GM's Found Religion on Digital Identity


Tony Scott has interesting problems to work on. As CTO of General Motors, there are lots of things that could occupy his time, but increasingly, he's focusing on digital identity. He gave one of the keynotes at last year's Digital ID World conference and I was fascinated by how similar his problems were at GM to the ones faced by the State of Utah and probably every other large organization. From an identity standpoint, Tony has three huge areas of opportunity, or risk depending on how they're handled:

  • Hundreds of thousands of employees,
  • One of the largest, mot complex supply chains in the world, and
  • A vast distribution network of independent dealers

In a recent interview with Phil Becker, Tony commented on fact the digital identity is central to business strategy:

I end up participating in a lot of external events, forums, discussions, etc. and what's been interesting to me over the last year is the rising barometer around awareness of, and also concern about digital identity. There's hardly a session I go to these days where it doesn't come up in some form - whether you're talking about intrusion detection, who's on our network, who should be on our network, or application strategy. I was with a group yesterday that were talking about "compute on demand" and how you would enable that infrastructure. Not surprisingly the conversation wound around to identity management. It seems to be a very pertinent and rising issue, particularly in corporations. Especially as you go collaborative as GM has, where we do a lot of work with outside partner vendors and suppliers. That is heartening, because without some fundamental understanding of the issue and potential solutions, you can't get very far.

GM is right in the middle of this. Having a good identity system for customers, or at least their vehicles, let's GM dealers know the maintenance history for my Silverado pick-up even though I get it serviced at different locations from time to time. This is very similar to the medical records problem faced by IHC and other large health care providers. In the future, I hope that my vehicle maintenance history will also be available to the independent repair shop I like to use sometimes as well.

Of course, OnStar is one step further along the road of creating strong customer ties to GM and identity is at its core. Says Tony:

I think there is a greater understanding of where this fits architecturally in the whole scheme of things, how central identity is to enabling the infrastructure and applications of a company to really work. A personal story that illustrates this: I was recently at a meeting and rented a car with OnStar service. I was able to give them my OnStar account number while I was in this rental car. Later on, I called back in and they were able to save my route, give me an update on all of the services that I had requested, portable across cars. You could see the power of having an identity that you could transfer. On the same day, the opposite was also demonstrated. I was bumped off [an airline] and moved to [a different carrier.] Even though I have a frequent flyer account with an airline related to the second carrier, that carrier had no clue that I was a frequent flyer for their system.

I'm sure other large companies have clued into the fact that an identity infrastructure and an identity management strategy are key to their relationships with their employees, customers, and partners, but Tony Scott is putting GM's commitment to this idea very much in the public. Tony will be speaking on Thursday at this year's Digital ID World; I'm looking forward to hearing him again.