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Digital identity industry needs to communicate better with relying parties

If digital ID is to succeed, say experts, people must be able to understand what it is
Digital identity industry needs to communicate better with relying parties

One of the more existentially pressing questions being discussed at EIC 2024 is the digital identity sector’s version of the thought experiment about a tree falling in the forest – namely, even if digital identity has clear and present benefits, what happens if no one uses it?

In the concluding panel of the conference’s fourth day, “Are buyers ready for digital ID?,” Geraint Rogers, market SME: identity, fraud and financial crime for Daon, offers a reality check to digital identity insiders pondering why their products haven’t exploded into the mainstream.

Relying parties, Rogers says, are “very confused.” In a series of interviews with a broad variety of stakeholders, many of whom were not tech experts, researchers from the Open Identity Exchange aimed to answer the question of what the market needs, and what fears and misconceptions are making buyers hesitate.

The study found that people used different terms for identity interchangeably, that they lacked understanding of the core concepts, and that technical jargon is a major hurdle to mainstream adoption. People, says Rogers, are “really confused about technobabble.” Confusing language, he says, results in people switching off and “not realizing what the value of this could be for them solving real life problems.”

“They really want to know what the value of digital ID means to them. What is it about digital ID that helps me to move on from my incumbent solution? And if you talk to an operational team, a strategic team, a technical team, a product team, a customer experience team, they all want different outcomes. How quickly can I make a decision? From an inclusion point of view, can I actually get every single person who’s attempting this journey to go through it? From a compliance point of view, will my regulator approve? Can I use this all the way through to test how engaging it is? How quick? Will it bring back loyalty and utilization? Will it be secure? Will it be private?”

Already by that point, says Rogers, some people are already completely lost.

Storytelling crucial to selling digital identity

Rogers emphasizes the importance of storytelling  – “we need to call and convey the story of that moonshot, but make it consumable, make it understandable,” he says, referring to plain-language space tourism ads that helped get people to buy into the U.S. space program.

That said, it can be difficult to provide clear and simple answers on subjects that do not have them. “We’re on a journey,” says Rogers. “We haven’t quite got there in terms of answering all the questions and there’s certainly uncertainty creeping in. Even the most innovative experts on the panels, we’re talking very much about that uncertainty and thinking ‘right, okay, I can’t leap into this. I’ve got to help people through this. And in places I’m still uncertain – whether it’s because standards aren’t there yet. Or it’s because I’ve got five different factors, five different competing ways of doing something.’”

The lack of a regulatory push to mandate digital ID also influences relying parties’ decisions on where to invest. Ultimately, he says, many relying parties considering digital ID “don’t understand how it works. They don’t know how they would deliver it. They don’t understand who would accept it. They don’t understand whether their regulator would have to approve it. And the big questions over benefits in terms of ROI and cost are still a little bit vague for them.”

Co-presenter Nick Mothershaw, chief identity strategist for the Open Identity Exchange, sounds a vaguely ominous note in his assessment. “As we move to this world of wallets,” he says, “we have this presumption that this is what is required both for the user and for the relying party.  The EU goes as far as writing legislation to say that it shall be accepted in all of these different places. But the people who are going to use this aren’t ready at all.”

Usability, compatibility, accessibility key to a good digital wallet

And yet use it they will. A separate KuppingerCole panel looks at the usability challenges of digital identity wallets, which are coming regardless of Mothershaw’s assessment. Different people will want different things from their wallets. An ideal wallet app, say the speakers, should be compatible with multiple issuers, user-friendly, and cater to a diverse user base. It should hold multiple digital credentials of multiple types from multiple issuers. It has to be accessible to a variety of users, including those that have limited device or digital access.

And again, the theme of centering the user emerges in the importance of understanding users’ needs and preferences, and finding a balance between convenience and control.

Summing up, OpenID Foundation Director Mark Haine says “a good wallet must make life easier, and come with no surprises.”

Public sector must lay groundwork for private sector digital ID adoption

In her keynote, “Crossing the Chasm: Trusted and Seamless Digital Identity Wallets Going Mainstream,” Kristina Yasuda, Identity System Architect at SPRIND, the German Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation, sums up the problem tidily:

“The industry has come a long way understanding what it takes to build scalable and interoperable digital identity wallet systems. However, the work to make these wallets mainstream, where an ordinary user enjoys using the wallet and feels its benefits, remains.”

To make users happy, she says, will require the public and private sectors working together, with the public sector paving the way in establishing privacy and safety guardrails and standards that will ultimately enable private sector digital IDs.

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