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Digital transformation, easing access to services and NIST in the spotlight at ID4Africa Day 2

Real-world insight into building impactful digital ID programs
Categories Biometrics News  |  ID for All  |  In Depth
Digital transformation, easing access to services and NIST in the spotlight at ID4Africa Day 2

Executives of digital ID and biometrics companies took the front seat on Day 2 of the ID4Africa annual general meeting in Cape Town to share details of their real-world experiences on successfully building and operating digital identity systems that create, or should create, massive social impact.

The insightful discussions were featured in a two-part plenary, the first of which was moderated by the director general of Nigeria’s National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Abisoye Coker-Odusote.

Executives from companies including Mühlbauer Group, Idemia, Innovatrics, IN Groupe, Protean, Veridos, Thales, SITA, and Emptech, made focussed presentations unravelling their biometrics and other technological innovations, challenges and lessons learned in their real-world digital identity deployments in some countries.

Matthias Kar Köhler from Mulhbauer Group got things started, explaining how their technology has helped set Mozambique on the path to its digital transformation journey. He said the company enabled the Southeastern African country to set up a robust and holistically managed identity system which has expanded access to public and private sector services for a majority of the country’s 33 million people.

With significant investment in the ID program, which included building physical infrastructure and setting up a foundational database, the country has been able to make huge strides not only in enabling access to a gamut of services, but also in expanding the possibilities of financial and social inclusion, allowing many more people to have bank accounts and enjoy access to diverse services.

Idemia Regional Sales Manager for Africa Karim Bendadda shared tips on key considerations for selecting and deploying a national digital ID system. One of the very first things for governments to consider at the beginning of the process, he said, is to carefully consider the economic and social realities of the country, and ensure that the legal, administrative and technology aspects are also fully studied and sorted out. This also includes putting in place specific laws and a good governance framework, while involving all relevant stakeholders at all levels of the project progress, from inception.

Inclusivity, user experience

Inclusivity and user experience are crucial for any digital ID program, Bendadda said, adding that the government must make sure the system aligns with international specifications and standards, and that the various use cases of the digital ID are clearly identified. He also mentioned considerations for user experience and privacy by design to ensure data protection guarantees as well as interoperability to support seamless data exchange. He described interoperability as the backbone of a modern digital ID system. Above all, a good digital ID system must be built in a flexible and agile manner as to be able to quickly adapt to new realities and emerging needs.

Taking the cue, Céline Gouveia, vice president for Identity Sales and Government Programs at IN Groupe, said with the supersonic changes in the world, the question people should now be asking is how to set up a successful sovereign digital identity system and not whether to have one.

She shared the company’s experience working with authorities on identity projects in over 70 countries around the world, with some of their latest projects involving Gabon and Kenya.

For a successful system to be built, the IN Groupe executive said it is important to identify the specific needs and ensure that the ID system meets them, make the right choices on the technology partners especially by avoiding locked-in systems, and then capitalize on the infrastructure and resources which are already in place, if any. “The infrastructure must be robust, flexible and accessible to allow participation of all stakeholders, but especially the people who are the primary beneficiaries,” she noted.

Robust digital ID for simplified access to services

Another important thing to have before setting out to build a digital ID system is a national register, Gouveia added, noting: “Do have a national population register first before starting; but if you do, just add digital infrastructure to what already exists.”

Tomas Antolik, EMEA executive director at Innovatrics, shared the experience of their work in Thailand, in helping the country build such a robust digital ID system which has really simplified access to services for Thai citizens. He said people now enjoy access to several services from the comfort of their rooms. He added that from a traditional, analogue ID system a few years ago, their partnership with the country’s government ensured that an inclusive, trusted and widely accepted digital system was put in place to make life easy for citizens.

The experience of India’s DPI and how it has smoothened life for citizens was also shared. Metesh Bhati, chief digital officer at Protean eGov Technologies, which has played a significant role in developing the India Stack, made a presentation, explaining how the Stack can inspire African growth using critical component of digital public infrastructure. He mentioned the expanding usage of one component of the India Stack – the UPI – which has been attracting interest from many countries around the world.

The second part of this plenary concentrated on success stories on building mobile digital ID systems for digital government, public and private sector service delivery and even travel and border management, with real-world deployment experiences.

Later, there was a symposium on NIST where three officials took the audience through the state of the art in biometrics, explaining various aspects related to global standards, performance benchmarks and guidelines. The explanation included the FRTE and FATE face biometrics evaluations.

Today, like on Day 1, there has also been the “hands-on AI” session, which is a demonstration of the transformative power of generative AI and its connection with identity for development, led by experts from multinational professional services company Ernst and Young.

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