Beware The Looming Digital Identity Crisis

Social networks have spawned a consumer identity at odds with the corporate world's idea of secure identity management. How will your customer expectations and business needs mesh?

R 'Ray' Wang, Contributor

November 20, 2013

5 Min Read

Identity means many things to many people for good reasons. For identity- and access-management professionals, definitions have revolved around standards for authentication, access, authorization, and management. That's changing. 

Standards such as SAML, Open ID Connect, OAuth 2.0, and SCIM address the technical side of identity management, but the rise of social networks has spawned a consumer identity. Facebook, Google, and Twitter now dominate most social logins. Users expect to transport their identities from personal to work environments. These implications affect the customer experience.

However, a lack of context separates our personal life from our work life and creates artificial barriers by role, relationship, and a host of other factors. For example, corporate security standards rarely mesh with personal identity standards. In fact, few standards exist.

[ Integrating mobile security into your overall business security plan is a must. Read It's Not 'Mobile Security,' It's Just Security. ]

Identity is a unifying factor in the current transformation to a digital world. Identity drives the future of customer experience and customer relationship management. Without a more comprehensive view of identity, organizations and individuals will continue to undermine the strategic role of identity in the customer experience. 

My firm, Constellation Research, sees seven points in the future of identity.

1. B2B and B2C are dead. It's a P2P and M2M world.

In a connected enterprise and networked consumer world, B2B and B2C go away. The difference between B2B and B2C is just the context surrounding one's identity. The world of people-to-people networks, in context, will shift how individuals interact and participate. People-to-people networks allow a person's identity to carry over between business, consumer, and personal worlds. Add a massive increase in endpoints with devices, networks, and people, and a new world of machine-to-machine (M2M) and Internet-of-things (IOT) interactions emerge. One can expect machines to have their own identities. Constellation predicts over 47 billion endpoints by 2020 from mobile connections, personal and industrial devices, and public and private networks. Customer experience must integrate with these networks.

2. Customers want identity the way they want it.

Traditional identity and access management takes a structured approach in how identity is provisioned to an individual. Yet the unfortunate reality is that users are random. Most people have many identities and they really don't care about identity until they have been denied it or lost it. They hope to use one identity out of convenience. However, astute individuals try to keep their identities separate for privacy's sake. The challenge is how to make identity seamless across contexts yet user-controlled -- and without seeming creepy. Users just want it the way they want it.

3. Identerati must move identity from geek to chic.

Businesses want identity to be simple, seamless, situational, and self governed. However, technologists want identity to be safe, secure, standards based, and scalable. An organization's success requires that the identerati shift the balance from geek to chic among the eight attributes above. Why? If the security and IT side wins, there will be no business. Should the business side win, IT and security will become unmanageable. 

4. Context will drive future use cases. 

Today's classic identity use cases focus on interoperability and standardization. However, new use cases require a multi-disciplinary approach to identity. A key requirement is the ability to deliver context by role, relationships, topics, location, time, sentiment, and intent. These indicators built around a person's context will help maintain relevance and the right-time delivery of information.

5. Disruptive business depends on identity.

New business models emerge and will expand identity in a broader context of access or entitlement. For example, a loyalty card becomes the ID and a social login opens up buildings.

6. Privacy isn't dead.

A world of seamless identity should not equate to a world without privacy. There should be a re-thinking on privacy. Where does the world of privacy begin and end? How much information are individuals willing to share in return for convenient services?  When does a tracking system turn out to be an infringement of our liberties? Maybe a new model emerges to anonymize identity and serve as a trusted source. What happens in a world without cash? Everything purchased is part of one's digital exhaust. Although merchants promise not to do anything creepy, individuals don't want to trust their identity to a stranger. Privacy is up to society to shape and define, not creepy social networking companies. However, simple rules can emerge.

7. New players are battling to manage and own your identity. 

Organizations from all industries and business models seek the individual's trust to serve as their trust agents and brokers. Financial services, governments, hardware companies, social networks, software vendors, commerce vendors, and telecom companies will rush to battle for your identity. 

The Bottom Line: Identity Comes Down to Trust and Transparency

Identities inside an organization might come more from external sources than internal sources. Is a Twitter ID enough? Could one's corporate identity allow access to stores or allow credit for mass transit fare? Will employees trust their B2B world more? Will a third party emerge so employees will not have to worry about their employer encroaching into their private lives? Would you use your corporate identity for access to your hotel loyalty program?

As individuals and organizations face a convergence of identity, trust is the currency. Transparency is the requirement. However, this world will require a trust-but-verify approach because perfect transparency is impossible. Trust agents will emerge as the sub-segments of society explore a sharing economy while others guard their identity with impunity.

Are you ready for new customer experiences based on identity?

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About the Author(s)

R 'Ray' Wang


R "Ray" Wang is a Principal Analyst, Founder, and Chairman of Constellation Research Inc. He's a prominent keynote speaker and research analyst working with Global 2,000 clients on innovation, business model design, engagement strategies, customer experience, matrix commerce, and big data.

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