#IdentityNorth panel says there’s “a million opportunities” in Canada’s digital identity and authentication space

While many entrepreneurs look to solve problems in sectors like FinTech and healthcare, there aren’t nearly as many developing solutions to help shape Canada’s digital identification (digital ID) and authentication ecosystem, even though the opportunity is enormous.

This was one of the key takeaways at IdentityNorth, a Toronto-based conference that brought together Canadian and international leaders to discuss the country’s evolving position in the digital ID and authentication space. The event, which took place on June 6 and 7, also explored the progress being made to solve the complex problem of how people can verify their identities online.

“It’s very unique that public and private sectors are coming together to define the standards.”

The event included a panel about the state of Canada’s identity and authentication sector featuring Aran Hamilton, co-founder of IdentityNorth; David Nikolejsin, the chair and board of the Digital ID and Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC); Franklin Garrigues, vice-president of mobile and digital channels at TD Bank Group; and Rob Devries, the CIO at Government Services Integration Cluster.

Devries kicked off the panel by saying that while Canada has been shifting more services online, there is still a lot of room to build solutions that allow for the digital verification of identities.

“Over the last several years, we’ve had a good run at putting more and more services online,” said Devries. “If you look across the jurisdictions across Canada, we have more front facing consumer-based services than any other jurisdiction. We’ve done that all with what we call out-of-the-wallet authentication. But as we move more into secure spaces like personal health information and providing access to those types of records, we need better identity. We need better security and we need better solutions.”

Garrigues said that while there’s certainly still a lot of work to be done, he commends the public and private sectors for coming together to move digital ID in Canada forward.

“It’s very unique that public and private sectors are coming together to define the standards. Other countries are looking at us for that and that creates an environment that is great and auspicious for businesses,” said Garrigues.

Garrigues. also pointed to Toronto-based SecureKey, which last year raised $27 million from several Canadian banks to fund the commercial rollout of a new privacy-enhancing digital identity network.

“We’re excited to build [the solution],” said Garrigues, adding that SecureKey’s solution is among the first attempts at building a digital identity network in Canada. “We think it will be big enough to be transformative and really get the digital identity economy going in Canada.”

When asked about the potential applications of a digital ID and authentication ecosystem, Devries described how digital ID could be valuable in the healthcare sector.

“There’s a million opportunities, a million little businesses that are going to get built on top of providing services around digital ID and authentication.”

“When you look at the public sector space, you start to see a little bit of fragmentation,” said Devries. “As our health sector — and especially the hospital system — provides more and more health information to their patients, they need a secure way of accessing patient information. So, they can’t necessarily wait until the world figures out how to digitize your identity, and they have to come up with solutions in the interim.

Garrigues adds that it’s important to move “quickly and in a coordinated fashion” to bring together players and agencies.

While there are several potential applications for digital ID and authentication in spaces like healthcare, social media, and even voting, the panelists suggested that there are still a number of challenges that Canadians have to overcome first.

Nikolejsin said a key challenge that Canada faces when it comes to digital ID is that citizens don’t necessarily understand why they need a digital identity or identity verification solutions.

“I think our number one challenge is still a fundamental understanding of what it is we’re talking about,” said Nikolejsin. “People don’t [understand], businesses don’t [understand], executives don’t [understand], boards don’t [understand]. Trying to understand the difference between enterprise single sign-on and digital ID…why does it matter? Why do I care? I think that’s our biggest challenge and it continues to be that way.”

Speaking with BetaKit at IdentityNorth, Hamilton also stressed the need for emerging entrepreneurs to recognize the enormity of problems they can solve in the digital ID and authentication space.

“When I look at organizations like the Founder Institute — where I mentor — I see an awful lot of startups there…struggling to figure out an idea that they should bring to the table,” said Hamilton. “But [when] you see this group of people building the foundation of tomorrow’s digital economy, there’s a million opportunities, a million little businesses that are going to get built on top of providing services around digital ID and authentication.”

Hamilton added that startups could develop solutions that enable digital ID and authentication such as allowing people to access their immunization records online or letting them sign waivers digitally so they don’t have to deal with the hassle of obtaining and filling out documents.

IdentityNorth suggested that while there are challenges around building a digital ID and authentication ecosystem in Canada, the country has been progressing through initiatives such as a Proof of Concept companion paper that was released yesterday to outline a potential framework that can enable digitally secure and efficient corporate registration of businesses within and across jurisdictions in Canada.

The Corporate Registry POC, led by IBM Canada and the Province of British Columbia, leverages the Hyperledger Fabric, a blockchain framework that offers a decentralized and cryptographically secure model to record and share transactional information.

Overall, IdentityNorth suggested that Canada is in a position to lead when it comes to digital ID
and if people continue to invest in and build on the country’s digital ID infrastructure, others will likely follow.

“A lot of the values and principles that we hold in Canada around trust, around privacy, around protection of data, and minimizing data…some of those concepts that we kind of have internalized here in Canada are actually not that common in other parts of the world,” said Hamilton. “We’re getting a chance to export those concepts and principles around the world as we export our technology and as we export our people. It’s important that we recognize the impact that we are having around the world.”


Amira Zubairi

Amira Zubairi is a staff writer and content creator at BetaKit with a strong interest in Canadian startup, business, and legal tech news. In her free time, Amira indulges in baking desserts, working out, and watching legal shows.

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