Blockchain and self-sovereign identity: key to developing talent

Blockchain and and self-sovereign identity are the key to developing an organisation’s hidden talent.

Remote technology has significantly changed the way we communicate, learn and work. This was already the case before the Covid-19 pandemic, but this crisis has expedited the potential and wide-scale capabilities of these remote tools.

As the global digital economy expands on top of a vast internet universe, frictionless exchange between individuals, organisations and devices will become the norm.

Likewise, the ability to ensure transparency, security and ultimately trust will be essential.

In order to achieve these capabilities, the adoption of blockchain technology, and with it, self-sovereign identity (SSI) software, needs to become a vital part of an organisation’s software portfolio.

Although internet users can be highly certain of the authenticity of the websites they visit, there is no way they can reliably know the identity of the people, organisations and other entities that control those websites or with whom they communicate with. And while there are tools in place to authenticate a person is who they say they are, whether that is a face-based authentication app when logging into a mobile application, or a transactional regulated identity third party application which connects to your bank, these systems result in an individual’s identity becoming fragmented across the internet and create inefficient data silos and a disjointed user experience.

Importantly, this fragmentation also means that educators and employers cannot purely rely or fully trust on online qualifications. Thankfully, due to the rise in blockchain technology and with it, self-sovereign identity (SSI), this is fast changing.

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Why self-sovereign identity is only possible through the blockchain

Self-sovereign identity blends the principles of identity data ownership and management with technologies that implement those principles. Due to the increasingly widespread adoption of blockchain, users are now able to store, share and authenticate identity data and third-party credentials on a secure, private platform. This eliminates the need for federated, third party identifiers and with it the resulting fragmentation of an individual’s online identity.

It is through utilising this innovative technology and embracing self-sovereign identity that, organisations are able to verify credentials and be assured of trust and transparency in the digital learning, skills development and work ecosystem. For example, if you complete a degree or earn a certificate, a digital copy or verifiable credential can be added to your SSI (stored in an identity wallet). This credential can be shared with any other entity, such as an employer, that participates in a compatible self-sovereign identity system. This creates an ecosystem of verifiable credentials where you, the individual, serve as the orchestrator and point of unification.

This method will come with a number of long-term benefits including; frictionless and low-cost background check; reduction in credential fraud; and, a global ecosystem of standardised credentials that allows organisation to accurately evaluate courses, exams and qualifications from different regions around the world.

How this is changing the reputation of education

The UK’s national curriculum, introduced in 1988, has ensured the standard of education in the country is one of the best in the world. However, entrenched in the minds of individuals are the levels and perceived difficulties of each stage. It is common knowledge that GCSE’s and A-levels are easier than Masters and doctorates, whereas online, non-traditional, forms of education aren’t always as well known and thus can inadvertently be less respected. This can mean it is sometimes hard to justify to a future employer the validity and strength of an online course.

What’s more, with it being easier to manipulate grades and achievements online, a potential employer has to simply trust that the prospect has completed the qualification they state. It also means these employers have an inability to aggregate and organise the achievements of the various prospects that are put in front of them.

However, if a self-sovereign identifier system was in place, which contained employees and businesses from across sectors, online, digital achievements could be assessed in a meaningful way, aggregated and also seamlessly communicated to prospective employers digitally. It would level the playing field substantially. Those employees who may not have gone through the ‘typical’ education route can showcase their achievements easily to their future employers.

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What this means for the future of skills development

By removing the pre-conceived perception on the quality of online courses versus traditional forms of education, it will be easier to organise a unique, verifiable learning part from a wide variety of resources to powerfully prepare for a particular job. Likewise, employers can encourage job candidates to complete recommended learning paths for certain roles, ensuring that they enter the organisation with the right skills and verifiable competencies.

What’s more, these employers can even check that the candidates progress and no longer have to reach out to references during the hiring process. Eventually, what this will result in is any course that is completed, certificate that is earned or work experience that is gained will produce a verifiable credential that can be shared with any other entity the uses a compatible self-sovereign identity system.

Ultimately, self-sovereign identity and verifiable credentials are not only relevant in the near term but will also prove essential to enabling longer-term paradigm shifts resulting from the recent Covid-19 pandemic.

In the near future, post-secondary education, skills development and work will draw upon the entire universe of skills development and learning resources.

The path to acquiring meaningful work will not be prescribed or overly influenced by traditional educational institutions, but rather individually constructed from a menu of online and offline courses. Similarly, on-the-job learning and career advancement will be oriented to stackable-work and skills development experiences that build competencies and unique portfolios valued by employers.

Written by Lakshmi Srinivasan, Global Head, Blockchain Services at Tata Consultancy Services

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