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An innovative web-service to securely issue, store and verify online academic credentials

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CORE (An innovative web-service to securely issue, store and verify online academic credentials)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2017-04-30

From banking to travel, almost everything today is done via digital information and the Internet. One notable exception is academic diplomas, certificates, transcripts and letters of offer, most of which are still paper based . European and Global Higher Education Institute (HEI) reliance on paper documents represents one of the main causes of the high expenditure of their back offices. Not only education institutions need a huge amount of traditional paper to issue different types of documents, but the price increases exceptionally if the release of watermarked certificates are required. This expenditure, along with costs associated to printing, storage and postage can exceed €30,000/year only for a single academic department.

The production of fraudulent academic credentials has been increasing in the last fifteen years (by 48% since 2010) so that educational forgery has become a global problem . The modern technology age has allowed forgeries to be more sophisticated and accessible to institutes awarding counterfeit ‘official’ documents. This concerning trend makes now extremely difficult for HEI's to rely on a safe educational network to receive and verify academic certificates.

Digitary Core is an online service (SaaS: Software as a Service) that allows higher education institutions to issue and share secure digital copies of academic diplomas, certificates, transcripts and letters of offer, eliminating the pains associated with having to produce and manage original and duplicate paper documents. Organizations who sign up for Digitary Core are provided with a tool to issue digitally certified documents to their students/graduates. Signing certificates are only issued to authorized officials of educational institutions following strict face to face identity verification procedures. This is to grant the university with an encrypted digital signing key. With this digital signature capability, Universities can then sign massive batches of student degrees, transcripts and certificates so that they are authentic, tamper-evident, and legally admissible under the EU eIDAS regulations of 2014. Digitary basic workflow has already been developed and its demonstration proved in several education web systems (operational environment). Digitary Core represents the new, upgraded version of the original software platform – ‘Digitary Classic’ and its new features are based on the concept of “Certified Online Records Exchange” - Digitary Core.

The overall objectives includes the architectural optimizations, as well as application development and integration activities, to get the solution to a robust commercial level for adoption for the initial purchasing audience of HEI customers. This will then be piloted in a conclusive trial, of which results will be used for dissemination for all existing prototype customers, and targeted follow on HEI's in the EU. The Feasibility Study allowed comprehensive investigation into the commercial viability and the proposed adopted strategies to carry out commercialisation as stated
The Phase 1 Feasibility Study was instrumental for Digitary to get a grasp on the market landscape, and strategic vision to undertake in alignment with the Digitary Core product and proposed customers. Highest on the agenda was a solidified plan to determine the first action plans to optimize, and roll-out the comprehensive version of the solution, to the remaining target audience indicating interest of purchase. Several causes of concern were identified in the process, including their respective counter-actions. These were mainly highlighted in the following concerns and redress for the proposed next stage:

1. The required developments to ensure the solution’s mass uptake from customer HEI’s, in the form of meeting user-requirements, and all other form of MVP requirements, coming in the form regulatory requirements, end-user student/alumni requirements etc. These were highlighted as meeting strict re-developments of Digitary Core work flows, allowing maximum exposure, reliability, and accommodation from increased usage from concurrent multiple parties, enabling applicants to apply to have their credentials verified and digitized (i.e. Digitarized) by an authorized, by either Digitary-enabled credential evaluation agency, or simply direct from customer HEI’s. Other points include Development of capabilities to enable the applicant to track the status of their online application; Development of capabilities to enable receiving organizations to be easily on-boarded in a more scaled way to receive Digitary documents online; as well as enabling the use of Digitary API to allow for the attachment of resulting digital documents to online application forms used by Universities and other third party systems. In doing these, the solution will meet regulations on the the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data (Directive 95/46/EC); further general data protection in compatibility with Directive 95/46/EC and its follow on Directives 2002/58/EC 2006/24/EC 2009/136/EC; Standardisation concerning measures for a high common level of security of network and information systems across the Union (Directive 2016/1148); as well as overall standards of information security management (ISO 27001).

2. The sequential manner in order to bring Digitary Core to the next stage, including the above mentioned core MVP requirements to be met for client, user, and regulator needs. These being specifically broken down into the Engineering and development phases called stage 1; the overall integration and implementation called stage 2; and the the customer HEI validation stage for beginning of full-scale commercialisation antics called stage 3. Within stage 1, includes the sequence of iterative system architecture review, optimisation of data analysis scripts, accommodation of algorithmic scale up, and improvement of front-end and back-end user access for end-users and customers respectively. Within stage 2, once again, and iterative approach to incorporating digital keyless signature technologies with unique keys for customer HEI’s and separate end-user accounts, connecting of port drivers into singular commercial gateway hosted from cloud provider, whilst meeting all above mentioned regulatory and standardisation. This will be followed by iterative test-case scenarios ensuring the robustness of the platform, regardless of numerical stresses in terms of number of end-users at any given point etc. Upon complete test-case scenario completion, comes the validation with a customer HEI representative, currently highlighted as both the Italian and Swedish state-level credential evaluation agencies, of which will utilise the platform throughout a complete life-cycle involving all possible stakeholders in a robust operational validation of the solution. This will be actively monitored, with information collected and analysed for purposes of dissemination with all remaining targeted customer HEI’s noted in the go-to EU state markets, including all existing interested customer HEI’s. This will eventually be used in a proposed next stage of commercialisation, in reaching out all of these potential purchasing customers, of which will reinforce the number of end-user student/alumni users, and trickle effects of potential employers who will assess these student/alumni users when interviewing for jobs.

