Is Building an Identity System a “Wicked Problem”?
The following article is written by Peter Cranstone, CEO of 3PMobile, Inc. When I first read it, it occurred to me that the people working on mobile enterprise privacy issues are dealing with much the same intellectual problems as marketers trying to control their corporate identities and coherent messaging strategy throughout diverse media. The crucial question for both is how to communicate with a single voice in different contexts. To me, the similarities are stunning. See if you don’t agree.
First what is a wicked problem?
It’s used to “describe a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems.”
So when you start talking about an Identity Ecosystem, you can see why it appears on the surface to be a “Wicked Problem”. Can you imagine all the stakeholders sitting around a table arguing for their own agendas, their own way of supporting Me and my Identity. Alignment on the issues is not the first thing that comes to mind.
And yet one wonders if there is a “simple solution” to the problem. Well, I think there is. However, first we must dig a little further.
What is Identity?
The sociological notion of identity has to do with a person’s self-conception, social presentation, and more generally, the aspects of a person that make them unique, or qualitatively different from others (e.g. cultural identity, gender identity, national Identity, online identity and processes of identity formation).
So is identity defined by the individual or the social/geographic context that the individual finds himself in? Well it’s both. So how do we align these two items?
If you think about it, a single word comes to mind – Context.
Identity is context about Me. And as per the definition what you need is a Context Manager that collates all of my “Me” data. That would be defined as data about Me, my geo-location, and what device I’m using to connect with.
So if you’re going to solve the Identity Ecosystem problem you have to start with a context manager. Think of it as a secure database that follows me around from device to device. The database adapts in real time to my social/geo context. It’s completely under my control, it’s secure, and it can talk to other databases that I might add to increase my “Context”.
So far so good. Now comes the hard part – data portability. And the only reason this is difficult is because we’re not looking at a common protocol (communications format). The stakeholders all want to keep their existing protocols (formats) and therein lies the problem.
But that was then – and now we have the HTTP protocol – literally one protocol that binds billions of devices and people on the planet. So “if” the stakeholders were to adapt their systems to communicate via HTTP would that solve the problem. And the answer is “Yes”. Think of it in these terms – One Ring Binds them all.
• One Interface – the Browser
• One Platform – the Internet
• Multiple data sets – the Context
All you need now is a way to transmit my real time context (Identity) over HTTP securely. And that’s pretty straightforward – simply add the encrypted data to the request that goes to the web server. From there the data can be shared with any backend system.
So, in my opinion, building an Identity Ecosystem is NOT “Wicked Problem”, as long as the stakeholders can agree on a common protocol that joins everyone. And there are plenty of good reasons to support HTTP (like billions of reasons).
The key to solving this wicked problem is real time “Context”, that is under my control, and a common communications protocol. Oh yes, one more thing – don’t forget to give the user a “Choice” in not only what they share but with whom they share it.