The era of digital credentials IBM Supply Chain and Blockchain Blog

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Imagine being able to rid your wallet of a driver’s license, an insurance card, a student or employee ID and more. Imagine not having to worry about losing your passport and vaccination records on a trip abroad, or about the authenticity of the designer shoes you just purchased. This and much more is possible with the introduction of verifiable digital credentials. Credentials have been around for decades, if not centuries. The idea of obtaining documentation that proves a qualification, competence or authority is not, by itself, a novel idea. In fact, it is these long established, deeply seeded practices we often think may not be transformed by the shifts in technology. Yet it is precisely those daily activities that we habitually continue doing without much thought that can be, and in many instances already are, profoundly impacted by digitizing credentials. In short, the era of digital credentials is here.

The internet has been around for decades, and I’ve been using a smart phone for years. Why is this the first I’m hearing of digital credentials? These are likely some of the questions that come to mind when initially hearing about digital credentials. The truth is, while the internet and smart phones have made significant progress over the last two decades, the blockchain technology enabling verifiable digital credentials has only recently matured to meet the required standards for broadscale application and adoption.

Transform digital identity into trusted identity with blockchain

Using blockchain technology, IBM Digital Credentials gain permissionability, immutability, and verifiability. Digital credentials, or even just attributes of a credential, can be shared using QR codes or private and public keys. In most credentialing use cases, there will be three participants — the issuer, the holder, and the verifier. The issuer will instate the credential to the blockchain, thereby certifying the qualification or the validity of an assertion. The holder can then store that credential in their digital wallet.

When need be, the holder can physically or digitally present credentialed information to a verifier who needs to validate that the holder’s credential is trustworthy. Digital credentials eliminate the hassle of managing multiple physical documents, mitigates fraud risk, and allows holders to selectively share only necessary data with the requesting verifier. The applications of a secure and trusted issuer-holder-verifier transaction pattern are boundless and will positively impact every industry.

First wave and future use cases

The adoption of digital credentials will come in waves, with the initial implementation of more apparent use cases. As the benefits are realized by the entities involved with the initial waves of adoption, we believe companies and governments with fringe use cases will take a chance on digital credentials. We see the primary use cases being related to occupational and professional licensure, recreational permits, learning credentials and vaccine verifications. As these initial use cases take hold, we anticipate credentials for verifying the authenticity of physical products to be a subsequent phase of adoption. This would give individuals and institutions the ability to verify the authenticity of parts, clothing items, sports equipment and more. Some of the primary uses cases include medical credentials, driver’s licenses, and health records.

Medical credentials are a prime candidate to be digitized, immutable and verifiable. In the medical industry, the verification of records for new physicians is time consuming and cost ineffective. The process of verifying a new member of a hospital often takes 12-25 or more independent organizations. This results in the onboarding process of new hires to take 4-6 months. Due to this timely process, hospitals lose USD 7,500 to 9,000 daily. With medical credentials being stored on blockchain, the hiring hospital would be able to verify a new hire’s certifications in minutes rather than months.

Similar to medical credentials, we also anticipate the credentialing of health records and driver’s licenses to occur in the first wave of adoption. Allowing individuals to digitally hold their health records or driver’s licenses would benefit the safety and security of one’s identity. We are often presenting more information to a third party than required. For example, if a verifying party needs to validate your age, there should be no reason to display any additional information such as your address or your full name. With digital credentials stored on blockchain you would have the ability to verify your age without visually presenting any information, even your date of birth!

IBM Digital Credentials for Learners

We have proven the capabilities of the IBM Digital Credentials platform through the success of applying the platform to our Learning Credential Network use case. We started the journey of digitizing credentials in the most opportune industry, education. Being able to obtain and hold a digital record of your diploma is what may immediately come to mind. However, the digitization of learning records goes much further. Students and employees around the world who may not have the opportunity to attend 4-year colleges or even 2-year, now have new methods to acquire skills through online courses, on-the-job training, skills-based experiential learning, and more. The implementation of a digital credentialing system, such as the IBM Digital Credentials platform empowers these employees and students to have verifiable proof of skills they have gained and are ready to use in a job. This subsequently creates a skills-based economy as well as benefits for leaders across various industries. Digitizing learning credentials has broadened the talent pool, created more diversity in the workplace, and allowed for easier access to individuals with niche skills. Companies, students, employees, and educational institutions who have leveraged the learning application of the IBM Digital Credentials platform are already seeing benefits from our solution.

Credentialing for government entities

The IBM digital credentialing team has also partnered with a local government in the state of New York to bring the power of the IBM Digital Credentials platform to their social services programs. For an individual or family to verify their eligibility for these programs, there are several steps that need to be taken and a significant amount of documentation that needs to be provided. It’s an extremely time consuming and tedious (and often duplicative) process for individuals to have to present verification of their income, address, identification and more.

Given that those eligible for one program are likely eligible for others, the local government decided to partner with IBM to create digital credentials to quickly verify the eligibility of participation in multiple social programs. This will ultimately save significant time for both constituents and government workers who assist in these processes. This initiative started with emergency rental relief eligibility verification but is looking to help expedite social service verification across all programs.

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