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Mailbag: This ‘identity mgmt.’ thing described

Nov 10, 20033 mins
Access ControlEnterprise Applications

* Your suggestions for terms to describe the identity management framework

Last month I asked you to submit suggestions for a term to describe what Waveset President Mark McClain called the “identity grid” – the interlocking parts of the identity management framework that includes the datastore/directory layer, a middleware/messaging/transaction layer, management programs, and the presentation/application layer. Most people want to see this as a stack, or be serially connected, but the reality is that it’s an amorphous conglomeration with entry and exit points throughout all of its facets.

A number of readers suggested simply calling this “identity” or “the identity.” We understand it that way, but many others equate “identity” with what we term “persona” or even “role” so using the term could cause more confusion than it solves.

Robert Barker (no, not Bob Barker!) offered “Identity Multi-dimensional Array” and even enclosed a picture of how roles and personae interact within the identity space. It works well for explaining the role-persona-identity relationship but needs some augmentation for the other parts of McClain’s “stack.”

Other suggestions, in no particular order, include: “Identity Continuum” (first offered by David Chinchillo), “Identity Framework” (Bill Wallingford), “Identity Syndicate” (Ashwini Ahuja), “Identity Mesh”, “Identity Geodesic Network” (!) and my favorite, the “Identity Quilt” offered by Ed Harrington.

While the Identity Geodesic Network best describes the grid, it is a blatant rip-off of Peter Huber’s 1987 work (revised in 1993) “The Geodesic Network: Report on Competition in the Telephone Industry” ( But if you can envision a multi-dimensional quilt, I think that does encompass the whole “ball of wax” that is identity management.

McClain has produced a white paper entitled “The Identity Grid: Powering the Real-Time Enterprise” (see link below), complete with pictures and charts that would be very useful to you in not only understanding the grid but in being able to then explain it to those who make the decisions or hold the purse strings.

But Ed Harrington raised another interesting point – do we need a descriptive term at all? According to Ed, “I think we may be trying to do something that isn’t necessary. [W]e are trying to take a rather complex business and technology issue and apply a simple (i.e., marketing) term to it.  Perhaps we need to step back for a second and rather than attempt to take everything to a new level of abstraction, maybe we need to see what it is we actually need to do. Maybe we need to be less ‘marketing speak’ oriented and more business focused.”

I couldn’t agree more, Ed – but I think Mark would also agree. Take a look at his paper (not just Ed, but all of you) and see if it doesn’t make a respectable business case.