Thursday, 15 January 2015

The ridiculous mouse

“A mountain has gone into labour and was groaning terribly.  Such rumours excited great expectations all over the country.  In the end however, the mountain gave birth to a mouse.”
Phaedrus 4.24

At some point in our lives we’ve all been lectured that we only get out of life what we’re prepared to put in; and while on the whole there is a strong element of truth in this mantra, there are always tasks and activities where no matter what amount of effort we put in, the reward will never live up to expectation.  My own boyhood dreams of being a professional footballer (soccer player) weren’t dashed by my lack of effort - I was never going to make the grade due to having two legs made for standing and none for that were made for kicking.

The inspiration for this post comes from observing a customer insight session for an online identity assurance transaction.  The young man in the spotlight told the session facilitator how a lack of acceptable identity evidence impacted his life – how he was unable to open a bank account as he didn’t have the required documents to prove his identity to the banks standards; how he couldn’t get a mobile (cell) phone contract for the same reasons.  This was a guy who had genuinely tried, yet for all his effort there was no reward – and so eventually he’d stopped trying.   Instead he found other ways around the problem – his wages were paid into someone else’s bank account.  His partner had taken out an additional mobile phone contract.  This was a bright, savvy and confident individual who had been disenfranchised by a society who wouldn’t allow him access to basic services due to their inability to identify him.

Having partaken in a great deal of user experience sessions, this guy’s story was far from unique to me – financial and societal exclusion due to the inability to meet identity requirements is not uncommon.  What stood out for me about this young man though was the way in which he embraced digital identity – not only did he show an amazing comprehension of the technology and verification methods, he also saw the benefits to him of going through the registration process.   He understood with aplomb how the investment in time now would enable him to assert his identity in a simple yet secure way in future.

The joy of seeing a user react with such delight was tempered by the harsh reality that he was unlikely, at least in the near future, to be able to achieve the requirements to reach the required level of assurance.  For all the effort he would go through he would get no reward – his digital identity would afford him no more inclusion.

The rigid pass / fail nature of the four levels of assurance defined by the OMB and NIST which have been adopted as the de facto global standard are still mired in the constraints of face to face verification.  A digital identity is capable of providing a far more granular level of assurance backed by a rich data packet to enable the service provider to take a risk based approach.  In a mature marketplace the identity score should more likely take the form of the credit score – where identity providers constantly monitor and evaluate to provide real time granular scoring.  A scoring mechanism would exist where the individual’s pattern of behaviour and existence activity varies the confidence of the assurance given at any moment in time.

In the meantime, whilst the sector matures and evolves, the short term step must be to relax the four level model.  There is a need to introduce proportionate, defined, mid-levels of assurance.  Whilst service provider’s compliance department may still clamour for least risk approach, a more customer centric view is needed.  The registration should take the user through a journey proportionate to the transaction they are undertaking, in response to the data available to verify them.  Without being more pragmatic and proportionate, the same people who are currently excluded will continue to be so.  Service and Identity Providers cannot expect customers to labour if all they can reward them with is a ridiculous mouse.

Read my other posts
Just in Case - From early adoption to maturity
I have control - Can we truly own our identity
Tipping the balance - Getting the right balance between security and user experience
I didn't say you could touch me - Biometric authentication and identity
You don't need to tell me - Impacts of the EU General Data Protection Regulations
Coming together on being alone - The need for a clear government digital strategy
I'm not the person I used to be - Authentication for real world identities
Distributed Identity has no clothes - Will distributed ledger technology solve identity
Bring Your Own Downfall - Why we should embrace federated identity
Unblocking Digital Identity - Identity on the Blockchain as the next big thing
Tick to Agree - Doing the right thing with customer's data
The Kids Are All Right - Convenient authentication: the minimum standard for the younger generation
Big Brother's Protection - How Big Brother can protect our privacy
I don't know who I am anymore - How to prove your identity online
Three Little Words - What it means for your business to be agile
Defining the Business Analyst - Better job descriptions for Business Analysis
Unexpected Customer Behaviour -  The role of self-service in your customer service strategy
Rip it up and start again - The successful Business Transformation
Too Big To Fail - Keeping the heart of your business alive
The upstarts at the startups - How startups are changing big business 
One Small Step - The practice of greatness
In pursuit of mediocrity - Why performance management systems drive mediocrity

About me

Bryn Robinson-Morgan is an independent Business Consultant with interests in Identity Assurance, Agile Organisational Design and Customer Centric Architecture.  Bryn has near 20 years experience working with some of the United Kingdom's leading brands and largest organisations.

Follow Bryn on Twitter: @No1_BA

Connect with Bryn on Linked In: Bryn Robinson-Morgan


  1. This highlights to me the need for a multi-channel solution to be in place and a need to evolve the sophistication of the trust network.
    Very powerful article as customer insights always help to ground solutions in reality and must not be ignored as user centric design must be inspired and created for end users.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. I agree, the power of customer insights comes from how organisations respond to the feedback.