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Feedback from our SP webinar – development update

Jon BentleyBy Jon Bentley
Category - Blog

Tuesday 21st June 2016

OpenAthens SP: feedback from our recent Development Update webinar.

We recently held a webinar to discuss our near-future plans for OpenAthens SP (you can watch this online here: We’re planning to roll out some significant improvements in two phases over the coming months.

The first phase, expected during summer 2016, is focused on simplifying the setup and registration process for OpenAthens SP. We’re overhauling our documentation following customer feedback, and introducing a more guided setup process that will result in a more straightforward deployment of OpenAthens SP for all customers.

The second phase will involve the launch of an API-based version of OpenAthens SP, meaning that the service can be administered without the need for service providers to have a local install on their hardware. This is expected in late 2016 or early 2017, and will create, in effect, a cloud-based SAML connector service between identity providers and service providers.

The launch of this second phase – currently dubbed OpenAthens SP Cloud – also aims to improve the end-user experience for readers. We’ve received a lot of feedback that the login process can be inconsistent and confusing for users, so the service will include a hosted service to handle the login process for users via a discovery widget, as well as providing REST-based APIs for SP Cloud customers to code their own bespoke discovery systems.

After the presentation, we opened the floor to questions. Many of these raised some important points that we wanted to address here in a bit more detail.

Will upgrading to the newer web-based version of OpenAthens SP be mandatory from an integration perspective?

No, current OpenAthens SP installations will continue to be supported for the foreseeable future. The new dashboard we’re producing for OpenAthens SP Cloud will also work for local installations of OpenAthens SP.

What level of branding will the new OpenAthens SP Cloud discovery widget support?

This is still being finalised, but we expect it to be comparable to the current version of SP – an institutional logo and introductory or explanatory text at the very minimum. As the project progresses, we’re hoping to be able to share some wireframes that will show this in greater detail.

Will OpenAthens SP continue to work with service providers that use Shibboleth in their applications, or will service providers need to use OpenAthens SP as well?

There will be no changes at all from the identity providers’ point of view; service providers will be able to use the new API-based SP alongside Shibboleth without any issues. (The points from our recent blog post still stand!)

How will the new OpenAthens SP Cloud interact with access federations?

There are over 60 access federations across the world, 21 of which are currently
represented in OpenAthens SP. This is driven by publisher demand – if any of our identity or service providers need to include a new federation in the software, we can do that (and service providers can enter their own metadata for unlisted federations should they wish) – but by default, all federations that currently use OpenAthens are listed in the software.

We were also asked if it’s possible to filter identity provider by the access federation they belong to on the OpenAthens SP Cloud discovery widget. This isn’t possible in the current version of the product, but is definitely something that’s planned for phase two. Similarly, another attendee asked if it would be possible to filter identity providers by federation on the dashboard. We’re not sure if this is the right place for it, but we’re keen to offer it as an option if it’s something that our users need – so please do let us know your feedback.

What is OpenAthens’ strategy for international growth?

Although the project has its roots in the UK academic sector, OpenAthens SP is used worldwide and across different markets. For example, there’s a great deal of interest in the corporate space, where publishers are keen to move away from the bespoke secure peer-topeer connections that are typically required between corporate accounts and their own servers. Tools like OpenAthens SP have a proven track record in serving the academic market, and there’s a great case to be made for bringing those corporate accounts into the same access frameworks that publishers are already using to securely serve content to their academic customers.

We’ll be running future webinars to keep you up to date with our development process – keep an eye on our forthcoming webinar list for further information. If you’re an existing OpenAthens SP customer that would like to participate in a beta for the new Cloud service, please contact Phil Leahy, OpenAthens Service Relationship Manager, at

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