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When people look back over the turmoil of the past 12 months, the progression of Digital ID technology isn’t likely to leap to mind as a major historical detail. Not, at least, in the minds of the people who have lived through the stresses and the strains, for whom safety, health and mental wellbeing have been the priorities.


But for anyone in business, no matter which sector of the economy they’re operating in, if the development of Digital ID isn’t something they’re already well aware of, it is a phenomenon they’d do well to get to understand.


Not least because amid all the change and disruption of the past 12 months, the conversation around Digital ID has moved on rapidly. And more change is on the way. 


So much so that in a recent blog post, the Worldwide Digital Identification Association (WDIA) predicts that “the next 24 months will be a turning point in the process of a massive transition to Digital ID”, adding “What used to be pilot projects for many governments will now become an integral part of our daily life”.


As 2021 progresses some key steps along the road to widespread integration with digital identification systems and tools are likely to be made. Among these, one of the most important is a greater uptake of a key tenet of Digital ID adoption: the use of the digital wallet.


While the digital wallet has been an option for customers for some years now, its usage has been everything from eagerly adopted by some, to deeply distrusted by others. It has long been thought that for this to change would take, as specialist digital ID advisory and research firm One World Identity puts it, a major “catalysing event”.


Cue Covid-19, and the subsequent radical change in consumer habits that has followed. In a blog predicting how this will play out in terms of digital identity confirmation tools, One World Identity is clear about the effects of the pandemic:


“Since the COVID response will play out on a worldwide scale, it offers a catalyzing event, which will improve initial adoption rates this year and increase digital identity confirmation uses moving forward. If the wallets can ease privacy concerns with the technology, particularly since consumers will often be utilizing the tool for the first time, then that worldwide adoption can lead to ongoing use far beyond tracking COVID.”


There are also signs, in the form of various big institutional investor deals last year, that companies providing tech that smooths the transition towards passwordless sign-ins are likely to become hot property. With that necessary piece of the Digital ID jigsaw in place, we can expect online check-ins and registrations to become far simpler processes as the year goes on.


Couple this with a far more tangible consequence of global lockdowns, a huge spike in online sales last year and into 2021, and the catalysing force of the past 12 months becomes more apparent. 


Another key Digital-ID related development, also a consequence of the pandemic, is that more people are shopping via their smart phones than ever before. With every uptick in the use of mobile commerce shoppers are inevitably drawn towards the need for, and the advantages of, a seamless, comprehensive system of identification that cuts out pain-points at the checkout.


Which leads to a further important development linked with increased use of mobile phones: their capacity to record and utilise biometric data, described by Identomat as the “new tech frontier”. In a report issued at the start of the year, Identomat predicts that “by 2024 the demand for mobile biometrics and m-commerce, combined with the technology’s efficiency in preventing fraud, will be the main driver for the increase in the global mobile biometrics market”.


On top of all of this change from within the tech world, the past year has highlighted starkly the role played by governments in our lives – and the power they possess to affect them. This will also be a vital factor in the rollout of Digital ID. 


After all, it will be down to governments to essentially oversee and enable the big picture shifts. And it will be largely down to governments to manage public perceptions, and the necessary cohesive structures between individuals, companies, authorities and the private sector companies driving change. After the past 12 months, there may never have been a more auspicious time to do all that.


If 2020 has proven anything it is that anything can happen. As such there are no guarantees that the journey towards a more digitally integrated identification system is going to be a smooth one, nor that there aren’t going to be bumps and snags along the way.


But as retail analytics firm IGD has made clear, the turmoil of the past year has been a major opportunity. And it has opened doors. In a piece for Retail Times online, the company laid that out in clear terms, saying:


“The pandemic has accelerated retailers and shoppers’ digital awareness and capabilities. Numerous companies have been testing and learning from new digital initiatives, and in 2021 companies will need to move beyond this to improve and implement at scale. Digital transformation will require new leadership and a fresh cultural mindset as companies create flexible and agile ways of working”


The challenge has been laid down. The opportunity is there. The tech world needs to respond.