Identity Systems: To Customize or Not?
In the world of identity systems, the topic of customization comes up often.
Customization can be seen as a bad thing, often associated with unnecessary expense, risk and instability. But play with the word a little — customer-ization — and you see another side of its meaning. Being customer-centric is about giving the customer what they need.
Organizations encompass a multitude of different points of view, which can lead to internal disagreement and planning failures. C-level executives need their systems to support business change. Operational personnel prefer systems to follow and to improve their day-to-day business functions. Finance and legal personnel get nervous about controlling the cost of customized requirements. Finally, IT personnel prefer systems that can be managed at the IT level.
Before deciding whether to customize, we might first ask if we can change what customers want, or if they will change for other reasons.
We looked at some common factors informing whether a customized approach is a priority or whether a non-customized product-based approach can work best.
Place, Time and Politics
Like nationality, identity still means different things across the many cultures of the world. Some states will just do it differently, and in some cases, simply because they can. So often customization can be driven by this need to be unique, rather than the business requirements.
Major market disruptions, or step changes, occur because of underlying technology changing the reach, the control and the user experience of identity solutions. Each customer will be at a different level of maturity with their technology and therefore will bring a unique set of requirements.
Identity solutions cover many sets of functions across the lifecycle of the physical or digital identity.
A customer may only need certain aspects of this functionality or they might focus on one very rich set of functions.
Many national IT architectures are refocusing on citizen data. In fact, many governments are worried about data customization and proliferation. One anti-customization approach is a “top-down” ownership of data resulting in the mantra “enroll once, read many times”. It can be true of biometric data, foundational data or other informative attributes about personal identity.
More customers are moving towards a data center style approach to support multi-agency applications. IT standardization is already happening in the shared, lower layers and is beginning to drive high level strategy backed by an internal government mandate.
Technology Changes Organizations
Over the years, technology has changed the way that we work. A good example of this is the mobile phone. The power of technology is a force to standardize customers, forcing them to follow rather than customize.
Collective government ICT strategies are beginning to normalize the environments to which identity solutions are integrated, with the potential to reduce one-off integration costs that really belong to the infrastructure and not the application.
In the bigger systems picture, business logic works on many levels. There are bigger stories about life events and the continuity of identity, and there are logical niches such as document personalization where the logic or rules of inventory control are of specific interest.
Localization and User Experience
Today, there is more to this than just language: user experience is an emerging, determining factor in whether solutions are accepted and working at their best.
The Way Forward
The landscape keeps changing, but there is a trend towards a clearer shared description of the functions and their groupings in any identity system. There is also an increasing understanding of data and its value.
The most technically informative way to materialize this trend is with services, APIs and workflow customization. This framework provides a bridge and a meeting place to gather the different points of view around customization and productization.
Using technical frameworks and proven architecture concepts to have a shared discussion can build a clearer picture about where customization is a necessary benefit, and not an unnecessary pain.
Calum Bunney is Systems Product Director at HID Global Citizen ID.