Digital Identity

Single Sign On (SSO) and Tell Us Once

Single Sign On (SSO)

The fundamental benefit of Digital Identity systems is that they simplify the user experience, typified by ‘Single Sign On’ (SSO).

As the term suggests this eliminates the duplication users often have to face, repeatedly providing their username and password to multiple login forms.

SSO unifies all of these procedures into just one authentication step.

Tell Us Once

We can think of this as the first baby step in a journey that progresses towards an overall system goal, exemplified through practices like ‘Tell Us Once’.

This expands the SSO metaphor to a whole system scope, ie. eliminating all data duplication across all experiences for all citizens.

Tell Us Once, also called ‘Once Only’, is an approach pioneered in Europe by the likes of Estonia, a policy where having provided your data to one government agency, you’ll never be asked for it again from another, defined explicitly through legislation.

The concept is very simple – Tell one government agency an information update, eg. your change of postal address, and have all agencies receive and action that update.

It would mandate by law the outcome citizens wants from their Digital Government, a simplified user experience that eliminates all unnecessary bureaucracy, without over-prescribing the technical means to achieve it.

The EU has published research reports and explanatory videos to encourage widespread take up. As New Yorker magazine highlights describing Estonia as the Digital Republic:

“They do so through the “once only” policy, which dictates that no single piece of information should be entered twice. Instead of having to “prepare” a loan application, applicants have their data—income, debt, savings—pulled from elsewhere in the system. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories.”

Estonia achieve this capability by marrying the legislation with the their ‘X-Road‘ system, a national middleware backbone that connects every user to every government application.

As David Eaves highlights, the Harvard Kennedy School has explored the application of this principle in their report.

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