Thursday 12 November 2015

Warwickshire and the missing attribute – progress

It is just over a month since we last reported on blue badges.

For anyone who doesn't know, the UK Blue Badge Scheme "provides a range of parking and other motoring concessions for people who are registered blind or have severe mobility problems".

Tthere has been an agile flurry of blue badge digital activity in the last 24 hours. @helenolsen wants you to know that Warwickshire are working on an attribute exchange hub for blue badge applications. So do @ukalocaldigital, @UKAuthority, @LDgovUK and @localdirectgov.

Their common source is an article on the website:
Warwickshire works on attributes hub

Project with GDS focuses on more flexible approach to identity assurance

Warwickshire County Council is taking the lead on a project to develop a hub for the exchange of attributes connected to people’s identities.

Although the project is still at an early prototype stage, the council hopes it could complement GOV.UK Verify [RIP] in providing a model for all the public sector to use in proving someone’s eligibility for specific services with the minimum exchange of data ...
Warwickshire County Council have worked on GOV.UK Verify (RIP) with the Government Digital Service before. It didn't go well.

GOV.UK Verify (RIP) was still known as "IDA" at the time, Identity Assurance. And the Open Identity Exchange (OIX) reported on the Warwickshire experience. OIX are GDS's business partner and they said:
  • It was hard to match people's names and addresses.
  • There were "shortcomings in the user journey".
  • It was hard to get the level of identity assurance up from 1 (self-certification) to 2 (evidence satisfactory in a civil court) let alone the level 3 required for a criminal court.
  • Registration was a "convoluted process".
  • Users couldn't understand why their identity was being verified by private sector companies instead of the government, ...
The private sector companies involved in the Warwickshire test included three of GDS's "identity providers" – Mydex, PayPal and Verizon.

PayPal were the last of the eight "identity providers" to sign up to GDS's first framework agreement for GOV.UK Verify (RIP). No reason has ever been given why it took longer to sign them up than the other seven nor why PayPal abandoned GOV.UK Verify (RIP) after the Warwickshire test.

But they did. PayPal pulled out. No reason given. Cassidian and Ingeus had pulled out before PayPal. No reason given. And Mydex, who had always been the most voluble proponents of GOV.UK Verify (RIP), never delivered a service. No reason given.

Thus it is that GDS's corps of private sector company "identity providers" is currently down from eight members to four – Experian, Digidentity, the Post Office and Verizon. Membership should soon rise, though, to nine. Under their second framework agreement, GDS are adding five more "identity providers", including PayPal, who clearly have some trouble making up their mind about GOV.UK Verify (RIP).

The OIX report about the shortcomings of the GOV.UK Verify (RIP) user journey was published in May 2014 and was co-authored by one Ian Litton.

By October 2014, Mr Litton – Strategy, Programme and Information Manager, Warwickshire County Council – was more sanguine:
  • Writing in, please see Attribute Exchange Discovery Project, he now identified a "wow factor" when people saw, in a test, how easy it could be to apply on-line for a blue badge compared with the current postal application process.
  • People were no longer baffled by the private sector being involved in providing them with a GOV.UK Verify (RIP) identity.
  • The user journey had become limpidly clear to the vulnerable 60+ applicants.
  • There were no problems matching people's names and addresses as recorded by the "identity providers" on the one hand, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on the other and the Department for Transport (DfT) on the third.
  • The level of identity assurance was adequate for DWP to confirm that an applicant was disabled and for DfT to issue a blue badge.
This is attribute exchange in action. Or rather it would be if the users had been connected to DWP and DfT. But they weren't, "we built proof of concept screens". The research results bulleted above including the "wow factor" are based on the users' reaction to a mock-up of the putative blue badge application service.

Being disabled is an "attribute" in the language of GOV.UK Verify (RIP) and, once that attribute is confirmed by DWP, DfT should be confident enough to issue a blue badge. DWP, in turn, should be confident enough that they're dealing with the right person on-line thanks to the applicant being registered with GDS's GOV.UK Verify (RIP).

Would DWP, DfT and GDS be right to feel sufficiently confident in the level of identity assurance offered for this attribute exchange?

OIX think not. They warn that the "identity providers" are having trouble reaching level of assurance 2 (civil court). And, surely anomalous, baffling in fact, GDS are currently working hard on producing "basic" GOV.UK Verify (RIP) accounts, unverified accounts, self-certification, with the lowly level of assurance 1.