3. The discretion and expansiveness of initial customer HEI’s, being received across continents and not just in Europe. This was an important issue as a young SME with limited resources, targeted action had to be undertaken, while at the same time taking full advantage of opportunities presented for maximum returns. Considering the interest received, Digitary had to carefully divide its resources to placate interest in China, Australia, the U.S Canada, Brazil and India. The Feasibility Study importantly allowed Digitary to re-focus its energies on markets that would derive faster returns for the organization, warranting the investment of limited resources into accessing that specific geographic locality. It was found that special attention be paid to the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand) region as an immediate, considering the lucrative collaboration with Deloitte Australia, linking up a full suite of over 40 HEI customers in the area, providing the justification for increased investment for business development activities for the region. As result, a separate business developmental project will be carried out to access the ANZAC region. This will be distinct from Digitary’s EU expansion plans cited in this study. The main concentration of resources will still be utilized for EU developments and expansion, especially so for the go-to EU market states.

4. The chosen go-to EU market states were also decided upon, based on the overwhelming interest received in these localities, as well as lucrative position of their respective HEI markets, accounting for the vast majority of HEI representation in the EU 28. As a result, the chosen states that encompassed this lucrative range included the U.K Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Poland, and Sweden.

5. Especially noted on positive effects in the respective go-to EU state penetration, it was highlighted that key stakeholders being spoken to would have a significant impact on the overall commercialization activities in the EU. Highlighted among these are the state-level credential evaluation agencies, such as those in Italy and Sweden, showcasing a centralized funnel for all non-EU entities appealing for tertiary education in these countries, being vetted by the respective educational officers, and converted into their local relevant local standings. Those framed outside the proposed innovation activities for the initial commercialization go-to EU market states, were highlighted for the respective third party collaborations. Specifically, in the form of non-EU penetration into China, with the respective credential evaluation agency serving as a funnel into EU customer HEI’s, and Deloitte Australia, serving as a collaborator linking the suite of HEI’s in ANZAC, as mentioned above.

As a result of the analysis, Digitary has overwhelmingly voted to continue with the next phase of developments to meet commercialization antics, of which primary importance will still be placed on the Euro-sphere, and the EU in particular. Enacting this report’s execution on strategies, will derive the important next stages, and bring the SME Digitary to its next profitable stage, carrying on from the Digitary Core prototype, in developments of a fully sustainable, and thriving global business venture.
Digitary is an innovative SME providing web-solution in the digital credentialing sector. SMEs in this sector offer many opportunities to shape the future of Higher Education, revolutionising the way institutions, students and interested third parties collaborate, from all across the world, in positive impactful ways. Digitary will maximise the use of CORE innovative technology to follow the upward trend of online credentialing procedures and leading to a fast market uptake of the proposed solution. Digitary CORE applies new sets of rules, values and models in the process of providing secure digital certificates when choosing a future college, university or employment, through the provision of reliable and protected information derived from trusted sources. The alleviation on costs due to the migration from paper-based to digital procedures will allow financial resources to be addressed to new education programmes, promoting a more sustainable HE system. The high beneficial impact of CORE adoption will enhance profitability and growth performance of the SME by combining and transferring new and existing knowledge into a disruptive, competitive solution seizing European and global business opportunities.

As the SC6 Work Programme 2016-2017 has outlined , the European Union is currently facing the societal demand to co-operate for inclusive and sustainable long-term growth, recognizing in the digital technologies a pivotal role in tearing down existing barriers. Within the HE sector, a great attention is now focused on developing cross-network activities between nations to promote collaborations and enhance the value of the HE system. The adoption of the Digitary Core will allow for the creation of a digital single market where all EU HEIs would be connected and easily accessible through a unique and reliable platform. Foreign students represent a substantial proportion of the population in many EU countries. OECD research (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) has shown that from 2000 to 2011, the number of international students in Europe increased by roughly 114% which is considerably more than in North America, where the growth was only around 55% . Considering this increasing phenomenon, the adoption of Digitary platform is crucial to strengthen the global outreach and visibility of the overall European HE system. Moreover, with globalization and technological innovation, the demand for migrant workers in the EU developed economy has shifted towards the highly skilled. Destination countries can benefit from these talented migrants, who are likely to raise productivity and economic growth once employed . In light of such trend, verifying job applicant’s academic credentials and sharing secure data between interested parties in a rapid and simple way, will greatly benefit the European economy to absorb high-skilled workers in a more efficient way.