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OpenAthens Keystone is the vital piece in the UX jigsaw

28 June 2024 • Chloe Park, marketing officer

The Mark Allen group is one of the UK’s leading independent media and events companies. With a publications portfolio that includes 100+ titles – from academic journals to specialist interest consumer magazines – moves are afoot to streamline access management and give every reader a consistent login experience.


Mark Allen publishes academic, professional and consumer titles in healthcare, business, agriculture, finance, music and education. Their readership is global, accessing content via a mix of self-built and third-party platforms. The group’s business-to-business and consumer titles have their own websites, some of which are available to all while others have some form of access management.

“For these titles we have an access and entitlement system that we built ourselves to OpenID standards,” explains Tom Pollard, the group’s publishing director for digital resources.

“The publishing platforms we use for our academic publications typically have their own integration with OpenAthens. But we are seeing a significant amount of readership crossover. For example, our magazine Gramophone attracts interest from academia as well as music buffs among the general public.

“In cases like this where readers use personal logins we may also need to add their institutional logins and we may use third-party identity management services to manage things. These services also often have an integration with OpenAthens to enable flexible single sign-on.”

Consistent login experience

While there are various methods of granting access, from an end user’s perspective it’s pretty seamless. However, the company wanted to simplify their processes to save time and cost. Doing so, they reasoned, could enable single sign-on across the publications to further streamline the customer experience. It would also free up staff time to focus on developing new features that enhance user experience and to create unique, inspiring content.


Tom says the in-house development team is now making integrations directly with OpenAthens.

“We use the same open standards as OpenAthens and we’ve worked with the organization for 15 years. It has steadily become simpler to do, and with OpenAthens Keystone flexible, secure single sign-on is even easier.”

The group will integrate OpenAthens into its own authentication systems gradually as websites are updated. So far, two websites have the OpenAthens integration – leading weekly title Farmers Weekly and the newly launched BJN Inform. Both have readers using academic/institutional and personal credentials and the integration means a consistent login experience.


“We’re seeing a clean and seamless user experience with the integrations so far. Readers find it simpler to navigate our sites and move among them, and this will extend the reach of our content.”

Tom Pollard, publishing director for digital resources, Mark Allen Group

“It also means we can make efficiency savings because greater consistency means fewer support queries and we have to do less in-house work on updates.”

This is because some third-party providers need their customers to carry out aspects of service developments for themselves. As a fully managed, cloud-based service OpenAthens takes care of all updates and maintenance.

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