Customers will dictate online identity credentials: NSW digital chief

By Julian Bajkowski

Thursday July 20, 2017

Customers will ultimately decide the fate of what digital identity credentials are used to access New South Wales government services online, rather than specific identity products being dictated by the state.

That’s the view of NSW Chief Digital and Information Officer (CDIO), Damon Rees, who on Wednesday left the door firmly ajar for Australia Post and other providers to issue digital identity credentials to customers to access state government services.

The issue of who controls a citizen’s digital identity may be a problematic one in the federal jurisdiction, where the Digital Transformation Agency and customer-facing agencies like Centrelink are still wrestling with how best to proceed beyond the jurisdictionally limited functionality of myGov.

In NSW it’s a different story.

Agencies there aren’t just content to have their own online state resident identifier up-and-running, they’re now actively assessing whether there are other products with more utility in the market that customers may want to use, assuming they pass security muster.

“Our customers will decide where it goes. I think it’s too early to obviously call out,” Rees said when asked about the launch of Australia Post’s digital identity credential at a Trans Tasman Business Circle speech in Sydney.

Damon Rees

“I think our customers will tell us where they need us — and where they want us to go and how they want to identify themselves with us.”

Rees said the commitment to satisfying customers and using what people wanted and chose to use to interact with state service made it the government’s job to be positioned to be able to adapt to preferences over time.

In late June 2017 Australia Post launched its Digital iD™ solution into the Australian market, a service and product set the government owned enterprise hopes will be taken up by citizens, businesses and governments.

A significant historical challenge for attempts to create a cohesive ecosystem of digital identifiers in Australia has been that use cases have often been limited to specific agencies or jurisdictions, making them less appealing to customers because of limited functionality.

The private sector has also largely failed to create a digital identity credential with viable interoperability and customer uptake, with inter-bank rivalries ultimately scuttling the Westpac-backed “Trust Centre” a decade ago, followed later by the collapse of Commonwealth Bank’s MaMBO project, to the chagrin of regulators.

Rees is certainly keeping an open mind as to where Australia Post’s Digital iD™ could lead, especially if it gains serious uptake.

“If schemes like the one Australia Post has come up with are successful and become the way that our customers want to be able to identify themselves, then that puts a big onus on NSW to be able to work with those,” Rees said.

In practical terms it’s unlikely to be a winner-takes-all scenario when it comes to digital identity.

Rees cautioned it was his government’s role to move with what the customer demanded, a delivery ethic that has generally underpinned Service NSW’s renewal of frontline services online, over the phone and in person at consolidated retail one-stop-shops.

“I suspect it’s not going to be one answer. [We] need to be thinking about how do we position ourselves to be able to be able to adapt over time and participate in the one or more schemes that customers vote with their feet for,” Rees said.

Audience members at the Trans Tasman Business Circle wanted to know what governments like NSW were doing to reduce friction for business in notoriously disparate areas like payroll tax, which differs across borders.

Rees said there was progress being made between states, calling out what he said was “really interesting work” the NSW Office of State Revenue (OSR) was undertaking with Queensland counterparts “around core platforms we need to underpin the revenue functions of the state”.

As the first state to issue a fully digital drivers licence — the kind that lives on your smartphone — NSW also appears acutely conscious that it can’t lock other jurisdictions out of its upgraded identity ecosystem by shifting from wallets to handsets.

“You don’t want something you can only use in one place,” Rees said. “How do we harmonise those standards with other states? We’ve already been speaking with Queensland and South Australia.”

What needs to happen to enable harmonisation, especially at a cross-jurisdictional level, is that all governments need to start thinking about how what they create can interoperate or be used by other public sector touch points by default at the design stage.

Rees wants that to be the position in NSW.

“If you are serious about customer service in Australia, then it doesn’t stop neatly around borders of the NSW government,” Rees said.

“Customers don’t care if it’s a local government service or a state government service or a Commonwealth government service.

“There a tremendous prize in greater collaboration across jurisdictions and sometimes across industry as well.”

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