Lost in the Crowd: How the Government Can Learn ID Management from the Private Sector

At a recent panel meeting of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) about how federal agencies can best manage identities to improve engagement and relationships with those customers, an illustrative private sector example came to light. A member of the audience told the story of buying a Dell computer ten years ago, a laptop that had long ago run out of its lifecycle support. But the customer needed one part, so he called and gave the customer service rep the serial number, and Dell knew where he had purchased it, how much he had paid for it, and a lot of other information about his computer.

He told the rep that he just needed one part, a small piece of hardware to make the screen work. Dell agreed to send the part overnight, free of charge. And while that’s a great story of customer service, what really interests governing bodies is the ease with which the rep pulled up the customer’s information. In ten years he hadn’t contacted the company, and yet Dell had all of his authentication data in one place and was able to look up all of the relevant info in an instant.

That’s the type of identity management/customer-service capabilities that federal agencies would love to have, particularly an organization like the IRS, which typically interacts with a customer only once a year. Governments have a slew of unique difficulties when it comes to identity management: infrequent customer engagement, incompatibility between agencies, and a generalized reluctance of citizens to hand over information to the government.

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