Bridging the Identity Divide
By MT:2909 on Aug 10, 2009
By Roger Sullivan, Vice President of Business Development for Oracle Identity Management
The overhead television with the History Channel makes the time go by when plodding along on the treadmill early each morning at the gym. It used to be that you had to rely on reading the captions from one of the televisions hung from the ceiling. Recently, they've installed audio jacks on each of the machines so that you can hear the channels versus having to read the captions - a much better option and permits one to get what's being broadcast even when you lose your favorite spot right in front of the set.
Several weeks ago, the broadcast focused on Lewis and Clark's expedition from Pittsburgh via St. Louis and thence to the Pacific Ocean near present-day Portland, Oregon. The expedition began in August of 1803, arrived at the Pacific in December of 1805 and then arrived back in St. Louis by September of 1806. While they weren't the first non-natives to make the journey, they certainly became the best known. This is largely because it was a very well documented scientific expedition rather than one of conquest or a land-grab.
The broadcast story focused on the role of Sacagawea, a young Native-American mother who proved invaluable as an interpreter during much of the trek. As I was half-listening, one particular fact caught me completely by surprise and I had to do some additional digging to learn more about it.
As the expedition went farther West, there was less familiarity with local Native American dialects and languages. Consequently, and according to the above link:
"While Sacagawea did not speak English, she spoke Shoshone and Hidatsa. Her husband Charbonneau spoke Hidatsa and French. In effect, Sacagawea and Charbonneau would become an interpreter team. As Clark explained in his journals, Charbonneau was hired "as an interpreter through his wife." If and when the expedition met the Shoshones, Sacagawea would talk with them, then translate to Hidatsa for Charbonneau, who would translate to French. The Corps' Francois Labiche spoke French and English, and would make the final translation so that the two English-speaking captains would understand."
So, in each conversation with the Shoshones, there were four people involved. We think of ourselves as sophisticated, worldly-wise, resourceful and full of initiative. Yet, here was a band of about three dozen strangers making their way through completely foreign territory, through potentially hostile Native American lands. They made the effort and found ways to communicate respectfully with those they met in order to advance science and map these new territories. This is a remarkable achievement by any measure and it happened over 200 years ago.
I have frequently flown coast-to-coast across the United States for business and pleasure. Mostly I sit on an aisle seat to allow an easy way to get up and stretch my legs. Occasionally, the aisle isn't available and I'll take a window. Because I don't often get to look out and watch the passing landscape, it is always a treat to see the vast panorama of the American Great Plains rolling on for a couple hours beneath the aircraft wings. Admittedly, it's an ironic juxtaposition to see endless miles of prairie whilst squeezed into a seat that is 17 inches wide.
Invariably, perhaps because of my interest in history, I think of the early settlers who braved months of wagon trains to move to a better place with new opportunities. It gives me pause to think that I can get from my home to the airport and from there to San Francisco - about 3,000 miles - in roughly the same time that it would take a wagon train to cover 1/3 the distance from my home to the airport. While I'm covering the ground at roughly a mile every ten seconds, they were plodding along at about a mile every thirty minutes. It's amazing to reflect on this.
The wagon trails had names like: Butterfield, Oregon, California, Santa Fe, and Mormon. I found a consolidated site here from which the above links were taken. I marvel at the hardships that the settlers endured to reach their goal of the newborn America dream. There is an account of one such journey here that lists the travelers and followed by descriptions of the experience.
Over the years, we've become more casual, speedy, and cost-effective about getting from one place to another. Times change and our modes of accomplishing the same objective has certainly changed as technology innovation has advanced and been made available to the masses. More recently, we've added an increased security process layer to the travel experience. While it took a while to work out the methodology, the efficiency has improved to the point where, even as a seasoned traveler, I occasionally feel like I'm holding up the security process rather than the other way around. We become used to a certain way of doing things, resent when our comfortable pattern is disrupted, but eventually come to accept the "new order" and learn to work with it. Then we realize that the relatively small inconvenience of time is more than compensated by the security we gain. The overall efficiency of the travel is certainly not impacted that severely by a three minute wait in the security line.
Another new and fresh approach to the traditional way of doing thing is taking place in the identity management space. A group of companies and organizations representing public and private deployers, implementers, government agencies from around the world have recently come together to create a new initiative. This alliance is called the Kantara Initiative.
We are excited about the opportunity that Kantara Initiative represents for several reasons.
Firstly, it is a uniquely structured venue with a diverse membership that has come together to solve challenges in the identity space. The organization is open, flexible, and affordable so as to foster and encourage innovative solutions to the problems in the identity space. We have been working on this for some time in collaboration with many companies and organizations from around the world and have developed an approach well suited to today's needs. Organizations of all sizes, deployers and their business partners, smaller innovative developers, traditional identity management suppliers, WEB 2.0 communities, government agencies and commercial companies from around the world have joined in this effort
Secondly, the problems we face are not just about technology, but rather a combination of business policy and privacy requirements, balanced against interoperability, usability, as well as technology harmonization. All of these issues need to be addressed for identity-based solutions to succeed and for deployers to leverage their benefits. Kantara Initiative is uniquely positioned to address these needs.
Thirdly, the members of Kantara Initiative have long-proven experience, competence, and market leadership in each of these areas. Members come from a diverse, worldwide background and represent companies, agencies, and individuals with deep experience and subject matter expertise. To be sure, these companies, organizations and individuals have remarkable achievements to-date. And, now these members are anxious to come together and work collaboratively within this broad community to leverage that synergy toward even greater achievements.
So in summary, the innovative governance structure, diverse and experienced membership, and range of business and technology issues that we will work on, make this a unique and exciting time for the identity space as a whole.
Having said all of that, there are still those who have their doubts. While we were in the formative stages, one of my colleagues in the initiative sent me a famous quotation:
There is nothing more difficult to carry out,
nor more doubtful of success,
nor more dangerous to handle,
than to initiate a new order of things.
For the reformer has enemies in those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order.
This lukewarmness arises partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the law in their favour; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have actual experience of it.
N. Machiavelli, The Prince (1513)
To be clear, establishing a 'new order' is not the end of the journey. It is just the beginning. It is essential that all of us who are truly interested in advancing the interests of the identity management space as a whole become actively engaged. We must work hard to positively engage with one another. We must do what is best in the interests of all those who are building and deploying identity management solutions. Because it is only by positively engaging, conversing, and collaborating with one another in an open forum that we can advance our collective interests and help customers achieve the benefits that, open, standards-based, and interoperable identity management solutions can provide.
I hope that you will consider joining us in this effort. We welcome your participation.