The Technology Needed for a Single Digital Government Identity
The good news is that the technology needed to create a single digital ID for citizens across government services is not exactly revolutionary.
As Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at IT consulting firm StorageIO told StateTech, the technology needed to make linkages between different application or databases across agencies could be as simple as adding an export or query capability to an old application or modifying databases so that external queries can access them.
That can be done in a “safe, secure manner where you’re not actually introducing new threats or compromising that data,” he said, via programmatic APIs and other similar capabilities.
“The capabilities are out there, maybe not as elegant as some would like, but it really does come back to the policies around who can access” the data, Schulz said. “What, when, where, why and how can you grant those rights, those accesses, and how can you revoke the access in those controls so that you don’t have an inadvertent breach?”
Ohio, with its InnovateOhio initiative, is one of the states furthest along in this journey. The state has developed an identity management solution called OHID, in which each Ohio resident has a single account to access all government services.
“Our goal is ultimately to enable residents to conduct all business with the government without ever having to enter a government office,” former Ohio CIO Ervan Rodgers told StateTech earlier this year. “So far, it’s been a great success. We cannot keep up with the demand for the service.”
Current Ohio CIO Katrina Flory told StateTech that OHID runs on IBM’s Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) platform. It is an elegant solution that delivers a lot of tangible benefits to residents.
“If you want to pay your taxes online, you can use an ID to sign into a government website,” Rodgers said. “But if you want to renew your hunting license, why use a different ID? It doesn’t make sense for the citizen. Someone can go to ohio.gov and search for something related to ‘veterans,’ which will take them to veterans services. Or, they can search for hunting licenses without knowing the Ohio Department of Natural Resources handles those licenses. You go to the right area if you type ‘hunting.’ We want that to be as smooth an experience as possible for our citizens.”
How to Help Agencies Onboard with a Single Digital ID
So, if the technology isn’t the hard part of this, what is? “I think the hard part is really setting up the appropriate policies and controls so that you know how to manage that data. That’s the part that we’re trying to sort through,” Colorado CIO Tony Neal-Graves told StateTech.
Different agencies within state government may have varying views on what the appropriate policies are for securing data. Some may not simply want to share their data or have it linked to another agency’s databases.
State CIOs and CISOs can work together to identify which information and security protocols are needed across the board that could be acceptable to all agencies.
Ultimately though, state CIOs and other IT leaders within state government need political cover from either a governor or lieutenant governor to make something like this happen. State CIOs are often not in their positions for significantly long periods of time, so there will need to be sustained political will to get agencies to share data and make a single digital ID a reality.
Although it requires the investment of political capital, the benefits to state leaders should be readily apparent. If citizens have a better experience accessing government services and interacting with state agencies, they are likely to credit governors and feel more positively about state government in general. If technology can help make citizens’ lives easier, that seems like a no-brainer to invest in.
Citizens are getting continually more tech savvy. Younger generations are not going to want to conduct government transactions via paper-based processes or have to sign in to three different websites to get access to services or renew a license. A single digital ID is the wave of the future for state governments. It would be a nice feather in the cap for elected official and state IT leaders if they could make it happen.