Until we can link up all the information held on us with a single signature, the government ID card is doomed, warns Simon Moores.
Last week I came across one of the best examples I’ve seen so far in the voice automation field. It was a parcel tracking system from Royal Mail.
Voice recognition has advanced rapidly over the past three years and we’ve now arrived at the stage where you can have what appears to be a conversation with a computer in colloquial English - and it’s pretty hard to tell that you’re talking to a program and not a person.
It’s also the same week that I started moving house and I have arrived at the startling conclusion that many large companies, banks and institutions share the very same call centre, one which is constantly experiencing "higher than expected call volumes", and will either cut you off, leave you hanging on for as long as two hours or, if it’s Royal Mail, lead you down a series pre-recorded dead ends, despite having the technology to deliver a good parcel tracking system.
All I'm trying to do is register an address change, which isn’t helped much by the fact that my new postcode is wrong or, should I say, right, but somehow, through a keying error, it now points at the wrong address.
Thanks to the wonders of phone discs and automation, the error has now been replicated far and wide, so try telling an insurance company that the address that pops up on the operator's screen isn’t actually yours.
Royal Mail have now corrected the problem centrally but admit that it could take some time to replicate through the nation - years, maybe - and this illustrates a number of different technology problems we are facing today.
Take identity cards. They sound like a great idea and in principle, I’m all for it as means of accelerating e-commerce and e-government if we can tweak the unique card ID into universal systems authentication, as they do in some countries as part of a two-factor security device.
Unless we can join the systems and processes up with some kind of common citizen digital signature, then I doubt that e-government is ever going to stumble beyond information delivery into the transactional space its looking for.
A strong identity, through a focus on citizen ID cards, we know, brings with it a number of risks, among which is that of identity theft. In the US, victims of this crime are having to declare themselves legally dead as a last resort to avoid creditors and there have been 70,000 cases of such theft in the UK, with the National High Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) putting one gang behind bars last week.
But what happens perhaps if someone clones your identity and is killed in accident, or if you lose your identity, how liable are you under the law?
Finally, back to voice automation. It’s a bane of existence in the 21st century. Business and government have cut out people and replaced them with pre-recorded messages, but the technology can best be described as stupid, as in lacking intelligence, and customer service has flown out of the window in most, if not all of the large electronics retail chains.
If we insist on using technology and not people to deal with customers, then I would argue that business and government have a responsibility to do this intelligently which, I’m sure, many readers will agree that they are not doing at present.
Not every enquiry can be answered by pressing the numbers one to six on your keypad and customer service should be a right and not a privilege in Britain today. We should accept that call centre technology is failing us and we can use the 118 directory enquiries fiasco as an example of how and where.
We should, in the 21st century, be able to go to a website and register a change of address details seamlessly, perhaps with a digital signature or a password but from where I’m sitting today. It all seems like an impossible dream, while the country’s processes are still so rooted in paper, utility bills, bank statements and signatures in ink.
What do you think?
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Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.
Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of eGovernment and information security.
For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit www.zentelligence.com
This was first published in November 2003