The idea of a Channel shift, or shifting contact with the public to digital channels, is increasingly attractive as public sector budgets continue to be cut. The advantages have been confirmed by multiple reports.
Martha Lane Fox's report Directgov 2010 and Beyond: Revolution not Evolution found that moving 30 percent of government service delivery contracts to digital channels could save more than £1.3bn a year, and moving 50 percent would save £2.2bn a year. A 2012 study by SOCITM estimated that contact transactions cost on average £8.62 for face to face, £2.83 for phone and 15p for web. The Government has announced a list of public services which it will digitalise by 2015, which it believes will save taxpayers up to £1.2 billion by 2015 and around £1.7 billion a year thereafter.
However, the challenge is implementing digital services effectively. One of the biggest challenges is secure access. As anyone who's completed their self-assessment tax return online knows, accessing online services can require a plethora of login details, passwords, reference numbers and security checks.
To protect against fraud, service providers need robust models of identity assurance to ensure that people accessing services are who they claim to be. However, as users try to access more services online, they frequently find that they need a different identify and password for each – increasing complexity and frustration and generating calls and emails to change forgotten passwords, which increases costs.
Channel shift programmes will only be successful if they provide a good user experience. There has to be an advantage in accessing a service online, for example because it is more convenient, saves time or lets a user achieve more in one transaction. If users have to set up new access details for each service, they will quickly lose patience and resort to traditional methods.
Could this solved by single sign-in? This would enable public sector organisations to build secure portals to provide to access to a range of services, including those provided by third parties.
Single sign in
Single sign-in has been a vision for many years, but historically has required significant time and cost to create bespoke solutions. A lower cost approach is now available – using the cloud to provide a hosted single sign-on service. This could authenticate against a range of services, minimising complexity and reducing security and compliance risks and support costs. Users could sign in to multiple services with a single user name and password.
Fordway is already providing a cloud-based identity management service to a large public sector organisation, which enables staff and third parties to access services. This principle is directly applicable to public services.
No silver bullet
Single sign-in would not absolve the public sector owner of responsibility for security and compliance. They would need to ensure security and compliance at all times, requiring an authoritative source of digital identity which could be used as collateral for all generally available web services.
However, it could reduce the time needed to develop new online services – and if this helps limited local government budgets go further, it can only be a good thing.
- Richard Blanford is managing director of Fordway which founded the company in 1991 and has built it into one of the UK's most respected IT infrastructure change providers.