Tens of millions of dollars could be saved if governments adopted better identity and access management (IAM) solutions. Petteri Ihalainen, member of the IAM team at GlobalSign, looks at an example from Finland whereby citizens can renew passports online. A new passport request can now be made in minutes, which means less administration and time savings for the associated government. Also, citizens are now happier with the level of service and ability to apply from the comfort of their own homes.

When you use best practice for authentication and digitalization of traditional services, you can accomplish some highly effective and beneficial services. Think about all the government services that require you to visit a local establishment, write a letter, or send a fax. How many of these could be turned into 24/7 available online services?

What about renewing a passport? To be able to renew your own passport using an online service might sound ridiculous, but that’s something that has been available in Finland for a while now.

Finnish passport renewal

The following Facebook conversation happened just recently (names have been changed to protect the innocent):

John [frustrated]:

“Boy is this frustrating. My passport is expiring. Was expecting to have to pop down to The Hague to the Finnish Embassy to renew it. No luck – due to cost savings, all customer service functions have been moved to Brussels.

Ah, but the Finns are really proud that you can now renew your passport on-line – great! Ah, but… to upload your picture, you need access to the government upload system – and they provide a long list of photographers that have access and can upload the picture for you. All of them in Finland, of course…

Do they provide any sort of phone number or email address for questions or customer service? No… ”

Katy [responding in minutes]:

“If you can do electronic authentication (Katso) you can send in your own picture.

John [immediate response]:

“Thanks! That looks promising!”

… 5 minutes pass…


“OK, renewal application submitted – thanks, Katy!”

So, in a span of 15 minutes, John was able to find out that he could submit a passport renewal application to the authorities, take the picture, and upload it to the government online service. The service in questions allows citizens or photo shops to upload passport photos online and associate them with a renewal request (also created online). It took those 15 minutes and a short comment from Katy to turn John from a frustrated expat into a happy citizen.

This was possible because John already had his passport data (expiring passport) in the databases, namely biometrics. All that’s necessary is to have an up-to-date photo of John and the renewal request. Using strong authentication (in this case either 2-factor bank authentication, mobile PKI or the eID card), John was able to properly authenticate himself to the eGovernment service and submit his renewal request along with his new photo online.

In case you’re wondering about the photo shops, they can upload your passport photo to the government online service on your behalf, also using strong authentication. But, they also need to have a role associated to their identity, so that they are correctly authorized to upload the photo. This role is granted by the government, not the customer, to the photo shop. A private citizen does not need the authorization, but a business owner doing this on behalf of his customer would.

Moving to an online identity management solution

When moving your services to the digital world, identities matter. By using the appropriate level of authentication you should be able move practically any service to the online world. For the government, the cost savings in John’s case are also considerable. And, if you multiply John with the number of passport holders of the whole nation, you start to see cost savings reaching tens of millions of dollars, or euros in this case.

As it is now so easy to renew a passport, there are less people walking into the office. Imagine implementing this solution in other eGovernment services, like UK council tax or self-employment tax assessment.

Identity and access management isn’t just about cost savings, or provisioning employee data to internal repositories. Here’s a few other ways you could benefit from IAM:

  • Business Performance – companies who adopt customer-centric IAM solutions often see increased customer satisfaction and customer conversion rates
  • Risk Management – by providing adequate authentication and authorization companies can properly manage risk related to their digital assets
  • Compliance – with IAM, your business can ensure its compliance with industry regulations or facilitate federation of identities across service or even country borders
  • Convenience – Identity and Access Management can put your company above its competitors, improving customer loyalty and making it easier to upsell or cross-sell