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MOSIP ready for next phase after building up digital ID ecosystem

MOSIP ready for next phase after building up digital ID ecosystem
 

The Modular Open-Source Identity Platform has made a major impact on the digital ID systems of countries in Asia and Africa, and is laying the groundwork to reach more countries and new regions with a maturing ecosystem. New partners, biometric devices, and specifications are being added to MOSIP at a brisk pace, and the organization is shifting its focus from establishing the platform to disseminating it.

On the sidelines of its recent MOSIP Partner Conversations event in Nairobi, Kenya on the eve of ID4Africa 2023, Biometric Ecosystem Head Sanjith Sundaram and Chief Dissemination Officer Nagarajan Santhanam joined Biometric Update to discuss the platform’s rapid progress and promising future.

The MOSIP team is made up of only a couple dozen employees, many of whom have been together since it was established to help give countries more choice among digital identity technologies. All of MOSIP’s senior leaders have remained with the organization since its foundation, according to Sundaram.

Since then, digital identity systems based on MOSIP have been rolled out in the Philippines and Morocco, and pilots are running in countries including Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka.

The scale of MOSIP’s influence, and its fast growth, would seem to belie the size of the team behind it. Sundaram emphasizes the importance of the ecosystem approach in helping MOSIP scale.

The ecosystem is made up of partners drawn from among biometrics and digital ID technology vendors, as well as the countries it works with. It also increasingly includes testing labs, academic institutions, and other non-profit organizations.

Ecosystem construction ongoing

MOSIP launched its partner program specifically for digital identity system integrators to support their involvement while also ensuring their compliance with the platform. Commercial partners are system integrators that work with governments and run system implementation, while technology partners provide devices or services which are vetted by MOSIP in a sandbox environment.

“With system integrators, what we wanted to make sure of is not a product, it’s about a company and their capability,” he explains.

The program now consists of 14 system integrators, 12 of them both commercial and technology system integrator partners, and 2 which are only technology integrators, according to Sundaram.

The idea is that as MOSIP provides the software modules and the platform to connect them, partners provide the devices and matching engines needed to complete the system. The system integrator performs minor customization, and the implementation is supported by MOSIP.

“What that means is we’re giving some sort of an assurance or a guarantee to the country that if you’re going onto this platform, we are there to support you with Level 3 support,” Sundaram explains.

MOSIP takes no compensation from the countries it works with for the initial setup, maintenance, or any other part of the process.

Products must include an interface that fits MOSIP definitions to make it easy for countries to implement in order to be compliant. Data security and privacy are baked into the system, Sundaram says.

When the Philippines selected MOSIP as a digital public good, the country floated separate requests for proposals for devices and an integrator to help with their setup. The RFP for biometric enrollment kits was won by Thales, which supplied around 7,800 kits. The system’s implementation was supported by a small set of engineers from MOSIP’s pool. The Philippines has now started launching use cases for its ID system, with 78 million people enrolled.

System integrators had a somewhat different job in implementing Morocco’s MOSIP-based digital ID. With a much more concentrated and smaller population, Morocco began using the system for service delivery once it registered 10 million people.

MOSIP also works on capacity building and training for system integrators, Sundaram points out, which in turn helps it support more initiatives. The MOSIP Academy is a voluntary set of training materials for system integrators with an evaluation at the end.

The partner ecosystem was built by first engaging with suppliers of biometric devices, automated biometric identification systems (ABIS) and SDKs to bring in the commercial solutions that MOSIP anticipated countries would need. Countries working with the platform ask MOSIP to recommend a system integrator or a particular biometric device, but the organization seeks to remain neutral.

Instead MOSIP created its marketplace, which lists all qualified partners. The benefits to those commercial partners, he says, are many.

“It could be participating in pilots, it could be participating in the specification preparation activities, and then technology initiatives, because we also need to consider the market. We do not say that we are experts in face technology, for example. We know that there are prospective partners out there who are skilled in that.”

Experience centers are the next frontier in the ecosystem. Sundaram explains that in addition to the original MOSIP Experience Centre at IIIT-Bangalore, the organization is working to expand the concept. An MoU has already been signed to help establish a digital ID experience center, with MOSIP as a partner and one component within it, with CMU Rwanda. MOSIP is also in talks with the University of the Philippines. Eventually, MOSIP wants one or two experience centers in each region it works in.

Sundaram describes the Experience Centres as “more like a walk-in POC of MOSIP,” with visitors acting as the ID authority for an imaginary country.

Testing is also an important element in the ecosystem. MOSIP does not perform any testing itself, however, but rather is creating an ecosystem of independent testing labs and a framework for how to certify devices.

MOSIP is already working with Australia-based BixeLab to create a specification for biometric device interfaces, and with Europe-based Ferma for cryptography standards to protect the sensitive data that is stored and used on the digital ID platform.

BixeLab is already onboarded for testing, and Sundaram revealed that Ingenium is next in the pipeline. He has written to all biometrics laboratories accredited by NIST, and is planning to write to FIDO-accredited labs as well, to invite them to be part of MOSIP’s testing ecosystem, even as the testing regime is being built.

“I think we are almost there for the enrollment devices,” Sundaram says. “For authentication devices it will take some more time because that has got the cryptography engine inside the devices.”

