Features: March 11th, 2003

Smartcards in Local Government

By Mick Davies, Interim chair LASSEO

This article was first published in eGov Monitor Weekly <http://www.egovmonitor.com/newsletter/signup.asp>

Interest and enthusiasm for smartcard schemes have grown over the past few years, particularly in the public sector. Here, the potential of this technology to streamline access to citizen services has been firmly grasped in the drive to deliver eGovernment by 2005. Local government delivers about 80 per cent of all government/citizen interactions, so the success of this technology in the public sector requires local authority buy-in.

Joining up services and providers

So, although “One-size-fits-all” is a laudable ideal, it may prove difficult to deliver. However, at the very least we should be aiming for a fairly small, well-behaved family of interoperable cards, working to a common set of standards and protocols, providing citizens with what they want. This citizen focus is seen as the key to success. Clusters of activities such as sensitive dealings with government are obviously different from everyday low security services, such as library tickets or train tickets. However, these could have considerable overlaps for those that wish to use cards, with individuals fitting into a number of groups. There are all sorts of ways of carving up the populace and “Young persons” schemes are becoming quite popular north of the border. So-called “Third age” schemes are also being planned for those with just a touch of grey hair.

A multi-application, multi-level identification/accreditation system with security appropriate to clusters of applications could support a citizen’s life-style and add value, but in this complex environment, the arguments are very persuasive for citizens to be able to control the level of interaction they wish to conduct in this way.

What is clear is that, for any of these schemes to be sustainable, the card will need to house a number of applications from a number of application providers. In order to satisfy the desire to be able to provide access to services “Anywhere, anytime” these schemes need to operate across organisational and geographical boundaries. Furthermore, if the public sector is to benefit from the issues of scale, the cards and schemes need to be transferable.

As a number of players will be involved in service provision using the same card many questions arise including:

  • who issues it?
  • how is it branded?
  • who can revoke individual applications?
  • what about the clearing function?
  • who can operate an open e-purse?
  • who controls security?
  • what about lost or stolen cards?

Many local authority eGovernment champions can see the potential for smart card schemes but they need the reassurance that can only be provided by sets of business rules and specifications that set out a safe environment for them to operate in. The question facing would-be scheme adopters is “is this a good risk”, and, until recently, the answer would have had to be no! Pilot schemes were springing up all over the place to test some of these assumptions and many of them were based upon proprietary systems. Information dissemination was patchy and you had to be brave to get into the swim. These early experiments certainly presented the rest of us with a dilemma. Memories of Betamax and VHS were stirring in the worried brows of many a public sector smartcard enthusiast.

Collaborating to develop standards

Nation-wide initiatives to establish standards are to be encouraged, because to have value, the standards must be universal.

The transport industry has already been very active in this area and has, through the Integrated Transport Smart card Organization (ITSO), developed interoperability specifications for the transport industry. These are in the process of being rolled-out now and are supported by the Department for Transport (DfT).

The local authority community came together to form the Local Authority Smartcard Standards E-Organisation (LASSEO) to look at these issues from a local authority perspective and it is working to provide the sort of framework that will allow local authorities to feel comfortable about adopting smartcards. LASSEO hasn’t been around too long but is clearly making its presence felt. It has gained enough credibility to be able to set out to reduce the risk, to shape the market, and provide a set of standards and rules that will provide a safe haven for new local authority schemes. It has established good links with central government and is involving itself in national and European standards activities.

Central government, through the auspices of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), is in the process of approving funding for a national Smartcard project to address many of these issues and to remove obstacles to the widespread use of this technology. LASSEO will be delivering much of the standards work with some additional input from ITSO.

In addition to this, the Office of the e-Envoy has set up working groups to develop smartcard standards to be incorporated in the electronic government interoperability framework (e-GIF).

It is clear that links must be maintained between the work of LASSEO in local authority standards, ITSO in transport standards, the ODPM National Smartcard project, E-GIF, and such schemes as those presently underway in Department for Education and Science (DfES), Cornwall, NERSC, Southampton, Bracknell Forest, London, Cambridgeshire, West Midlands, Merseyside, Manchester, etc.

The time is right for smartcards in local government; a significant body of work has been completed, and much more work is underway. E-GIF standards are being developed, the national project has a very challenging timescale, significant projects are being rolled out and there is a need for as much involvement and consultation as possible. Would-be architects of any new schemes can take heart and should look to become engaged in these processes to ensure forward compatibility. You will be welcomed with open arms.

Mick Davies is a Strategic Consultant to London Connects and may be contacted by email via Mick.Davies@LondonConnects.org.uk. He has been leading the implementation of the London-wide Smartcard initiative for London Connects. He is a member of the Smartcard Networking Forum Core.

Mick Davies’ independent opinion appears courtesy of Prospect – a recruitment consultancy committed to ‘enabling better futures’ and sourcing the people to drive eGovernment. For further information go http://www.prospectmsl.com/ or e-mail info@prospectmsl.com