For Self-Sovereign Digital Identities, It Takes an Industry

For the last several years, there’s been intense interest around the future of work (FOW): what it will mean, what it will look like and how organizations can prepare for it. One of the most promising concepts to surface in these FOW considerations is that of verified self-sovereign identity—the ability of each individual to take full control over their own career credentials (identity, education, employment, certifications and other official documents) through a secure digital wallet.


Many platforms have emerged to support this new way of exchanging trusted career-related information, but the concept of portable, verifiable, comprehensive digital credentials requires an approach that is as ubiquitous as the internet itself.


Today’s “portfolio career” style of work means that an individual will have a dozen or more employment experiences over their lifetime. Their employers utilize many different HCM technology vendors, and all those technology vendors need to be engaged in these digital profile projects to support individuals’ curation of comprehensive work-related credentials. This need for wide-spread ecosystem development and adoption is a fundamental challenge facing any self-sovereign identity project, and no single technology vendor, regardless of size, can address this challenge alone.



The Classic Chicken and Egg Question


While blockchain technology is critical to ensure the trusted, secure and private exchange of verifiable credentials, in truth, this is one of the easier aspects of delivering self-sovereign digital wallets.


A bigger challenge is that of adoption—how to quickly scale the ecosystem in this multi-sided network of credential issuers (i.e., universities, employers, licensing agencies, learning platforms, etc.), credential inspectors (i.e., prospective employers) and credential holders (individual users) of these digital wallets, in a way that brings value to all constituents.

It’s the classic “chicken or the egg” dilemma: Credential Issuers will be slow to join the network until there is enough demand from individual Holders. Credential Holders will be slow to join and leverage digital career wallets until there are enough Issuers and there is demand from Inspectors. Credential Inspectors will be slow to join until there is enough value for them with the number of Holders and the completeness of their individual profiles.


Can a single vendor’s proprietary approach overcome this challenge?



Proprietary Platforms Face Inherent Friction


There are decades of evidence that centralized/proprietary platforms follow a predictable life cycle: When they start out, proprietary solutions do everything they can to recruit users and third-party partners like developers, businesses and media organizations to make their services more valuable and grow engagement on their platform.


As these platforms mature and see increased adoption, their power over users and third-party partners steadily grows.


When these proprietary platforms achieve a level of maturity, one where even industry late majority and laggards are joining the ecosystem, their relationships with the original partners often change. Cooperative partners become competitive rivals. Friction in the form of higher costs or access restrictions comes into play. Overall rules of engagement change. For the participants, this transition from cooperation to competition can feel like a bait-and-switch.


Understanding these risks, many vendors will not join the ecosystems of these single vendor-led platforms. The necessary adoption flywheel fails to kick in across the needed ecosystem of credential issuers, credential inspectors and individuals, and the platform ultimately serves only a limited segment of the market. Such siloed ecosystems with limited value to its constituents are already visible today across the HCM and Education technology marketplaces.


For a utility to be truly universal, trusted and ubiquitous, it needs to be a cooperative, vendor-neutral and open architecture play rather than a proprietary, single-vendor play.



How the Industry-based Velocity Network Overcomes the Adoption Challenge


As an industry-based approach to enabling the creation and exchange of self-sovereign digital credentials, Velocity Network solves the adoption challenge in part through several of its key characteristics: democratic governance; proxy distribution; and an open source, vendor-neutral platform.



Democratic Governance


With the Velocity Network, the network belongs to no one and is run by its members. The Velocity Network is governed by the Velocity Network Foundation, a collaborative, democratic, nonprofit foundation, with members from across the global labor market.


The Foundation’s Board is comprised of individual delegates from Member organizations, elected to serve in governance by the general membership. Board members represent the interests of all the different constituents of the Velocity Network, govern the use of the network by all involved parties, and continuously build the rulebook, a common framework that ensures operational consistency and legal clarity for every transaction.


No single entity, regardless of size or market share, has a larger voice than another in this democratically governed model. This framework is very appealing to all participants, competitors and collaborators, eliminating the risk of unilateral changes by any single vendor.



Proxy Distribution


Velocity Network achieves widespread adoption by engaging major industry players that cover a large portion of the ecosystem, coming together to embrace and promote a common approach. Since career data record keeping is largely handled for employers and educational institutions by technology and service providers (including HCM vendors, Student Information Systems, Learning and Certification Platforms, Staffing Organizations), these players are pivotal to an industry approach to managing the exchange of verifiable career credentials. At present, the Foundation’s members represent roughly 24% of the HCM technology market, managing career-related data for more than 850 million individuals in their systems, including billions of professional and student credentials.


Ensuring the interoperability of these technology and service providers with the Velocity Network enables their tens of thousands of employer and academic clients to participate in the network, and they in turn are able to support their hundreds of millions of individual students and employees through new credential issuance and inspection capabilities. The Velocity Network brings the industry incumbents together across the entire global labor market, enabling proxy distribution to fuel the flywheel of adoption.



Open-Source, Vendor-Neutral Platform


Intentionally built as an open-source, vendor-neutral platform, all participants in the Velocity Network are equal, adhering to the same governance and technology protocols. The Network is developed under an open-source framework, licensed to be freely used, modified and shared by the Foundation and Network participants. Unlike closed, proprietary platforms, this open-source framework will foster a thriving ecosystem of contributors to adapt and build on top of it. This reinforces the ecosystem’s growth, in addition to benefitting from diverse viewpoints to the project.



Industry vs. Proprietary Play: Where Will You Place Your Bets?


The opportunity for academic institutions, employers and tech vendors across the global labor market to lead this next wave of self-sovereign career data ownership is now. The market for this transformational technology is growing quickly and is filled with many ephemeral, proprietary plays. In contrast, the Velocity Network represents an enduring, forward-thinking vision that is reinventing how career records are shared across the global labor market: an industry-based approach—for industry, by industry—that engages constituents from across the global labor market to activate the Internet of Careers™.


We’re all in. Join us.