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In February 2020, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission released a report called “Shaping Europe’s Digital Future”. This report introduces as its vision “The Commission wants a European society powered by digital solutions that are strongly rooted in our common values, and that enrich the lives of all of us” and summarizes a series of actions to be taken at the policy, technology, and operational levels to pursue such goals. However, at the center of these ambitions is the concept of a government-managed digital identity. As the report states:

“A universally accepted public electronic identity (eID) is necessary for consumers to have access to their data and securely use the products and services they want without having to use unrelated platforms to do so and unnecessarily sharing personal data with them.”

Reimagining digital services

As governments reimagine digital services, Microsoft Consulting Services has already been working with many governments in the creation of authenticated, verifiable, secure, and trusted digital identity for its citizens, residents, and businesses. We see a theme, whereby governments are pursuing new digital strategies for their digital services, which requires new models and digital platforms for citizen authentication.

First, governments must have a digital transformation (DT) strategy, that includes their own “north star” visions and goals for pursuing investments in digital technology. Without such vision, a DT program may develop into a collection of technology modernization projects that do not achieve the expected outcomes.

We have seen many government customers who have modernized their technology and tools very rapidly in response to new working conditions caused by COVID-19. Governments have urgently deployed Teams, quickly migrated systems and data to the cloud, and found new ways to use cloud-based tools like Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Dynamics 365 to facilitate employee collaboration from home. However, many are now pivoting to re-examine how they can provide—and even improve—public-facing services within this new environment. These governments are re-creating their DT strategies with a sharp focus on digital services, and defining north-star ambitions around digital benefits administration, accessibility to government for disadvantaged populations, and fully enabled digital workflows that no longer depend on physical offices and face-to-face conversations.

These goals require a new method for authenticating citizens and business methods that are not dependent on presenting documents or appearing in person. Existing government online services often require citizens to create a login account with the government website, however these accounts are rarely validated against the “real world” individual. This limits the ability for such a login credential to be used for secure services such as health or social benefit management, financial claims, tax payments, court interactions, or filing of official documents.

Our on-going work with government

In our work with governments, we have helped them define tiered models for citizen identities. These may begin with a basic login that can be used for unsecured services and general communications. However, such a model also creates tiered levels of validated identity. A common model involves a second level of validation whereby the individual digitally presents official documents (like a bank statement) showing their address and thus proving their residence. Finally they must complete a third level validation that requires the resident to provide physical evidence of identity (often a passport) that therefore fully authenticates their identity and citizenship.

We have helped many governments implement this platform solution, serving millions of citizens. Take a look at this video which demonstrates how we have implemented citizen digital identity for governments:

Working with governments, we have used proven technology to create the platform required to manage digital identities. Using the foundation of Azure Active Directory—a system that worldwide supports billions of transactions per day. We have designed systems where individual governments can host identities for millions of residents, interacting with hundreds of digital services. While the security credential is managed by Azure AD, the citizen’s profile and permissions can be managed within a government’s CRM system, such as Microsoft Dynamics 365. This can also provide the administrative tools necessary to qualify and validate citizens for various services and deliver robust reporting to assess the quality and use of these digital services.

As a final component of a DT strategy and digital identities, governments are now exploring their role and responsibility as a digital credential agency for their citizens. Governments are the citizen identity authority in the physical world. As indicated by the European Commission, it is time for governments to assume a similar responsibility in the digital world, explicitly to improve the online/digital lives of their citizens. Progressing into this sort of identity model—such as creating a digital identity that citizens can take with them as they move from country to country and “own” their identity just like they hold their passport may be a secondary consideration for governments now. Furthermore, Microsoft is actively working with government customers to define their digital platforms for future digital identity models.

Learn more about digital identity

For Microsoft, this conversation about government digital identity is not new, nor theoretical. We have helped many governments implement this platform solution, serving millions of citizens. If you want to learn more about this topic, you may want to review Microsoft’s thought leadership on portable digital identities and download the distributed identity management document. Finally, if you want to learn more contact your Microsoft account representative for further details.

Learn more about Microsoft in Government.