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Outcome of public digital infrastructures should be social before being economical

Categories Biometrics News  |  In Depth  |  Industry Insights
Outcome of public digital infrastructures should be social before being economical

Jaume Dubois, Senior consultant at ID30, previously former SVP Product and Projects at Gemalto, Thales and Laxton, explains its vision of inclusive digital public infrastructures which should be more short term outcome focused to better reach inclusion.

Current technologies dig the digital gap instead of filling it

Slow progresses have been made on the UN SDG 16.9 as the last word bank dataset still count 800 Millions people without an identity. Indeed, despite the important investments made by countries on digital identity, the unregistered keep unregistered and finally most of people already on-boarded on new digital identities are the ones which were already registered.

Technologies deployed are in fact digging the digital gap as they become more and more unavoidable for daily life, if inclusion is a principle claimed by numerous organizations and countries in their systems, in reality significant part of population is kept isolated for them.

Key reasons for that are that those systems assume availability of connectivity, devices and literacy will be in place soon but it won’t be the case soon. Even in India where Aadhaar has permitted immense progresses isolated areas are kept out of infrastructures and therefore out of digital services.

Impact of digital identity on marginalized groups

While digital identity systems have the potential to improve access to services and economic opportunities, they can also exacerbate existing inequalities and discrimination. According to the UNDP report, “digital ID systems may deepen existing inequalities, particularly for already marginalized groups, including women, refugees, stateless persons, ethnic and religious minorities, and persons with disabilities.” [Source: UNDP Report “Identity in a Digital Age” (2020)]

That situation is worse in sub-Saharan Africa countries where literacy level is low and basic infrastructures are not in there. Building communication infrastructures has a high cost and at the moment are based on private mobile network providers investment, those one of course looking for positive Return on Investment: enough subscribers, enough traffic. But most of those people can’t afford a smartphone and mobile data subscription and significant part of them can’t simply read or write.

Filling the digital gaps by disrupting the digital market habits

Bringing technologies to people, adapting them to their needs and capabilities, assisting them in its use are the only ways to make progress on digital inclusion and country development through social development of people.

I have spent majority of my carrier working on solutions and country digital programs in large multinationals, so I can understand what are breaks for inclusive and social benefits innovations.

Some of them are : preserving high economic return on investment models keeping on static solutions rather than bringing innovation which would take the risk to decrease market shares if innovating for better inclusion, selling high volumes at high prices instead of same solution to all rather than delivering according to individuals capabilities, mass country and unique existing solution oriented advising rather than tailored advising according to countries’ specificities and existing infrastructure and identification assets.

The need for not-for-profit innovations

From previous status, there is clearly a need for a new models to disrupt how countries assistance is ensured and bring in solutions portfolio for taking into account the unregistered.

It starts by having a social outcome oriented approach in country assistance focused on a ‘Inclusive first’ approach before a ‘Service first’ one.

So we play the role of catalyzer for inclusive innovation by developing collective Labs in partnership with experts, technologist, universities and countries, we build identify technologies for inclusion based on what’s already available un countries, then build prototype that we will dry-run and tune on the field thanks to country partners, once successful we will make sure they can be available on the digital marketplaces.

For example leveraging 2G Networks and USSD to increase the reach of digital services, build more mobility and decentralization in registration to facilitate the onboarding of remote communities, invest on education and improve the User Interfaces with user of Natural Language AI to tackle illiteracy issues. Building these solutions require  to involve those local communities, this is where countries have a role to play in emergence of suitable solutions for their own needs.

Countries need to embrace the growing Digital Public Goods and Digital Public Infrastructures trend, they need notably to take part to their building, build their own local or regional Public Goods.

Consulting firms have to play their role of hearing voice of countries and influence global DPGs/DPIs. We at ID30 are an active builder of that ecosystem: leading Identity Building Block at GovStack and advising Togo in its deployment of MOSIP.

For countries building a DPI is similar challenge to building their own Google infrastructure

If DPGs and DPIs are answers for more sustainability on long term, deploying them requires some strong prerequisites in term of infrastructures. Indeed those system have to be highly available and therefore need to apply the highest standards of ICT, building them is like building your own Google locally.. at least, it will requires high end Datacenters doubled with a disaster recovery site, high bandwidth WAN networks in between them and all around the country.

We often hear that Identity is the Foundation for Digital Systems, but it’s not; Digital Identity is the first floor but the Foundation is bringing digital interaction capacities to all which is based on ICT infrastructure and telecommunications means.

A report by the International Telecommunication Union notes that “digital inclusion is about creating an environment in which all individuals and communities can access and use ICTs (information and communication technologies) to enhance their social and economic wellbeing.” This includes not only access to technology, but also the skills and support needed to use it effectively.

Mutualizing and moving responsibilities to allow long term investment

A study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) found that many government leaders prioritize short-term goals over long-term investments, leading to a lack of sustained investment in digital infrastructure. This often results in limited progress and difficulties in achieving development goals.

In contrast, countries such as South Korea, Estonia, and Singapore have seen success in digital transformation by implementing long-term plans and sustained investments in digital infrastructure. For example, South Korea’s government has consistently invested in digital infrastructure since the 1990s, resulting in a highly developed digital economy and society.

Most of digital programs are funded by development agencies for a limited period, once collapsed countries have no other choices that getting funds for replacing their digital system as nobody will pay for maintenance. This situation is reinforced by Politicians which are expecting short term result during their short term mandates and won’t investing on something for long term.

Responsibilities of those long term digital infrastructures investments have to be carried on by multi-year plans, for which each politicians as a civil servant should take is part without expecting immediate outcome. This can works when the government profondly changes the rules by creating institutional long term leadership through regulations and new leadership on ICT. A strong ICT ministry will reporting to the head of the state with a mandate written in the low will be an accelerator for sustainable digital transformation and will be bring immense contribution to development of countries.

About the author

For the past 20 years, Jaume Dubois has been developing identity projects in Africa and Latin America. Through his work with Thales on unique ID solutions as well as serving as the Senior Vice President of Marketing, Products and Presales at Laxton Group, he established ID30 with a mission to attend to the necessities of emerging nations when it comes to foundational ID and national identity programs.

Dubois is an authority in digital transformation. Spanning his previous and current roles as a technology advisor, speaker at ID4Africa, Identity Week, and Trustech; plus advisory functions for Digital Public Goods, founding member of OSIA, government advisor for MOSIP implementation in Togo, and Identity Working Group lead at GovStack – he is one of the most polyvalent people in his field.

DISCLAIMER: Biometric Update’s Industry Insights are submitted content. The views expressed in this post are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Biometric Update.

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