Editorial

Let’s hope Government and Industry now do have the difficult ‘tea and biscuits’ Digital ID chats we all need

Time is short – but by working together across both Whitehall and the IDP space, surely there IS a strong future for Digital Identity in the UK?

Posted 20 June 2019 by

So this time, there were no Broccoli or Unicorn slides.

Boo! Hiss!

But that didn’t mean well-known commentator of public sector tech Gary Barnett didn’t manage to give us all a fantastic metaphor for shaping our experience at June 7th’s high-profile Think Digital Identity For Government 2019 on the day.

Barnett – who combines extreme intelligence and expertise in technology with a deft wit and more often than not, quite a lot of telling truth to power in his presentations – kicked off the day, as he has for a couple of the previous shows, with a deliberately challenging livener of an opening keynote.

[Digital ID] has always been about Digital Transformation,” he told delegates.

“And the thing about Digital Transformation is – it’s flipping difficult.”

Reminding us all that “the NAO and the PAC had plenty to say” about what had, in their assessments, gone wrong with GOV.UK Verify, the former GlobalData analyst stressed that getting managers to really understand why they needed to Digitally Transform their processes is never easy.

And with the first of his handy metaphors, Barnett, who has just started up a new tech firm of his own dedicated to air quality monitoring, AirSensa, joked that this usually means,

“That you may not want them to see the flames – but you do want them to smell the smoke.”

Pointing out that Google knows way more about we’ve done in the real world than any Government system, Barnett called for a pragmatic re-orientation of the UK Identity sector that would bring both all the very different ID actors and their clearly separate ID agendas in Central Government together – and the vendor community, too.

“Ideology makes you stupid, but worse, stops you engaging with opportunity,” he thundered.

That means that players must drop their fixed positions and engage in what will be “difficult” discussions to work out the best way forward now for the sector.

And, being British, we’ll do this over “tea and biscuits” – with Barnett even producing a slide with all the various preferred confectionary of various parts of Whitehall.

His point – clearly made, and very soon after acknowledged on-stage by the people who claim to be indeed having these very tea-and-biscuits discussions, such as DWP Digital’s Cheryl Stevens – is that it’s time to get serious if we want a truly viable ID ecosystem that has the best of both Verify standards and tech, IDP solutions, and who knows what else as appropriate.

And, of course – we don’t have much time: Verify ceases to be supported by the taxpayer from the end of next March, so something has to happen.

Well, judging by the rest of the day after speakers and audience had settled down from Barnett’s sound and fury (and lack of Broccoli), there is at least a basis for some confidence something will emerge.

In the past two weeks we have reflected that in our stream of write-ups of the conference, but there’s no need to take just our word for it – let’s hear what some of our delegates have told us since:

“It was an excellent conference – very useful and full of lots of great content. I’ve since made contact with some of the people I met on the day and set up some future conversations, so it was enormously valuable to me.” (A Head of Identity)

“I thought there was a good range of speakers and I found it particularly interesting to hear how other countries are tackling the identity issue.” (Product Manager, HMRC)

“As a vendor working in government Identity, attending was an excellent way to hear exactly what is on the agenda. Engaging directly with key government people is priceless, and the show is a great way to meet peers in the industry.” (Head of R&D, IDP)

These sentiments are gratifying to hear, and we are delighted to have been able to produce the right forum for these interchanges.

BUT – people… the focus is on YOU now.

Start the conversations.

Get the tea and biscuits out.

Have the difficult, but practical, ID policy and implementation conversation.

And let’s see a solid ID future emerge that will truly help all our citizens, no matter their technical lucidity or if they have the £80 spare for a paper passport – and so build this vital strand of a true, viable and vibrant British Digital Economy.