Distance University migrates to SWITCH edu-ID

On 6 March 2019, the Swiss Distance Learning University completed its migration to SWITCH edu-ID for authentication of and access to federated services. SWITCH talked to Jörg Andenmatten, Head of IT, about his experiences and was especially interested in finding out what recommendations he has for other universities.

Testo: Jörg AndenmattenPetra Kauer-Ott, pubblicato il 02.05.2019

You are the second university to migrate to SWITCH edu-ID. What benefits will this offer the Swiss Distance Learning University?

Jörg Andenmatten: The Swiss Distance Learning University has around 2,300 users. This makes it a relatively small university with a rigid IT environment. Basically, students can access 11 web-based, internal university services using AAI/SWITCH edu-ID.
There are several benefits for us, which motivated us to become one of the first universities to migrate to SWITCH edu-ID.

  • The Swiss Distance Learning University is already using other SWITCH resources, such as SWITCHengines, SWITCHdrive, SWITCHtube – in other words, services that already work with SWITCH edu-ID. Because our own services are now accessible via edu-ID as well, teachers and students only have to remember one set of login details, giving them the benefits of single sign on (SSO).
  • A separate identity provider is no longer necessary. The identity provider (IdP) is a critical component for our university. Managing it is complex and, because changes are rare, there is no established routine. So we were happy to be able to hand these tasks over to a competent team.
  • In addition, users can now manage and update their personal details themselves on the edu-ID platform (https://eduid.ch). The nightly synchronisation ensures our data is always up to date. This reduces our HR department’s workload.

SWITCH also has a vested interest in getting organisations on board with the follow-up solution to AAI. With this same goal in mind, we were able to collaborate closely with and call on SWITCH for help and support whenever necessary. Our requirements and situation also allowed us to play a proactive role in the development of the SWITCH edu-ID service.

Which use cases have you selected for your user groups?

Jörg Andenmatten: Students can now register online with their edu-ID and are entered in the OpenERP system. Employees use a web service to notify us of their edu-ID. We also used this service as a fallback during the transition for people who had not yet completed the linking process for their edu-ID account by D-Day.
The administration currently comprises 92 people. We are using them as a pilot group because they are close to us, which allows us to learn directly from their experiences.
The second group is made up of 344 professors and assistants. The university’s 1,804 students make up the third and largest group. As soon as each individual project phase had been successfully implemented for the administrators, the same step was carried out first for the teachers and then for the students. 

What was the role of IT and other departments?

Jörg Andenmatten: The IT department was in charge of organising and completing most of the work for this project. It planned everything and carried out the migration, while keeping the other departments at the Swiss Distance Learning University regularly updated.
Because a lot of information and emails were sent during this project to staff, teachers and students – in two different languages – the marketing department was closely involved as well. The IT department prepared all of the various information. The marketing department then organised for it to be translated, formatted and mailed.
Another group involved in the project was the student managers, who, in our case, are the first point of contact for students and instructors. They were regularly briefed by the IT department about the status of the project and how to work with SWITCH edu-ID, allowing them to offer the best possible support to students and teachers who had questions or problems.

How long did the migration take and how much work did it involve?

Jörg Andenmatten: The Swiss Distance Learning University decided to begin working on the SWITCH edu-ID migration project in the winter of 2018. In the spring of that year, we began meeting with SWITCH to plan the project, define the technical details and start the implementation. By that summer, we had launched our information campaign to prepare employees, teachers and students for the upcoming migration to SWITCH edu-ID. The final transition was completed on 6 March 2019. In other words, we needed just about a year for planning and implementation.
IT required one man-month for the technical implementation. Because we received a lot of support from SWITCH on this, the amount of work was manageable and we didn’t run into any major problems. The bigger tasks for the IT department involved project management and, in particular, communication. On average, we spent one day per week on it from the start of the project through to implementation.
The users themselves had to do very little – no more than 15 minutes to set up and link their accounts. Of course, reading the information sent in newsletters and emails took a bit of extra time.

How much flexibility was required on your part?

Jörg Andenmatten: The timeline for the project worked out very well, and we were able to stick with our plans for the most part. We were well prepared and worked closely with the SWITCH team. This also allowed us to react to unexpected events quickly.
Ultimately, we had to postpone the migration from January 2019 to March, because development of the Swiss Distance Learning University-SWITCH interface had still not been completed. We would have been able to meet the deadline but decided to postpone, because of interference with courses. In retrospect, this was the right decision.

What was the biggest challenge for you?

Jörg Andenmatten: Definitely communicating to the users to get them to create a SWITCH edu-ID account and to link their accounts. We used our info campaign to highlight the added benefits of SWITCH edu-ID. But you have to remember that users just don't care about an authentication method – so there wasn’t a great deal of interest.
We started with the communication activities early on. But because the migration to and use of SWITCH edu-ID was taking place later, many members of the university didn’t see any real urgency and so put off setting up the account. How many people would complete the necessary tasks by the day of the migration (D-Day) was difficult to predict in advance.

Ultimately, you succeeded in getting 3/4 of your users to set up an account before the migration. How did you do that?

Jörg Andenmatten: As I mentioned, the migration to SWITCH edu-ID was originally planned for January 2019. The users received the first information in the summer of 2018. Then, in September 2018, all Swiss Distance Learning University members were sent emails asking them to create a SWITCH edu-ID and to link it with our local university account system. Users who ignored this request were reminded at regular intervals to complete the necessary process.
Once users had understood why they needed a SWITCH edu-ID for a self-managed single sign on account to access all of our services, we achieved the necessary level of acceptance.
We continued our information campaign up until the final migration in March 2019.

Do you have any tips for other universities in terms of how they can successfully approach the migration?

Jörg Andenmatten: The work involved in communication should not be underestimated, especially at a multilingual university.
Migrating a user account ahead of the actual changeover is a lot quicker and considerably reduces the amount of work for the university. After the migration, it’s more complicated. For this reason, I recommend following the «Linking before day X» scenario for existing users.
If you can rely on help from power users like our student managers, you should definitely take ad-vantage of this, because it saves work for the support staff and you receive the necessary information through direct contact.

What follow-up tasks and procedures are left for the Swiss Distance Learning University?

Jörg Andenmatten: At present, we still have around 150 users who do not yet have a SWITCH edu-ID account. Some of them are users who are on leave or who are only active during the autumn semester. On the other hand, some of the data in our system is inaccurate. We are using the migration to SWITCH edu-ID as an opportunity to check, update and clean up our databases.

During a future phase we plan to connect our Office365 login with the SWITCH edu-ID. If the SWITCH edu-ID also offers access to eduroam, we will be happy to implement this as well.


Further information about the migration to the SWITCH edu-ID can be found in the Identity Blog:




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