Focus has moved away from the Digital iD project at Australia Post, with a reduction in funding and staff changes, InnovationAus.com understands.
Multiple sources have confirmed that focus has been moved away from the Digital iD project since new CEO Christine Holgate took over at Australia Post, and that its funding has been reduced.
The organisation also recently scoped interest in the private sector for funding or a sale, but this has now been “halted”. There were concerns that such a move could jeopardise the project’s deal with the federal government’s Digital Transformation Agency, and a potential partnership with the controversial My Health Record service.
It’s understood that funding for the project to deliver the identity verification solution has been cut and some high-level staff have left its team, but Australia Post has denied that the funding changes are the result of a refocus, with a spokesperson saying that the project has just moved to a different stage.
“The funding is reflective of the stage that the product build is at. With the bulk of the platform built we will only be making incremental changes and will focus on commercialisation,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.com.
Australia Post began work on Digital iD in 2016, with the first iteration of the identity verification service rolled out earlier this year. The service verifies an online user’s identity using documents including driver’s licences, passports, smartphone applications and QR codes, with plans to also incorporate biometric data.
It has been piloted with 13 organisations, including Queensland Police, CUA and Airtasker, with more than 40 companies now signed up to it.
In March this year, the Victorian state government integrated Digital iD as verification for individuals to enter licensed venues using the federal government’s document verification service.
Australia Post partnered with the DTA’s GovPass project in May last year to integrate Digital iD to build “identity solutions that improve people’s access to government services online and in-person”.
The Digital iD project was driven by former Australia Post chief executive Ahmed Fahour, who left the organisation late last year. But when new boss Christine Holgate took over, focus quickly turned away from the innovative project, towards more traditional logistics services, InnovationAus.com understands.
Ms Holgate took over the reigns at the organisation in October last year, and quickly detailed her focus on the growing market in China and the importance of the company’s overall Asia strategy, refocusing it back to its traditional parcel business over new digital projects like the Digital iD.
InnovationAus.com understands that funding for the Digital iD project has been significantly reduced, and while Australia Post has maintained this is due to the project’s maturity, sources said this was also because of a broader refocus away from innovation.
There have also been major cuts to the team behind Digital iD. While about 100 people were previously split into seven delivery teams, this has now been reduced to four teams, with plans to cut this in half again, InnovationAus.com understands.
Those that have left Australia Post’s Digital iD team in last year include its head of product and strategic growth, its consumer lead and its head of product, along with Australia Post CIO Andrew Walduck, who was a strong supporter of the project.
An Australia Post spokesperson said the team has “not lost or had major changes to key personnel”.
An Australia Post spokesperson said the company is still committed to the Digital iD project.
“Australia Post remains committed to the development of Digital iD. Over 40 organisations have signed up to Digital iD to date. The platform verifies over 800,000 people a year and has won multiple awards with its innovative biometric based verification model,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.com.
InnovationAus.com also understands that Australia Post has been in active discussions to obtain private funding for the project, or to sell it off entirely to a private sector giant. But the spokesperson said that the organisation has decided against this.
“We did explore interest in the market but that work has been halted as we’ve recognised the strategic importance of Digital iD to our identity services business,” the spokesperson said.
There were also concerns that this may impact the integrity of the service, and potentially conflict with existing partnerships with government agencies.
It is planned for Digital iD to be integrated with the Digital Health Agency’s controversial My Health Record service as a way for users to verify their identities, but an outside partnership may impact this.
Australia Post has also partnered with the DTA on this project to integrate Digital iD with the overall Govpass project, which received a $90 million funding boost in this year’s budget. It’s unclear how the current turmoil surrounding Digital iD would impact the Govpass project or its own funding.
“We will work closely with Australia Post to develop standards, processes and policies that will lay the foundation for a federated digital identity system. The partnership will focus on building identity solutions that improve people’s access to government services online and in-person,” the DTA said earlier this year.
The DTA released its Trusted Digital Identity Framework in June this year, outlining the standards of privacy, security, assurance and interoperability that parties looking to become identity providers must meet.
Australia Post is currently in the process of being accredited against this framework, and is understood to be the first party to be doing so. In the longer term, the DTA is looking for multiple identity providers to be accredited, giving choice to consumers.
It’s currently unclear how the current issues facing Australia Post’s Digital iD and a potential partnership or sale to the private sector would impact its DTA accreditation.
Former head of strategic growth Claudia Lajeunesse was the point of contact for the DTA on the project, but it’s unclear who has taken her place after she departed the company last month. The DTA declined to comment on this.
The Digital iD had been very highly regarded and often seen as a market leader in the space. The project was named best federal government IT project in the 2018 ITNews Benchmark Awards.