Ushering in a New Era of Mobile ID

Alex Spencer

At its MicroStrategy World event, MicroStrategy hit on a novel way of showing off its Usher product – use it as a way of getting into the mid-conference party. So, dutifully, I downloaded the free Android app, and found myself confused. It seemed to be a way of managing Facebook events and invites – and with a lag behind the social network's own app and site, meaning that I couldn't access my invite. Yet another surplus-to-requirements app, creating a solution to a problem that wasn't there in the first place, I thought, and promptly deleted it.

But the next morning, sitting in the conference hall as MicroStrategy vice president of product Mark LaRow talked the audience through the product, it started to sound interesting again – and I realised I'd misunderstood, and underestimated, the concept. Usher isn't really about managing Facebook events – at least in the case of the Pro version, it's about verification of identity, a digital solution to use of counterfeit ID, which could be used by any company, organisation, or even government.

The app stores the user's credentials, and then can generate one of four methods of validation – 'sight codes', one of 65,000 complex animated images; 'sonic codes', which pair an ultrasonic noise with sound recognition technology; four-digit numerical codes; and, of course, QR codes – any of which can then be validated through a matching app to prove the user is who they say they are.

The confusion perhaps isn't coincidental – as LaRow explained afterwards, the Pro version of Usher has only been out for a week, and it's still something of an experiment.

“The free version has been out around nine months, and it was our way of testing Usher out. The Facebook stuff is something of a value-add,” said LaRow. “We've been doing internal deployments with some of our customers, but it's been very exploratory. Posting publically a week ago is a major step - now we can market it to a broad set of people.”

According to LaRow, MicroStrategy is currently in talks with universities – enabling employers to check on candidates' qualifications – and governments – as a form of national identification to supplement physical cards – as well as hotels and others to deploy the solution. 

While the free version is geared towards low-level verification, for event tickets and the like, Pro is intended to provide tight security measures. Unlike the free version, it requires a data connection to generate the codes, “for 100 per cent certainty” – which could prove a potential flaw in the design, if it's relied upon as the sole method of identification. It's not a perfect idea, necessarily, but Usher is certainly a lot more interesting than it first appeared.