February 05
Dave Shields | M.S., CIAM, Sec+, ITIL-F

Higher Education and Identity in 2018… what’s next?

We’re officially through the first month of a new year and let’s face it, 2017 brought many interesting changes to the world of identity management and the field of higher education. But now that 2017 is out and 2018 is in, what can we expect to see in higher education and identity management for the new year?

There are no easy answers to that question since we can’t predict the future. However, if you ask the right questions of higher education professionals and then cross-reference that with what the news in the IAM space seems to say, we can guess a few things. So here are some predictions for IAM and higher education in 2018 and beyond.

Inter-institution Research Collaboration

Despite all the changes in higher education, one element seems to stay constant: the need and desire for collaboration across institutions. We may battle each other in athletics, and we may fight hard to get the same students whose choices for learning increase each year, but college institutions are still collaborative at heart. As research fields continue to converge and the best minds become more connected, there will always be a need to find easier, quicker and more seamless ways to share and work together.

At the core of this great collaborative zeitgeist is the use of identity management. We need to continue to find ways to improve our identity federation services and explore whether technology advances in distributed ledger (e.g. blockchain), open authentication systems, token sharing and trust-based identity systems can help. As we planned the higher education track for Identiverse 2018, many of the higher education institutions I spoke to (over 65% in fact) cited that improving inter-institution collaboration is the biggest need for the new year—and many years to come, I’m sure.

IAM Program Planning and Roadmaps

The past two or three years have signaled a paradigm shift in higher education that has made IAM a priority. Institutions across the country (and the world for that matter) are intensely interested in building or improving IAM programs. In some cases, institutions have older IAM systems that are long due for an upgrade, especially the custom-created tools that were the norm for many years. They’re finding that the commercial and open-source solutions available in this space are better and more adaptable now than they were even 3 years ago. In other cases, institutions are finding that although identity has always been a part of their structure, with the push for cloud integration of identities (think of heavyweights like WorkDay, Slate, Azure and AWS), the status quo simply isn’t working anymore.

If you were to do a brief job search for identity management and filter by educational institutions, you would see at least 100 open positions. It’s obvious that IAM programs are not going away. Universities want to take their programs to new heights and are willing to spend some precious funds to do so. We can expect that lots of institutions will be investing money and resources into planning for the next big IAM project or putting more definition in place around their program roadmaps. That’s why over 35% of the higher education respondents for Identiverse 2018 are asking for material to cover these critical paths.

Cloud-first and Hybrid IAM Solutions

The cloud is here and it’s not going away. We’ve known that in higher education for some time, since we embraced the cloud much quicker than our corporate counterparts overall. That being said, it’s no wonder that over 75% of the higher education respondents planning to come to Identiverse 2018 have expressed that they are interested in cloud-first and hybrid IAM implementations.

Whether institutions are trying to leverage cloud to handle portions of their IAM provisioning infrastructure, finding an increased number of cloud-only provisioning and governance tasks, or considering building their entire IAM system in the cloud, it’s clear that 2018 and the years beyond will see a focus on cloud-first IAM. Some of our brave comrades have already started down this path and will share their lessons. Others are just getting started and want to learn how to do it right the first time. We’re hoping that our material will help with that.

Sharpening the IAM Toolbox

Regardless of the year, you will never hear an end to the discussion about tools in the IT world. The best tools make the best environments. Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, there’s more to this activity than just buying new tools or renewing existing ones. Many of our higher education respondents are finding value-added ways to increase the use and acceptance of their existing tools.

In some cases, they’re finding ways to increase the use of their single sign-on tools (like Ping Federate) or increase the use and exposure of multi-factor authentication tools (like Duo Security). They may be looking at creative ways to use their provisioning tools for identities or trying to find ways to bring more applications into their governance sphere. Of course, higher education is still interested in the open-source tool stack, so that means they will be looking closely at new advancements in the Internet2 TIER (Trusted Identity in Education and Research) cluster (Shibboleth, Grouper, etc.). As environments mature, so too must the tools.

Because the field of higher education is getting more powerful each year, it seems only fitting that this year’s Identiverse will be held in Boston, a place famous for higher education. We’re lining up case studies, best practice recommendations, standards updates and more to help equip our higher education colleagues with the tools they need and to inform the wider community about the work we’re doing. There are lessons to learn for everyone.


By Dave Shields,
M.S., CIAM, Sec+, ITIL-F

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Identiverse brings us to the future!

— Nat Sakimura