Jenga blocks

Authentication: #1 building block for access to resources

05 October 2020 • Lauren Harding, senior marketing officer

In preparation for Libraries Week, I was asked to think about what is important to library users. On my journey to work, I began to see the parallels between physical and online infrastructure projects. Most importantly, that authentication is the building block of any digital project and critical to the delivery of online learning and research.

“Neil, do you like Bristol?” “I will when it’s finished."

Jon Bentley

Important first steps for access

My stroll along the riverside in Bristol reveals a skyline of ongoing building and construction work. Many are high-rise buildings looking to take advantage of economic success within the city.

Architects plan complex projects over many floors. Building structures are clearly visible as the architect’s plan begins to take shape in the real world. Builders first step is to build the central lift shaft. It’s the central point around which the rest of the floors are built. Even to the untutored eye, it makes sense. Why complete the structure and then attempt to retro-fit access?

A miracle of collaboration

These projects are miracles of collaboration across many teams, contractors and sub-contractors. Library projects dedicated to the delivery of digital resources are the same. Foundations and structural engineering require IT experts to engage and lay the groundwork for resilience and security. This can entail working with existing or new systems. The library works with a network of internal departments and external vendors to determine the ‘furnishing and fixtures’ – what goes into the buildings. And finally, the projects only truly come alive when learners and researchers start engaging with the new systems.

Authentication problems we need to solve

We’re lucky to work with digital resource projects at all stages of their development. In many instances, our aim is to enable single sign-on and remote access on existing platforms. In others, we engage with a project already underway. Best of all, we have the opportunity to be part of the initial scoping and user-centered design of resource deployment.

Legacy systems may fall short of optimal when it comes to user experience. But there are always ways to solve problems.  In this scenario, we work with many customers where the most cost-effective outcome is a “same sign-on” user journey. Same sign-on is when users login with the same credentials for a variety of platforms. Due to legacy systems, IT teams set up one to one connections and users journeys across platforms get interrupted. As a result, users constantly need to re-enter their credentials.

True single sign-on solutions like ours are scalable and can create a more seamless user experience. So when users authenticate, they move easily between the different resources their library subscribes to.

User experience is the core of authentication

Creating an ecosystem with the best user experience at it’s heart requires the user journey to be at the core of the design. Hidden within the supporting infrastructure, well-designed authentication is a vital first step.

If the end goal is to deliver seamless, secure access, one of the first building blocks has to be an understanding of the user access and authentication journey to the resource.

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