An announcement about the progress on testing specifications is expected soon.

A compliance kit for partners is also available to provide tools and utilities to enable them to develop compliant interfaces without much direct help from MOSIP.

Sundaram describes the approach as “like mimicking a MOSIP system and our interface in a small utility so that they can test continuously against the system and then fine-tune their development.” This provides assurance that interfaces are ready, ahead of placement in the experience center for a fully-functional demonstration.

Faster pilots, emerging tech

Santhanam, MOSIP’s chief dissemination officer, says that as the platform has been further developed and rolled out, the team has constantly learned from the experience.

The new rapid pilot deployment model was introduced within the past year, and is one of the products of that learning. MOSIP will help countries set up a pilot, which may involve only a couple of thousand people, with implementation and enrollment completed within two months of the agreement being signed. The longest step in the process is often waiting for the initial shipment of biometric devices, according to Sundaram. MOSIP’s first pilots took six to eight months to launch.

There were four MOSIP pilots running in parallel at the time of the interview.

The organization also engages with partners on these pilots, in part to demonstrate the options countries have. If four biometric enrollment kits are needed, Sundaram says, MOSIP will attempt to make sure at least a couple of different options are included in the pilot.

Faster pilot delivery, along with application of the “80/20 rule” in which countries use a template developed by those that have gone before them and then customize it, shortens the time frame for implementation, Santhanam says. “Service delivery is pushed to a very early stage.”

Even as the process for adoption speeds up, biometric technology is evolving, and Sundaram notes that if countries are interested in running a proof-of-concept with an emerging technology like contactless fingerprints, MOSIP will support it.

MOSIP is in talks with Integrated Biometrics, Tech5 and Identy about integrating their contactless fingerprint technologies. To showcase their products, the organization is planning a new section within its marketplace for promising technologies that are still being developed and evaluated.

“We are constantly listening to all of these activities that are going on,” Sundaram says.

Along those same lines, the experience center in Bangalore already showcases two voice biometrics engines.

The organization must be clear with countries about what the options are, Sundaram emphasizes. Open communication is a theme that comes up several times during the conversation.

“Unless we tell them about something that is coming up, a country won’t even think about it,” Sundaram says. “So they will not be able to be a catalyst in this movement. They’ll not be able to participate in the movement.”

The POC both allows countries to evaluate and possibly leverage new technology, as well as support and influence its development.

“Countries get to see an end-to-end POC, partners are able to showcase what they are capable of and participate in the new standards-building activities, and academic institutes coming together and then trying to solve problems that are still open,” says Sundaram.

Communication with countries also includes feedback on MOSIP itself, and some have been invited to participate in framework-building as observers.

MOSIP is also evolving based on internal feedback, often in the form of vigorous debate. Sundaram and Santhanam describe a team with very low turnover and high trust in each other, engaged in “a lot of healthy arguments.” The dissemination team looks at itself as a customer of the engineering team.

The second wave

There are now around 80 commercial partners of MOSIP, who have placed over 50 solutions in the experience center. Twenty-seven countries have visited the experience center so far, and several more have engaged with MOSIP in other ways. Eleven countries are at various stages of MOSIP adoption, and the education and testing programs are advancing rapidly.

This means the first phase of the platform’s development is nearly complete, according to Santhanam. As with any platform, he says, the first phase is about building and stabilizing the platform, while the second is more focussed on dissemination, and the third is service delivery.

While Sundaram says “the doors are always open” to potential partners, the next phase of activity for MOSIP will be different.

“Our focus will not be to have a lot of outreach,” Sundaram reveals. “We have a good ecosystem. We will make sure that we work closely with them. Make sure that there are enough opportunities for our partners, because that’s a sustainable model. They also get more visibility et cetera.”

The maturation of the partner ecosystem is making the platform more efficient, Santhanam says. They will continue influencing the project, while presenting it as an option to countries on their own.

“We want to make our partners more successful,” he says. “That is our model because we are a non-profit organization. We are not here to make money. We have a world-class platform in place, so it is our partners who will take it and disseminate it to the next level.”

The second phase of MOSIP’s growth also includes plans for expansion into Latin America. Breaking into a new geography comes with various challenges, as for any organization, and Santhanam says countries are right to look for examples of any platform’s successful implementation in their own region.

“Getting into any new region takes a lot of groundwork, but I think the market has been crying out to us,” Santhanam says. “We feel a lot of cultural difference between Africa and Latin America. Latin America we feel is a little more mature, there are many places that already have an ID system, and they might need MOSIP for a different purpose.”

He believes an agreement signed at the beginning of the year between IIT-B and the Latin American and Caribbean Council for Civil Registry, Identity and Vital Statistics (CLARCIEV) will help it reach countries in the region that are looking to upgrade their digital ID systems.

In the meantime, there are two or three more countries “pretty close” to signing agreements, according to Santhanam.

Getting the platform right was the initial focus, Santhanam says, much more than carefully crafted messaging. He recounts an early encounter with a biometrics vendor holding the misconception that MOSIP would be more of a competitor than a partner. Those days are over.

The pieces of the ecosystem are in place. Part of the next challenge, according to Santhanam, is fending off the perception that MOSIP is too good to be true.

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