GOV.UK Verify (RIP) may become a hub of verified unverified accounts but Mr Litton was optimistic enough a year ago to announce that:
Warwickshire and GDS are now working on an Alpha project with two of the identity providers, Verizon and Mydex, to deliver a working prototype of attribute exchange.
And he was still smiling optimistically in yesterday's article which is where we came in, please see above, Warwickshire works on attributes hub.

How far have Warwickshire progressed beyond their "proof of concept screens"? The "Alpha project" announced by Mr Litton a year ago is "still at an early prototype stage" a year later.

Are Mydex still involved? Are Warwickshire relying on personal data stores (PDSs) to support attribute exchange? There are problems with PDSs. Security. Control. Convenience. Irrelevance. PDSs could be slowing down progress on attribute exchange.

It's difficult to get identity assurance working. More difficult than Russell Davies thought a year ago when he said: "Government thinks it's really complex, but digitally it's about the complexity of a medium-sized dating site". Also known as @undermanager, Mr Davies was GDS's director of strategy at the time. He's gone now.

There doesn't seem to be any progress for @helenolsen, @ukalocaldigital, @UKAuthority, @LDgovUK and @localdirectgov to enthuse about. It looks more as though last year's article on attribute exchange has merely been reprinted.

"We’re trying to engage with the private sector to show how it can work for them", says Mr Litton in yesterday's article. Good luck with that. The first attribute the private sector are going to look for is how it works for local government. And as far as we know it still doesn't.


Updated 29.3.16

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) runs a Local Digital campaign.

Most government is local government. Local authorities do the work. Local authorities man the front line. It's local authorities who deliver services, in the main, not central government.

Local Digital aims to improve local government through the use of IT.

Fair enough.

But why are they looking to central government for their lead? They're looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

They had a Local Digital boondoggle on 16 March 2016.

First the head of policy and departmental engagement from the Government Digital Service (GDS) explained to the assembled delegates how to solve problems by using buzzwords. That was central government.

Then Ian Litton spoke on the subject of Developing a local role for [GOV.UK Verify (RIP)]. He's local government ...

... and he's been working with four central government satrapies – GDS, DWP, DfT and DCLG – for 2½ years to try to get blue badges working, please see above.

2½ years and the poor man still only has a prototype.

Local government has nothing useful to learn from GDS. Turn the telescope round. It's GDS who need to learn from local government.

Updated 1.5.16

Hard to believe, but the Government Digital Service (GDS) continue to tour the country lecturing local government about identity management:
Second GOV.UK Verify [RIP] workshop for local authorities
by Louis Stockwell | Apr 28, 2016 | Identity and Attribute exchange | 0 comments

24 representatives from 18 councils attended the second GDS GOV.UK Verify [RIP] workshop for local authorities on 19th April 2016, hosted in Warwick ...
It is dutiful of local government to put up with these sessions, and polite of course, but do they really have the time to spare?

It's a problem – local government needs identity management. Local government in many cases has a selection of solutions in operation. Local government is best placed to work out its own solutions.

As of Friday 29 April 2016 it has become more obvious than perhaps it was before that GDS have nothing to offer local government.

Updated 15.7.16

"Today we held the first of 2 discovery days to examine how local authority taxi licensing, concessionary travel and parking permit services might be improved using GOV.UK Verify [RIP] and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) services ... this is the first opportunity we’ve had to bring together more than 40 colleagues from 27 local authorities across the country". That's what the Government Digital Service say about their latest GOV.UK Verify (RIP) boondoggle.

GDS also said:
Lessons from an authority that’s done it all before
Participants heard from Ian Litton from Warwickshire County Council.
"Real time attribute exchange builds trust, increases transparency, and reduces the complexity of services for users and for service providers."
Ian worked on a project with the Open Identity Exchange looking at attribute exchange as a common way to transform multiple services.
The casual reader, on seeing that Warwickshire County Council has done it all before – where "it" takes the values real time attribute exchange and trust and transparency and reduction of complexity – might rashly conclude that Warwickshire County Council has done it all before.

It hasn't.

Warwickshire County Council and Ian Litton and the Open Identity Exchange are the first to tell you that they were only using prototypes: "During the course of this project we built prototypes of the Blue Badge and Residential Parking Bay services and tested these with citizens" (p.3).

Knocking up a prototype is nothing like having a real service available. It does not amount to having "done it all before" and it is confusing to suggest that it does.

GDS will no doubt wish to clear up this unfortunate confusion at the first opportunity.

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