The Trinsic team has been amazed to see the response we have received from our initial call to action to build verifiable credentials solutions that will help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. We’re actively involved in several communities including the COVID-19 Credentials Initiative (CCI) and the Decentralized Identity Foundation, which have bought together experts and organizations from across the world helping to standardize and coordinate real-world deployments.
One such expert involved in these community initiatives is SSI expert Timothy Ruff. Timothy is a General Partner at Digital Trust Ventures and was the co-founder and CEO of Evernym and co-inventor of Sovrin. He has brought multiple ventures from concept to viability, topping $1 billion in cumulative sales. He is the host of Breaking Silos, the first podcast dedicated to the business models made possible by SSI.
We wanted to highlight his contributions to the CCI and get his perspective on the likelihood of seeing a COVID-19 verifiable credentials use case in production in the near future. Check out the interview below:
Can you tell us from your perspective, what is the COVID-19 Credentials Initiative (CCI), and why did you get involved?
Timothy Ruff: CCI is a self-organizing initiative that brings SSI and verifiable credentials experts from throughout the world to collaborate to develop potential solutions for COVID-19-related use cases. I got involved to help on the business side of things, to help discover problem-solution-fit, ask hard questions about feasibility, and help brainstorm around the business-related obstacles of the different proposed solutions.
What role do you play in this community-led initiative?
A volunteer, like everyone else in CCI. I joined the Use Cases workstream and then volunteered to form a go-to-market (GTM) subgroup to develop a framework that all CCI contributors could use to help determine problem-solution-fit for any particular use case, which we quickly did and released to the broader community.
Verifiable credentials are widely accepted among the SSI community as a viable tool to help mitigate the COVID-19 crisis. What do you think it will it take for this idea to be widely adopted in society?
Yes, those in the SSI choir are all big fans of the choir. 😊 For any technology to be adopted widely, from electricity to the internet, it must be useful—it must solve a problem or do something new that people want. For the COVID-19 crisis or anything else, SSI-based solutions need to do things that non-SSI solutions cannot do, otherwise SSI is unnecessary. I believe, specifically with COVID-19, that in order for individuals to carry cryptographically strong credentials that were issued to them by a health professional about anything—from a prescription for medicine to a statement of test results or antibody presence—SSI and verifiable credentials can streamline workflows unlike any other existing technology and help get our society working somewhat normally again.
How is the Use Case Go-To-Market subgroup helping the CCI overcome these adoption hurdles?
The GTM subgroup developed a 5-step framework to help anyone in CCI determine if a particular use case has feasibility and sufficient demand to explore serious development. Oftentimes technologists get excited about hypothetical uses of the tech they love and rush in to start building it before asking the question: Will the dog eat the food? Of course you won’t know for sure if the dog will eat the food until the final food is in front of a real dog, but there are sensible steps you can take to reduce the risk that you’re barreling toward a dead end.
When do you expect to see one of the use cases coming from the CCI community in production?
Good question. It’s still early, less than a month I think. I monitor the CCI Slack and participate in calls, and it appears that groups around the world are busily building things and some are nearing some degree of readiness. But I’ve not heard much about market demand for what’s being built, so it’s tough to say. I’m not saying that demand doesn’t exist or that the market won’t immediately gobble up solutions that have seemingly obvious benefits, I’m just not aware of how much work has been done on problem-solution-fit. I do, however, see a steady stream of articles around the world about the need for things like immunity passports or credentials, which of course SSI is ideally suited for, so the dog appears to be hungry, potentially very hungry.
Is the five-step framework applicable to use cases that are not related to COVID-19?
Yes. The same five steps are applicable to any use case that uses an issuer-holder-verifier model, not just COVID-19.
What other tips would you give to people who want to bridge the gap between a use case and a business model?
GOOB: Get Out Of the Building. Speak (verbally) with prospective issuers and verifiers, starting with verifiers. Issuers create supply, but verifiers create demand; if you have no demand from verifiers, there is no demand for your proposed solution. Tweak and try again. Also be realistic about who’s going to issue the credentials: Is your target/ideal issuer both interested and able to change its systems to “go digital”? If not, can a proxy issuer be found to issue in its stead? These are the questions that the 5-step framework helps methodically explore to avoid wasting time on dead ends.
In your view, what technologies will work in harmony with verifiable credentials to help improve this situation?
For SSI to work you need issuers, holders, and verifiers, and they all need tools. Issuers need tools for issuing verifiable credentials to holders that are powerful enough to handle rapid scale, integrate with existing systems, provide audit trails of everything, and more. Holders need uber-simple wallets. Verifiers should have the option to purchase tools for verification but not the requirement to spend money. Ideally verifiers could hit a website, or include an iframe on their own site, or even have access to open source code that enables them to verify credentials for free. I believe that once holders have credentials in their digital wallets, it’s in everyone’s best interest to make it as frictionless as possible for those credentials to be verified anywhere the holder might present them.
What kinds of companies should be looking into verifiable credentials to help them solve their COVID-19-related problems?
Any organization that needs to accept people into an environment where it will matter who mingles with whom. Potentially cruise lines, airlines, sporting events, fitness centers, schools, movie theaters, hospitals, and more. If organizations, like those, required papers to be presented, it’d be tough—that is unless it had a QR code that brought up a verifiable credential with that person’s face on it. Then paper could work. But of course, smartphones with QR codes would be great, and chipped cards could work too.
[end of interview]
We want to thank Timothy for his exceptional work in developing the 5-step framework for the community that determines what is needed to make a verifiable credentials use case widely accepted and economically viable, especially as it pertains to our current, global situation.
The Trinsic team believes that verifiable credentials and SSI could play an important role in mitigating the risks society is experiencing due to COVID-19. That is why we have decided to make our paid plans free for those who need a verifiable credentials solution for the COVID-19 pandemic. Contact us to learn more or sign up for a Trinsic Studio account to start building.