

Despite this, he still sees decentralized identity as “the last phase in the natural evolution of digital identity,” following centralized and federated identity.

The seven lessons he presents from his experiences in the public sector include the disconnects between civil and political leaders, between tech and governments, which tend not to recruit the top IT talent, and the private sector and national and EU processes. Manhart also says the “legacy systems are here to stay,” due not just to financial but also emotional commitments.

Emotional attachment and politics are behind the insistence that Europe build on eIDAS 1.0 with the next generation of the digital ID framework, despite the initial version yielding poor results.

Blockchain is still a taboo for many people, including some civil society organizations and data protection authorities. Focusing on the concepts without mentioning blockchain seems to yield more productive conversations, he says. Open source technology is as poorly understood as blockchain, but tends to draw the opposite reaction, and will play a big part in the future of IT, according to Manhart.

Finally, big tech is trying to move into digital ID, and will try to monopolize it, he warns. They are faster, have more resources and larger user bases than governments, he notes. Whether governments choose to take an antagonistic approach with regulation or a cooperative one, the increase in competition is forcing the public sector to deliver results.

Manhart has observed both a market uptick in European governments engaging with decentralized identity in the past two years, and the development of the technology by the private sector in the region, making him optimistic, despite the challenges he describes.

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