So, the games have begun. And I am not talking about the sporting events in London. No, I am referencing the political games that are played around, about, under, and inside the venues that exploit the athletes to make political statements.
As reported nearly everywhere, the women soccer team from North Korea takes the field to play their first game in the Olympics. They look up and see the flag of South Korea displayed on the large video screen. The team walks off the field, protests, and squats in their locker room for an hour before finally taking the field.
Immense waves of apologies follow—“simple human error” is the explanation. There was, of course, no confusion as to the identity of the team on the field, their origin, or their competitive ambitions. We knew, they knew, everyone knew who they were. Their identity was certain!
Yet, the confusion in displaying a flag froze the proceedings. The event generated several dozen linear feet of news stories across the global reach of cyberspace, and diverted the attention of millions from focusing on the game itself. But it also diverted people from focusing on their work or whatever other activities they were sitting at the computer to perform. We can only imagine the adverse economic drain that such diversions caused across the global workplace.
So, a simple human error in displaying an identity badge (i.e., the flag), that did nothing to actually confirm the identity of the team on the field, had a direct, negative economic effect on global productivity.
Across our information systems, we invest billions in building and operating controls and processes for confirming identity as a condition to accessing and using those systems. We do so because one of the critical building blocks of trust is identity. . . and our ability to confirm the validity of that identity.
When those systems fail, we can spend a lot tracking down why they failed, and strengthening the controls and processes. But, what happened in Glasgow at a soccer game had nothing to do with confirming the validity of identity. It had everything to do with an actor (in this case, the team) being properly identified to the audience (i.e., the users of the displays in the stadium).
In business, the first challenge is to strengthen and enforce true tests of identity. But it is equally important that, once identity is known, the identity is consistently represented across the systems and the lifecycle of the processes. In other words, in order to maintain trust in its operations, the system has to fly the right flag for every user.
In my Trust Prism—a decision model for how companies build trust into their digital information—identity, and managing identity, is a critical building block. Truly understanding the costs of flying the wrong flag can make all the difference.