Why Identity Is a Foundation for Digital Government

By Andy Ramsey posted Apr 01,2021 08:36 AM

Andrew Ramsey, Public Sector Account Manager, Auth0

As consumers, we’ve become accustomed to the valuable e-commerce services at our fingertips. From ordering flowers on Mother’s Day to buying flights, we can engage with whichever business we want, whenever we want, and however we want. And…[drumroll]’s easy.

The private sector didn’t get so good at this overnight, or by accident. As an industry, they’ve been working and iterating on digital services for their consumers for decades as a competitive differentiator. They made it a business priority.

However, when it comes to governments, the same focus has not been the case. And where this was not such a big issue a decade ago, citizens are increasingly expecting the same level of convenience they are used to online as consumers.

How are state governments responding?

State governments are now also investing in digital services at a significant rate. For example, “Digital Government” is the #2 priority for state CIOs in 2021, per the NASCIO’s State CIO Top 10 Priorities. This is second only to cybersecurity in terms of importance, meaning digital services are no longer a novelty or nice to have; they’re a must.

Delivering digital services that are valuable, secure, and easy to use is challenging. It’s not as simple as just installing one piece of technology and then declaring it “job done”. Citizens expect privacy, security, and convenience when they access services.

So, what can you invest in that meets all three of these requirements?

The power of CIAM

This is where modern Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) can lend a hand. This is the means by which users are able to access digital services through your login box. Ease of sign-up, sign-in, and remediation (forgotten passwords, new devices, etc.) is a critical start to a frictionless experience. Making it as easy as possible for users to access your services will only benefit everyone.

Governments also have a very rich set of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and citizens expect that to be safeguarded, so balancing risk-based access with user friction is also critical. It’s no good having the slickest login experience around if it’s at the expense of security.

And finally, identity can get very complex, especially when you start to introduce federation with other identity systems from social providers or other agencies. You also have the issue of integration with third-party services to provide identity proofing and consent management, and connecting to and consolidating multiple user databases. All of this complexity can be reduced through the use of one centralized CIAM platform, making it easier to tie all these disparate parts together.

So, where to start?

One of the first questions you need to ask yourself is whether you want to build versus buy. Building your own identity system using open source tools requires significant time, expertise, and resources to build and maintain. On the other hand, Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS) technologies provide simplicity and ease of operation, alongside powerful customization and adaptability features which free up developer time, while also future proofing your platform.

As identity becomes increasingly complex and crucial, the hours and expertise needed to build and maintain an identity platform will often bog down your developers. This means they have less time to work on all of the other improvements to digital services that are a priority as well. In much the same way you would not build your own payment processor, but use an existing SaaS tool, authentication is increasingly becoming that makes more sense to outsource.

Making services as easy as ice cream

Delightful and secure digital services can help build trust with the government, especially when the user is treated as the number one stakeholder. In a 1999 interview, Jeff Bezos said, “If there is one thing that is about, it’s obsessive attention to the customer experience”. In 2021, we know that strategy worked. This is the mindset that the government needs to adopt. As a user, I’m looking forward to renewing my auto registration online with the same ease as having a two scoop sundae delivered to my doorstep.