Building a Scottish Digital Ecosystem with SSI : Self-Sovereign Identity

A headline theme for Digital Scotland is building a ‘digital ecosystem’, a goal with multiple dimensions.

First, this site itself will form one aspect of this, the community enabling a ‘digital business network’ – Members can build a professional profile, make new virtual connections, share and promote best practices, post jobs and company profiles and so on, with many more features to come.

The core feature is the ability to enable online collaboration, through project groups with team documents, with one key exercise being the definition of the ecosystem itself. Here is the group.

Growing a Platform Economy

A digital ecosystem is also referred to by the popular moniker of a ‘Platform’ organization. For example Uber Taxis is an ecosystem of self-employed taxi drivers, Airbnb a marketplace of landlords, and how they work is achieved through defining the purpose, roles and governance, the Ecosystem Model. This is implemented through enabling technology, a mobile app that intelligently interconnects buyers with sellers.

To start to explore how this principle can be applied to a national framework, this EU tweet is helpful.

This highlights how the building block components include a common Identity system that then makes possible various new digital services through the commonality of standards and shared Platform functionality:

  • eIDs
  • eSignatures
  • Timestamping

When these are defined and utilized in a common manner, rather than individual organizations implementing their own dedicated version, that shared commonality forms the scope of the ecosystem.

Government as a Platform

Naturally the effect applied in the public sector is described as ‘Government as a Platform’, and is critically important because of the keystone role government plays in society in general, for example they issue key identity proofs, such as birth certificates and driving licences. Other industries build upon these, such as banks using them to validate your identity for a new account opening process.

The Scottish Digital Economy action plan defines a number of goals that would be best achieved through a GaaP architecture, advocating:

“Deploy common technologies that can be built and procured once rather than multiple times” and also “Mandate the use of common platforms and infrastructure.”

This is so that the government can “Simplify and standardise ways of working across the public sector so that it becomes easier to use our services and we don’t waste time and money reinventing wheels.”

and also “Create common digital platforms for services that will encourage Scottish public and voluntary sector organisations to innovate in the delivery of public services.”

with specific use cases such as Payments: “Introduce shared technology platforms, starting with common approaches to publishing information, applying for services, and making/receiving payments.”

As they write on their blog the Scottish Government is now pioneering a platform approach for a single Payments system. They are in the early prototyping stage, awarding a first stage to Scott Logic.

This approach is intended to yield the benefits described by the digital economy strategy:

“That means building something centrally that is easy for service teams to plug in to and re-use, without additional procurement. That saves them time, money and hassle.

Building a single platform also means we can establish standards that will work across government. That will cut down on bureaucracy and needless repetition of work.

Finally, a platform will make things better for public servants and for citizens. It will be quicker for us to set up new services, or retire old ones. When new payment technologies emerge, we’ll be able to securely add them to the platform once, for the benefit of everyone.”

SSI Ecosystems – ACE

For Scotland to realize an ambition of becoming a digital world leader this requires that we pioneer, not follow, the latest cutting edge developments in this field, and at the forefront of the trend is the emerging technology of ‘Self-Sovereign Identity‘.

As the name suggests the key principle is that Identity systems are not operated centrally by one organization, but rather the user themselves are in control of their own identity data.

Via his blog tech industry luminary Phil Windley describes the launch of the Sovrin Network, the world’s first self-sovereign identity (SSI) network, intended to implement the technologies and these principles.

An example of end user organizations adopting the technology and joining their network is ATB Financial in Alberta, Canada, and it also demonstrates the core principles of this article – How these developments can enable localized digital ecosystems within an overall context of a single, Internet ecosystem.

The state owned bank ATB Financial is building ‘ACE’, the Alberta Credential Ecosystem, a local collaboration of organizations beginning to adopt SSI and achieve integrated services through sharing SSI credentials.

Scotland’s opportunity is to ‘build on the shoulders of giants’. Many technology visionaries have spent decades developing these innovations and they have now matured to a point where they are readily available to implement.

And that opportunity is enormous – We are entering the second main phase of the evolution of the Internet, the transition from the centralized to the decentralized web. Consider the massive scale of economic growth the first generation has unleashed, and the second will dwarf that.

It also solves a multitude of problems – Audit Scotland identified how Scotland is struggling to realize their goal of an Integrated Health and Social Care system, primarily because of the technology limitations that SSI solves.

They also identified that Scotland is currently failing to make progress against the overall goal of building a leading digital nation, and hence getting on to the front foot and being an early adopter of these types of innovations will yield multiple, large scale benefits – Massive savings and huge process efficiencies achieved across the public sector, as one of the benefits of building the world’s leading national digital ecosystem.

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