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Industry voices on IAM: John Sack, Highwire

Jon BentleyBy Jon Bentley
Category - Blog

Monday 8th August 2016

In 2015, we at OpenAthens conducted a programme of research exploring the views and experiences of librarians and end-users relating to identity and access management (IAM). Building on from this, we’ve been speaking with a number of publishers and vendors across the spectrum of academic and professional publishing to explore their perspectives.

In the first of a series of posts, we spoke with John Sack, Founding Director of the ePublishing platform company HighWire. Here are his thoughts on the user journey, technological and perceptual challenges around IAM, and where the future might lie.

Please note: opinions expressed are the individual’s own, and may not reflect those of highWire or OpenAthens.

What do you feel the major challenges are around identity and access management, currently? How does it affect the user journey?

As soon as you put up a challenge to a user, you’re asking them to find a better or easier-to-access copy. Publishers need to make the process as seamless as possible. Perhaps the biggest flaw right now is off-campus access to content – users have some extraordinary hoops to jump through!

I do enough research in my work to know how bad off-network access can be. Even though I am used to negotiating proxy servers and VPNs – it’s often easier to just click on a free copy [than to negotiate login prompts].

Are there any particular end-user concerns that you’ve heard that have informed recent developments at HighWire?

We get lots of feedback from end-users! It’s what led us to develop the toll-free links in the first place: as I said before, barriers to access are a problem. It’s that feedback that also made us include free back issues as an option for publishers to make older content free to access, and led us to develop certain Google optimizations, so that Google would know when publishers make previously subscription-locked content free to access. Also, feedback from librarians is why we make it so that libraries can maintain [their institution’s range of] IP addresses in one place.

Of course, we incorporate both Shibboleth and OpenAthens [as IAM pathways], and wish they were more widely adopted because it would make life easier on researchers!

Where do you see IAM headed in future?

The opportunities are the same as the problems!

[In some cases], users need multiple usernames and passwords [to access information]. The industry could benefit by looking to how the consumer market handles SSO – for example, using the approach of signing in once to Google, Facebook or Twitter.

Another challenge is dispersed IP management for libraries: there’s no one place for librarians to maintain this information, so they need to feed any IP changes into various publishers’ systems individually. [There are different registries in other areas]: CrossRef, ORCID, and so on – but there’s no central organization to coordinate the IP / access issue [across publishers]. I wonder if some organization that libraries and platforms are already trusting with this information could expand its remit to offer distribution and sync as a free service, building on what they already have.

Check out the other interviews in the series here:

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