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November 15, 2006

When outsourcing makes sense

The Eduserv Athens team announced a beta release of their Athens to UK Federation Gateway today:

This is the latest element in the Shibboleth/Athens Interoperability programme agreed with the JISC.  This beta Gateway enables organisations using the Athens service as an outsourced identity provider (IdP) to access resources registered with the UK Access Management Federation for Education and Research.

I did some work a while back with Richard Dunning of the Eduserv MATU team to try and brainstorm a SWOT analysis of the different options available to institutions* as they think about moving to federated access management within the UK Access Management Federation for Education and Research.

My personal view is that there are some compelling arguments in favour of institutions outsourcing their identity management provision.  These are the ones that we came up with:

  • Largely predictable levels of support
  • Largely predictable ongoing costs
  • Negotiation with UKAMF handled by supplier
  • Negotiation with Service Providers handled by supplier
  • Upgrades and support for new AIM technologies handled by supplier
  • Bug-fixes handled by supplier
  • Membership of a supplier community or user-group

There are probably others...

Now, some readers may be thinking that, as an employee of Eduserv, I'm no longer impartial or neutral on this issue and you might be right, though I'd like to think that I have always given impartial advice as far as I was able, and that I will continue to do so.

The neutral in me is saying, give serious consideration to outsourcing your IdP service provision before deciding to develop or buy-in in-house solutions.  I've argued previously that I see the current UK transition to federated access management as a stepping stone to personal identity management.  It doesn't make sense to me that as a community we choose to replicate the engineering necessary to undertake these kinds of changes in every single institution.

The company-man in me is saying, if you go down an outsourced IdP route in whatever form, consider Eduserv as a supplier, not least based on a significant track record of service delivery in this area.

(*) Note that we hope to make the full version of the SWOT analysis available on the MATU Web site in due course.


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