What do you do in the industry?

I lead on the development and delivery of an Identity & Trust solution that will enable all of our customers at DWP. We need solutions that can suit a range of situations. Helping people through the process by starting with a little information and building it up to a higher strength of assurance over a number of interactions is important, but we also need to be able to go straight in with a strong verification option too.

There’s been a pivot in understanding that a number of people that engage with us are not new customers. This means we can build up trust in who our customers are, rather than getting them to go through the same friction over and over again. I see trust and fraud monitoring as being two sides of the same coin. Both must exist at the same time to keep you and your data safe, whilst making it easier for everyone to do what they need to do.

What’s a typical week?

[Laughs] I’m not sure that there is one. Obviously I spend a lot of time thinking about propositions and how they’ll work for all our customers. There seems to be general assumption that there will be a sudden shift to fully digital solutions once Generation Z come through. But we haven’t see that with millennials – not everyone can manage unassisted. We need a suite of options – so having open conversations about solutions is key.

Our key philosophy is not could we implement a new technology or process, but should we. Every decision we make is pinned on user research and consideration of context. If you have limited phone memory, and there’s a choice between downloading an extra-large app and deleting photos of your kids, which are you going to go for? It’s a no brainer. That solution is not going to work for everyone, then the question is does it need to? It is never boring that is for certain.

Which areas do you think are the greatest challenges in digital identity?

I have a different angle to the rest of the industry, as none of our customers come to us when they’re having a particularly good time. Often they’ve just experienced a traumatic life event which they need support with. It’s critical that we help people effectively, and the biggest gap I see in current solutions is the issue of delegated authority, whether this is for a sustained period, or just a point in time. Current solutions focus on the proving of identity, but don’t cater for all contexts.

Take a bereavement – this could result in you experiencing a state of shock for a period of time, rendering you unable to act as you would have the day before. In this circumstance, we need temporary digital power of attorney without the formality of an agent but with a solution that mitigates the risk of coercion.

The ideal is that with the evolution of Artificial Intelligence, behavioural risking and transaction context we will immediately know what normal behaviour is for our customers, and what’s a true change in circumstance. Here the ‘pantry’ approach is key, so our customer gets a tailored solution to their circumstance and context they are acting in.

So, how did you end up in this role?

I’ve been a civil servant for 20 years. I chose this path rather than joining later in my career, because I believe in our welfare system; it needs to support you when you need it most. I was caught by the welfare system as child, and hate to think what would have happened to my family and I otherwise. So I started out at the bottom and never thought I would be a senior leader. But here I am now, where my career has done a sort of bow – bringing together identity and fraud in one role. As I said earlier, they’re really two sides of the same coin.

How do you describe digital identity to someone that doesn’t work in it?

This is easy for me, in the context of my role. I make sure you are who you say you are, before we give you money from the public purse. Any elaboration into how this keeps you and your data safe and the importance of a varied solution results in the eyes glaze over moment.

Why do you think the identity space is a good place for women to work in?

I’ll take a different angle on this question – I think it’s an important place for women to be represented, as there’s a strength in women working together. We do bring more empathy, which is essential in providing a solution to a social problem. Identity is too often spoken about as a technical problem, but the conversation is changing to be less about the tech and more about solving the myriad of problems and Women in Identity are doing great work to bring diversity to the fore.

If you were CEO of an organisation, what one thing would you make compulsory and what one thing would you ban?

I would make real flexible working compulsory – we have the technology and shouldn’t need to get trains everywhere! And I would ban mansplaining – really unnecessary!!

If you could be an animal, what would you be?

I’d be a giraffe, as they’re intelligent but don’t look it! They also have antiseptic saliva which is incredibly handy.

And then the big one, where do you think identity will be in 5 years?

Simple, starting close to home – I hope there will be solutions in place that work for our entire customer base. This will be context driven and risk based and our [DWP’s] role will be the orchestration of this.

Our ‘pantry’ approach will incorporate a number of technologies and solutions. Biometrics could be a big part of this as they add ease, but we do need to be future proofing our solutions – we can’t keep asking people to switch their credentials every time some new tech comes along. Self sovereign identity is really interesting – I’ll caveat that, as although it will be the perfect solution in some scenarios, my personal view is that it needs testing more with more user research and broader demographics to understand just who it can solve problems for.

On the broader UK PLC and beyond – To get to this point we need greater collaboration across industries. We [DWP] already bring together reuse of HMRC and Verify, but this needs to be wider. Last week I was on a techUK panel with representation from government, aviation and gambling. We all have to go through the same verification over and over, so collaboration on standards is key to enable ease.

Obviously this needs to be enabled in the context of should we, rather than could we, but there are so many circumstances where things can be simpler. This collaborative approach across government and beyond is vital. I’ve just moved house and am totally fed up of repeatedly filling in my information for companies, it doesn’t need to be this hard.

Find Cheryl @CherylJStevens