Seven Ways Self-Sovereign Identity Can Enable True Digital Transformation

The following was published as the conclusion to our series, The Seven Deadly Sins of Digital Customer Relationships. This chapter can be read as a great summary; however, if you’d like to dive deeper into any of the individual ‘sins,’ you can find the entire series here.


So that’s it. Seven sins. And seven remedies that become possible with Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI).

Lusting after customer data, all the time, everywhere. Exchanging new decentralized identifiers to transform how customers are treated when they show up, enabling the business to ‘level-up’ on digital trust.
The slothliness of designing business ‘inside-out,’ and thinking about products rather than customer outcomes. Creating new secure, private, and direct customer channels to side-step today’s reliance on digital identity third parties, and to unlock new digital value opportunities that seize market share from competitors.
The wrath of identity providers who can disable a person’s digital identity without notice. Reimagining customer connections with new powerful digital agents that enable customers to share data in fast, efficient, and respectful ways.
The gluttony of over-eating on customer data. Requesting digital verifiable credentials from customers in order to access smarter, richer datasets, and to improve margins and compliance.
The greed of asking for too much customer information. Requiring only zero-knowledge proofs from customers so the business can minimize risks, lower costs, and increase efficiency.
The pride of every digital identity solution believing that they can do it better and differently. Enabling new global digital ecosystems based on open standards that drive digital growth, innovation and collaboration across almost every industry and border.
The envy of businesses racing to keep up with each other about how much data they can collect at scale. Developing new SSI data strategies that deliver the right insights, while reducing friction, improving compliance, and slashing overhead costs.

Taking a step back, I believe SSI is going to be ground zero for true digital transformation. It will separate those companies that are:

  • digitizing the business – doing what we do today but just electronically (like converting today’s paper credentials like drivers licenses into digitally verifiable ones); from those that are
  • actually becoming digital – doing new things we couldn’t do before and completely redesigning the customer experience, products, and business models (for example authenticating customers anywhere, with any device or in any channel; or offering seamless remote onboarding using customer-direct data)

As far back as the 18th century, economists described the market as ‘demand and supply,’ rather than ‘supply and demand.’ Customers first. Needs first. Demand first. SSI might just be able to to restore some balance to our digital markets – where we can move from a world of B2C (where companies do things to customers) to a world of Me2B (where businesses do things with and for customers).

It’s about demand-side thinking. Where customers are active participants rather than passive subjects. And where companies wrap their products, services, and experiences around the customer from start to finish, because they’ll be able to connect with them in a new, trusted, secure, and private way that’s never been possible before.

Pause for thought

Before we wrap up I want to make sure we recognize that with every technology-driven change we create new problems; we don’t just solve the old ones.

Here are some of the most crucial and socially impactful challenges that we must address – as policy makers, as regulators, as businesses, and as technology vendors – before SSI can go mainstream:

  • Exclusion: if customers don’t have a SSI-enabled device or cannot access the digital connections needed to be able to receive and share data, then some communities won’t be able to enjoy the benefits we’ve covered in these seven sins. Worse, those groups may be deliberately excluded by businesses who chose not to offer services to them. Designing for offline data sharing, along with the use of ‘paper credentials,’ is going to be critical to making sure the SSI future we all image can be as inclusive and accessible as possible.

  • Discrimination: companies may choose to offer cheaper, or more premium experiences to customer who are able to share richer, more detailed data about themselves. First, this could leave those without verifiable credentials, or related digital tools, out in the cold. (I expect it won’t take long for those businesses to receive discrimination lawsuits.) And second, some businesses may charge a premium to those who don’t want to (or can’t) share their data – further excluding those without the right data or the right digital tools.

  • Not just a digital divide, but a data divide (which becomes a privacy divide): If some businesses charge a premium for those who don’t want to (or can’t) share their data, then only the wealthy will be able to afford those premiums and will be able to maintain their privacy. Poorer individuals will have to share more and more of their personal data – as many have predicted, data will become ‘monetized’ for those that can’t afford it. This will be one of the greatest policy challenges for the digital economy in the coming decade.

  • Over-collection by design: If data can be collected, then it will be collected. Many businesses (and perhaps governments) will likely mandate that individuals share specific datasets before providing access to services (a good example is insurance). Organizations of every size are going to have to wrestle with building ever-larger troves of personal data on one hand, while embracing SSI approaches that will improve data security, privacy, and brand trust, but which could impact short-term revenue streams. As new and exciting data sets flood the market, existing data regulations and policies are going to be tested to the limit.

Today’s closed, proprietary, and constrained digital economy rewards these seven sins. But the new world we’re moving to – the more open, more secure, more private, and more scalable one that SSI enables – will penalize them.

Gandhi once said we should ‘hate the sin, love the sinner.’ Maybe that’s the point here: every single organization on the planet has the potential to leave behind these seven sins, to embrace SSI and move towards a more sustainable customer relationship.

So I’ll repeat what I said at the start:

“Self-Sovereign Identity not only presents an opportunity for businesses to build smarter, more secure, and more scalable relationships with customers; but it will enable them to completely rethink how they build trusted digital relationships from the ground up.”

I hope by now that you’ll see that SSI is more groundbreaking than most realize. It stands to completely reorganize the very ways that businesses operate; and to fundamentally shape the way customers interact with organizations – and even each other.

Put simply, SSI will breathe life – and trust – back into our digital economies, and into our digital lives.

SSI is gathering pace, and we’re at a tipping point for mainstream adoption. It’s now up to businesses to take a long hard look at their digital relationships today and to decide if they want to become sustainable saints or remain self-centered sinners.

Well I know which side I’m on – and it’s the customer’s.

Enjoyed this series?

You can revisit any of the seven deadly sins from the series home or continue your SSI journey with some of our other recommended content:

The 5 Safeness Checks
Introducing Safe Credentials & The Five Safeness Checks

Five safeness checks for ensuring that your digital identity systems are secure, private, flexible, and non-correlatable.

The 3 Pillars of SSI
The Three Pillars of Self-Sovereign Identity

A beginner’s introduction to SSI technology: 1) Secure connections, 2) data “watermarking,” and 3) trusted public key directories.