Costs of a Single Citizen View

Recently Andrew Dean made a blog post called National Identity Numbers. The post generated some comments in the Data Matching group on LinkedIn.

Andrew’s post is based on the ongoing project in India called Aadhaar, where every citizen is assigned a unique identification number to be used for multiple purposes when interacting with the government and financial institutions.

As Andrew mentions the United Kingdom cancelled such a project a few years ago. This cancellation was, in some part, due to fear of excessive costs. The question Andrew, and comments in the LinkedIn group, poses, is if the (feared) costs will justify the benefits of getting a “single citizen view”.

Indeed large governmental projects have a bad name these days all over the world as I know it.

Back in the late 60’s the United States was able to put a man on the moon.

It was at the same time that the Scandinavian countries implemented their “single citizen view”.

Besides digitalizing the national identification number Sweden also, in 1967, managed to change from driving on the left side of the road to driving on the right side. I’m not sure if Sweden could afford turning to the right side today not to say the United Kingdom doing the same.

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7 thoughts on “Costs of a Single Citizen View

  1. JoukoSalonen 26th March 2012 / 07:31

    Having been working years with GOV IT systems in one of those Scandinavian countries you mention, I can, Henrik, confirm what you say (even that part which is there between the lines : ) ) However the reality is of course not that black and white. The integration projects between government registries (for some mysterious reason I do not understand) seem to be here as difficult as they may be in other parts of the world.

  2. Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen 26th March 2012 / 08:06

    Thanks for commenting Tirthankar and Jouko.

    Jouko, I think you are right. The unique ID removes much of the need for doing fuzzy data matching in getting a single citizen view in the public sector and getting a single customer view in financial services as well. However, all the other challenges in data integration still remain the same.

  3. Andrew Dean 26th March 2012 / 09:17

    In order to create a single customer view it is clearly beneficial to allocate to each entity some form of ID number. This does not remove the need for doing fuzzy matching. Fuzzy matching is needed in order to allocate the ID in the first place. Once allocated it does remove the need to repeat that logic. All the complexity of name and address matching is encapsulated in a simple number.

    I am a fan of Single Customer View – I think it makes perfect sense from a business perspective.

    However if the UK had a national identity number I am not sure how I would benefit.

    Henrik – how do you think the Swedish ID number has impacted on your life?

  4. Jens Rasmussen 26th March 2012 / 09:28

    Having lived in Denmark and the UK, I was following the debate about UK ID number with interest. Having seen it work, I know it can make administration simpler (at least for the citizen, not saying cheaper or necessarily more efficient although i do tend to think it is).
    However one of the big backlashes to the UK proposal was also that the centralised ID numbering scheme would be several steps further in terms of integration. Many details would be kept in the same system rather than using the ID catalogue simply for reference and address information. That step made it very expensive and risky in terms of securiy (e.g. very high impact in case of data loss)
    I tend to think that the scandinavian model of distributed data (at the right parts of public services) with a centrally referenced catalogue of identity balances the benefits and the risks in comparison.
    I have first-hand experience of how messy the UK system can get without any central referencing (e.g. local councils, banks, and public services does not necessarily agree on who you are if someone makes a typing error). Ironically, the backbone of a national ID could almost be realised through existing infrastructure (e.g. tax/National Insurance numbers) ……

  5. Doug Newdick 26th March 2012 / 10:29

    Interestingly enough, a single citizen number is explicitly illegal in New Zealand! Our privacy legislation rules it out. The benefits of such a system are seen as not outweighing the evils that it would hold in terms of government being able to monitor and manage your every move.

  6. Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen 26th March 2012 / 11:20

    Thanks for joining Andrew, Jens and Doug.

    When you are used to a unique ID it becomes part of your daily life, and you can’t imagine things could work without.

    For me surely moving from Denmark to the UK has been an experience. I’m still amazed that my electricity bill is the best proof of who I am (here).

    In business there is of course much more need here (and in NZ as well I guess) for repeated fuzzy data matching and mashing up multiple sources of truth.

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