By Tim Barber, Vice President, Telecoms & Media Industry, ForgeRock

In today’s communications and media industries, understanding identity is more important and more complex than ever.

Not so long ago, it was simple enough to identify each customer by a postal address or landline number.

However, as the number of online services and devices has proliferated, the concept of customer identity has become increasingly complicated.

In this environment, telecoms companies have to understand and manage a complex web of relationships between services and devices, and between users and bill payers.

First, the bill payer is not necessarily the user, neither in the home – where I might pay for cable TV but five people in my household could be watching it from a range of devices – nor in the business-to-business world – where the user is often entirely disconnected from the billing relationship, and anonymous to the telecoms provider.

Second, increasingly many identities being managed by telcos will not be people at all which further adds to the complexity.

Instead, they will be devices, connected things, or even a service or application that is being consumed in the cloud.

For example, an internet-connected car, a smart utility meter or a sensor in industrial equipment will all need to have a digital identity that can be used to ensure it is being given access to the right data and services – and vice versa.

Understanding and managing the inter-relationships between these different types of identities; customers, users, corporate entities, access devices, connected things and services is a huge challenge – one that is going to be increasingly fundamental for the telecoms industry.

For telcos, this new and complex identity landscape matters greatly for a number of reasons.

Put simply, it’s impossible for them to deliver a quality customer experience if they do not understand the relationships between customers, users, devices and services.

In today’s layered and fragmented marketplace, providers need to be able to anticipate the needs of customers and give them what they want, when they want it, without compromising on security.

Failure to consistently demonstrate this understanding will also undermine the trust placed in telcos by customers.

Trust matters in any business but particularly for telecoms companies who need to be custodians of trust beyond the boundaries of their own network and their own services; people use them to access everything and everybody else in the digital world.

The opportunity is there to leverage this basic principle to help people and organisations, but only if telcos can manage the identity of every element effectively and securely.

A smart approach to identity can also help telecoms providers grow new revenues and take advantage of opportunities in the Internet of Things (IoT).

Being able to manage the complexity of relationships not just between people, but also between devices, things and services, will enable operators to offer identity management services into other industries as a managed service.

This is particularly true in the industrial IoT or machine-to-machine (M2M) arena, where the identity of things offers telcos an opportunity to add value to their market proposition, providing a necessary level of additional managed service over and above connectivity.

Last, with the rollout of next generation 5G networks on the horizon, the 5G-Ensure initiative will enable telcos to embed digital trust management capabilities deep into their networks, allowing identity to persist from devices through APIs across networks into cloud services.

This creates a rich new environment for communications providers to develop applications and services based on their role as a trusted identity provider.

So, how can telcos get smart about identity?

For many, the first step will be to implement a single customer identity management system to improve the control and visibility they have over their customers, users and services.

A single platform can also help businesses adapt more effectively to new challenges or opportunities. 

For instance, the imminent GDPR regulation in Europe, which requires companies to manage data at the individual identity level for consent, and presents challenges such as the right to be forgotten, will undoubtedly require changes from telecoms providers.

As changes such as the GDPR come into effect, the notion of data sovereignty will likely become ever more important, with consumers increasingly expecting to be able to take control of their own digital identity.

Having a coherent single approach to digital identity management will allow telcos to be ready for whatever this future looks like, giving them the platform they need to seamlessly connect customers, while also building trust and adding long-term value.

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