Burton Catalyst 2009: There are Lessons to Learn

After a good start to the conference, I went into day 2 thinking that there was going to be more opportunity for me to blog while in the session room because the content would be fairly familiar. But there were lots of good nuggets of information spread throughout the talks, enough to generate a generous tweet stream for the day.

Day 2: Lets get back to basics

The first half of Thursday was focused on enterprises looking for ways to achieve efficiencies and ROI through their IdM deployments, an outcome that had lost its relevance in the rush to achieve compliance objectives. But the current economic climate, and the slew of M&As (mainly As) and layoffs has brought this to the forefront once again, and sustained market interest in IAM when other initiatives are being pared back.

The day was a very good one for hearing about how customers were leveraging their IdM deployments in creative ways.

  • I heard some interesting use cases of how Virtual Directory was being used to achieve efficiencies.
    • Companies are using Virtual Directory to expose the same identity data in different forms for different use cases.
    • The presenter from Sony talked about using Virtual Directory on top of geographically local LDAP servers to provide global access to data while satisfying their data compliance needs.
  • There were a couple of sessions on managing UNIX infrastructure via AD (which is when I ducked into the cloud computing track).
  • Wendy Booker of SunTrust Banks described how they used the cost savings (which they had to demonstrate and prove) from their IdM deployment to self-fund their project, which was a story I am sure more than a few attendees were interested in.

What I found really great was that a lot of the sessions were presented by organizations that had moved on to the 2nd or 3rd phases of their identity management program rollouts. This is quite different from all the previous conferences (Catalyst and others) I have been to, and speaks to the maturity of the market and some of these deployments.

The second half of the day was focused on identity transparency and governance. One of the most important points of the conference was made by Chris Howarth in his excellent kickoff talk, when he said that identity management must facilitate both hierarchical organizations that are necessary to implement enterprise controls, and social networks that are necessary for collaboration to take place. A lot of the discussion in the following talks were focused on the need to increase transparency with respect to how identity data is used, managed and secured to allow for accurate risk assessment and compliance to take place (echoing what was discussed in the cloud computing SIG). And increased transparency only works when complexity is reduced (preventing opacity from just being replaced by obscurity), an architectural requirement that aligns nicely with the identity services vision discussed on day 2.

Day 2 ended with the second night of hospitality suites, including Oracle. We got such a crowd in the Oracle suite that I barely managed to leave it for a few minutes to meet up with some old friends and colleagues in the other suites. And I made some good friends that day (and into the night – not a topic for this blog). I will say that celebrating Ian Glazer‘s birthday at a speakeasy called Prohibition was very cool, even if they didn’t ask me for the password.

Day 3: Identity and Privacy are Blood Brothers

Day 3, while just a half day, still packed a solid punch with lots of intellectually stimulating discussion on the topic of privacy. Ian Glazer made a good point at the start of the conference when he said that the identity community is uniquely qualified to deal with the emerging privacy issues. And the sessions on Friday laid out exactly why. The key point made was that Security (making it difficult to get to something you shouldn’t have access to) should not be confused with Privacy (making it easy to get to something you should have access to). They are related, but not the same thing.

Robin Wilton gave an inspiring talk in which he laid out a framework for having productive privacy discussions with the multiple stake-holders involved. He arrived at this framework by analyzing the results of a series of round table discussions held around the globe as part of the Liberty Alliance Privacy Summit to get contextual understanding of privacy. Robin laid out a “Ladder” framework (Philosophy | Strategy | Implementation | Technology) that helps the parties involved focus on the use cases and issues to resolve. I hope he makes his presentation publicly available in some format in the future, because really is a great piece of work.

Bob Mocny, Director of the US-VISIT program, talked about some of the identity and privacy issues involved in running the single largest biometric authentication program in the world. One of the key takeaways from his and the follow-up sessions was the need for organizations to implement privacy audits as separate programs from their IT-Security audits.

Heidi Wachs, Directory of IT Policy and Privacy Officer at Georgetown Univ, gave an interesting talk about the lessons learned during Georgetown’s efforts to¬† handle a privacy breach. What I found fascinating was how they went about trying to create and enforce a policy on the use, collection and retention of SSNs. Their findings on how far the data was “leaking”, how hard it was to track down all the possible data flows, and how users went to great lengths to hide their mistakes were a lesson that every enterprise should be aware of. It also highlighted the challenges the extended enterprise, working with business and IT partners and services providers, faces in locking down privacy issues.

The day ended with Google talking about how they protect the privacy of their users. It may have only been a half-day, but the quality of content made it a fitting way to end a thought provoking conference. Look forward to what the next one has to bring.