Bye, bye Athens... hello UK Federation
It's a big day today for federated access management in UK academia with "nearly 500 institutions and organisations [completing] the transition to a new open standard SAML compliant access management system and the UK Access Management Federation", many of them using our own OpenAthens offering.
Out with the old (Athens), in with the new (UK Access Management Federation) and all that (at least within education).
The JISC press release on the subject is somewhat disingenuous in not acknowledging the significant role that Athens has played in the UK's academic information landscape over the last 10 years or so. I don't have the figures to hand but in a way the figures don't matter - the reality is that a very significant proportion of the UK academic community have found Athens to be a fundamental, usable, reliable and robust part of their online experience for a very long time. I can't take any credit for that because I haven't worked at Eduserv for long enough... but there are people here, a lot of people actually, who deserve significant kudos for what they have achieved in servicability terms since Athens was first funded way back when.
It seems incredible to me that the end of such a fundamental and successful service is not being more overtly and publicly celebrated in some way. Perhaps it is and I just haven't been invited! :-)
Similarirly, the press release makes no mention of the role that individual members of staff at Eduserv have had in helping with the transition. Yes, there have been corporate differences of opinion along the way but my impression is that people here have been working hard to make the transition as painless as possible for institutions within the constraints of what is being funded. It seems to me that you can't transition a service as fundamental as access manangement from A to B without at least some help from those who helped to kept A running smoothly.
In the past three months, membership of the Access Management Federation has risen dramatically as educational institutions and service providers move to take advantage of the numerous benefits of joining.
Well, yes... erm... that's "numerous benefits" as in "shotgun wedding" I presume? :-)
These include improved services to users, easier compliance with regulatory requirements, reduced support requirements and improved data security.
Grand claims... for which I'd like to see the evidence. I'm certainly not holding my breath! As I've argued before, I see usability getting significantly worse within the Federation than it has been using Athens, so I'm not sure that I see short-term "improved services to users" - but in the longer term, yes hopefully. I'm not anti the Federation but I think we have to be honest about where the benefits come from - for me, it's purely about the adoption of open standards, which ultimately will bring benefits for the community - but possibly (probably?) with some short term pain on the way.
Anyway, I'm being churlish again... tonight I will raise a glass (probably on my own!) to the successes of the past and the even bigger successes of the future. Here's to both Athens and the Federation.