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A miracle of collaboration

Jon BentleyBy Jon Bentley
Category - Blog

Thursday 30th November 2017

When January comes I’ll have been working in the world of federated access management for nearly three years.

After many false peaks and dawns I’m now confident that I fully appreciate what federated access management is and the value it brings to people who embrace it – publishers, libraries and end users alike.

I spent a small amount of time working in news and analysis around the built environment many years ago. One memorable day involved shadowing a project manager as they spent a day on a construction site in the City of London.

As she looked around at the various activities amongst the scaffolding and planks she informed me:

“Construction is a miracle of collaboration”.

And she was right. It is inspiring to appreciate the sequence of planning, delivery and endeavour required to construct new offices in central London.

Federated access management is also a miracle of collaboration with the planning, delivery and endeavour usually hidden from view.

The goal is a single sign-on experience for end users that crosses multiple platforms enabling access to licensed, high quality information. When implemented effectively, the encrypted metadata that is passed also enables the content provider to develop a personalised and relevant experience for each user.

When it comes together behind the scenes the end user experiences a seamless journey from platform to platform.

And keeps librarians happy too:

“It’s a great way to give access to online publications from all kinds of publishers and organizations without having the problems of changing IP addresses.”

Information Manager, global corporate organisation, OpenAthens customer feedback July 2017

But the collaboration required to create and maintain the desired experience is considerable.

Access management federations at their most fundamental are built on two pillars:

  • Policy – the rules and protocols for enabling authentication and authorisation between parties
  • Technology – the infrastructure that allows the encrypted metadata and certification to communicate in the back ground

And once the federation has created the trusted network to empower single sign-on the work is only really beginning:

  • Authorising organisations – usually the library in partnership with an IT team – need to promote and manage online resources that their organisation subscribes too, as well as providing clear guidelines and tools to access the content usually with platforms like TDNet Discover and the EBSCO Discovery Service.
  • Publishers need to invest time, technology and user design to manage the organisational authentication process with a log-in experience that is coherent and consistent on their platform and beyond.
  • End users benefit from an understanding of the process and guidelines that create the best experience – for example users need to understand that clearing cookies or switching browsers can end their single sign-on session

RA21 is an initiative that is the embodiment of collaboration. People from around the world (competitors, colleagues and partners), are exploring the best way to deliver a consistent and coherent approach for end users looking to access digital resources in the 21st century.

Simplistically, the existing tools of federated access management can be utilised to create a working single sign-on experience. Our partnership with the National Health Service in the UK – where hundreds of thousands of end users, work with hundreds of libraries to access thousands of resources – is evidence of that.

“It’s the main authentication method for accessing NHS content and a valuable part of the Library service, which enables customers to access a wider range of information and evidence.”

NHS Administrator, NHS England, OpenAthens customer feedback January 2017

But underpinning that experience is a network of libraries and publishers who have worked through the laborious detail to deliver the best experience for end users.

When it works, fabulous federated access management is a miracle of collaboration. But every party in the process needs to devote the thought and application of existing technology to make it work.

Find out more

Download our new report on identity and access management in global pharmaceutical companies to read more on why federated access management is key to a great end user experience. Or watch our recent webinar where we discuss this.


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