Associating Personas - identifying when two "people" are the same person

Identifying the "same person" when they exist in multiple affiliates or multiple contact channels can be messy with a set of tradeoffs. People show up or interact with organizations with different personas. They may be customers or incident reporters or marketing contacts or someone who just happens to make an inquiry. Even customers / registered people may exist as more than one person because of mergers, identity changes personal choice, or system errors.

The speaker notes below represent a subset of the comments in the video.


Associating Personas - Images

Organizations make people create accounts in order to bind those people to permissions and preferences. Accounts may provide traceability from account to person but they often don't provide the only link to that person.  People can create multiple accounts for various purposes. This means that an account may be bound to a person but a person can be bound to more than one account. Those accounts may have different contact information, email address, or preferences.  As an example, I have separate personal Microsoft and XBOX Microsoft accounts.

Note that the account doesn't even guarantee a mapping to a person. Plenty of people share banking, shopping, insurance, and other accounts. 
People may interact with an organization with their own identities or anonymous identities, via marketing links or anonymized browsers, or other means.  Our total information about the activities of this person is the combination of their customer activities and their prospect or anonymous activities.  The customer may do this for a reason. The company may wish to bind together the customer and prospect for better service, marketing, or other reasons.
Organizations want to bind the various persons into a single person.  The criteria for that match differ based on the use case.  A match with legal documents or financial sharing will have a higher bar than a match used for cross-marketing or advertising suggestions.  Advertising or marketing matches can be made with a different type of confidence than something type of match with legal impacts.

Systems or companies often give users/customers/partners a local identifier.  That person may have multiple identifiers across various affiliates or systems.  This problem will always exist as other companies are bought or COTS software is purchased with its own identity system.  For these cases, we want to create a global identifier that is attached to the people.

We want to assign global identifiers to people as they come into the system. THis means we identifiers for people we know very little about.

Some people will claim that you can push a universal identifier across all systems and eliminate the debt represented by the local identifiers.  I personally don't see that as practical given the way systems and organizations evolve.
Here we have decided that the marketing person is the same person as the other two customer people. This is a case where we may attach an existing global identifier to that person. 

You can see this sometimes when as we acquire data about a contact. They initially get their own identifier. Then later we know more about them. We then obsolete their initial identifier and join them to the previously existing identifier.  The global identifier system must support obsolete global identifier redirects or lookups. This makes it so the observing systems don't have to update their global identifiers as they are updated in the global management system.

There will be situations where we realize that a global identifier is actually tied to more than one real person.  In this case, we need to split those people apart and make sure they have different global identifiers.  This can happen fairly often as you learn more about individuals.

Identity splits can lead to complications in observing systems. It is actually one of the reasons You may or may not want to keep the global identifier in every system.  You may instead rely on local identifier lookups against the global identifier systems.

 Blog published 2021/12


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