Federated identity has long been a goal of many IT organizations. One look at the promise of federation, and it is easy to see why. After all, empowering one organization to serve as an identity provider for another frees IT from having to manage the identities of partnering organizations' employees and customers, thereby facilitating the pursuit of competitive-advantage projects. In this era of increasing enterprise decentralization, thanks in large part to the Web, establishing a federated identity framework is fast proving as essential as it is hard to pull off.
What has held federation back is not a technical matter; after all, standards are well-defined, and interoperable tools are available from multiple vendors. Instead, the chief obstacles to federation have been the legal and governance issues that surround federated identity.
Suppose your company federates identities with a 401k provider. Which organization is liable in the event of fraud connected with the federation? Hammering out agreements regarding such questions can keep attorneys occupied for weeks. Privacy concerns on the part of users remain another sticking point. What’s more, in many places -- such as your company Web site -- federation just isn’t possible using traditional methods.
Enter “user-centric identity,” a new approach to federation that has gained momentum as of late.
The key to this burgeoning revolution in identity is the fact that the technology places employees, clients, partners, and customers in the driver’s seat when it comes to relaying their identity. In fact, the technologies are designed in such a way that sharing data requires user consent.
Implemented prudently and with purpose, user-centric identity may provide hope for those organizations seeking to capitalize on federation, as the technologies can free them from having to hammer out identity agreements, thereby cutting through the Gordian knot of governance while opening enterprise outlets to the promise of federated identity where traditional modes of federation just can't be applied.
Two technologies in particular have emerged to catch the attention of organizations looking to accelerate their federation efforts: CardSpace, a standard developed by Microsoft to provide a comprehensive solution to user-centric identity problems; and OpenID, a lightweight standard that’s the result of the work of multiple companies to create identities based on URLs.
[For a look at how these technologies work, see "Understanding OpenID and CardSpace"]