This story is from the category Innovation and the dossier Identity Management

Empowering Swiss research

Roland Dietlicher believes that the academic identity Swiss edu-ID is crucial to the success of his P-2 programme.

Text: Anja Eigenmann, published on 28.09.2015

SWITCH: In your view, what are the most important goals of the swissuniversities funding programme P-2?
Roland Dietlicher:
The main idea is to build a network of shared services relating to digital scientific information for use nationwide over the long term. The disparate efforts of the various universities need to be brought together in order to create services, information offerings and tools that benefit researchers. This pooling of resources will empower Swiss research to face up to international competition.

What does swissuniversities mean by "shared services"?
SWITCH is a good example. Its standard practice is to offer its services to all the universities.

What has P-2 achieved so far?
I see the collaboration we've initiated between the various institutions as an achievement in its own right. It's already becoming clear that the universities are collaborating successfully at the national level in terms of IT services and libraries to bring lasting benefits for the research community.

Working with a central identity such as the Swiss edu-ID makes things easier as regards authentication protocols and connections.

Why are the Swiss edu-ID and identity management in general so important for the planned national services?
When electronic services are used on a shared basis, you need a national authorisation system. SWITCHaai is a good platform in that it allows people to use web-based applications across all the universities, but a broader system is needed to handle file storage and databases, for example. Working with a central identity such as the Swiss edu-ID makes things easier as regards authentication protocols and connections. The same applies to authenticating universities' guests and to international cooperations.

What do you see as the biggest challenges when it comes to creating shared services?
They would be federal financing and the universities' attitudes. It's natural for them to compete with one another, but this competition shouldn't take precedence over the interests of Swiss research. At the moment, a lot of universities still have enough money to develop their own solutions, so they need to be convinced that shared services are a good idea and that they'll create real benefits.

But shared services are not tailored to each university's needs.
Exactly. As a customer, you're not initially getting what you originally wanted. These days, though, specialisation starts with the application. Shared services mean you can use the cloud instead of having to pay for your own servers and databases. It takes time to get used to that.

Our vision is for universities to use it as part of their identity management, providing a straightforward means of connecting to shared services.

How do you rate the Swiss edu-ID's potential?
It has great potential, and it's a good solution from a technical point of view. Our vision is for universities to use it as part of their identity management, providing a straightforward means of connecting to shared services.

How beneficial can a Swiss edu-ID be, given that research nowadays is international?
Research may well be international, but Switzerland remains a separate jurisdiction. In principle, there must be scope for linking the Swiss edu-ID up to other systems and broader-based identities like Google accounts and the Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID), an identity for scientific authors.

We want to set up a unit to coordinate shared services nationally.

Does linking identities not jeopardise security?
Security is a prerequisite for trust. Access to resources and systems has a legal significance. Service providers and users alike need to be able to rely on the identity provider's expertise and integrity. In digital environments, all users must handle their various identities responsibly.

What will happen to P-2 after the programme finishes in 2016?
We've applied for an extension to 2020 with an extra CHF 40 million, and there's a good chance we'll get it. We want to set up a unit to coordinate shared services nationally.

www.swissuniversities.ch/isci/
http://projects.switch.ch/de/eduid/
This article appeared in the SWITCH Journal October 2015.
About the author
Anja   Eigenmann

Anja Eigenmann

Anja Eigenmann has worked at SWITCH since 2012 and is currently an editor for online and print media. She trained as a journalist and later completed a Master of Advanced Studies in Business Communications. She has previously been an editor-in-chief and consultant, among other things, and has led a course in online content writing.

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Roland Dietlicher and P-2

P-2 is the short name of the Swiss University Conference (SUC) programme headed by Roland Dietlicher of ETH Zurich IT Services. Its full title is “Scientific information: access, processing and safeguarding”. The swissuniversities association, made up of the former rectors' conferences of the Swiss universities (CRUS), the Swiss universities of applied sciences (KFH) and the Swiss universities of teacher education (COHEP), is responsible for its implementation. The federal government is providing CHF 45 million for the P-2 programme between 2013 and 2016 and expects the universities involved to make investments adding up to this amount.

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