Leading the way in identity management

SWITCH stands for greater convenience in the digital world. The new identity management solution SWITCH edu-ID is perfectly tailored to meet the needs of todays university teaching and research staff. It is especially beneficial for broad-based research projects such as the national support initiative "Personalised Medicine".

Text: Christoph GrafGuido Biland, published on 29.03.2017

One of SWITCH's core capabilities is identity management in the academic IT landscape across all Swiss universities. The authentication and authorisation infrastructure SWITCHaai, launched in 2005, enabled university members for the first time to access IT resources at other universities with a single user account. This ground-breaking achievement quickly became a national standard and continued its success story internationally. However, the SWITCHaai identity is tied to an active role at a Swiss university. The user account and thus the identity expire when the holder leaves the university.

User-centric solution

The successor solution, SWITCH edu-ID, removes this restriction. This user account is tied solely to the holder, so it can remain valid for an entire lifetime. When the holder's role changes, the identity is updated accordingly. Anyone with a SWITCH edu-ID can use resources within the academic community at any time, provided they have been assigned the appropriate rights by a person who is authorised to do so. This flexibility simplifies the management of personal data and is especially advantageous in research collaborations.

SWITCH’s identity management concepts and solutions will play a fundamental role in the success of SPHN.

Prof. Dr. Torsten Schwede, University of Basel, SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Executive Board SPHN

Personalised Medicine

The benefits are illustrated, for example, by the national support initiative "Personalised Medicine". This initiative aims to lay the foundations for making healthcare data available at the level of quality required for research and innovation. It is being implemented through a national joint effort between universities, hospitals and funding bodies thanks to an agreement between swissuniversities, the ETH Board, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB) and the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences (SAMS). The SAMS has been mandated by the federal government to set up, organise and coordinate a Swiss Personalised Health Network (SPHN) that will aim to harmonise the various types of data and information systems and make it possible to exchange data for research purposes. In technical terms, the SIB's Data Coordination Centre will be responsible for the interoperability of health-related data such as clinical patient records, molecular research findings, sensor measurements and laboratory results. The Centre allows researchers to use data from a variety of distributed platforms for scientific studies, starting with university hospitals, universities (including the Federal Institutes of Technology) and specialist platforms for genomics, proteomics and metabolomics. Additional data will follow later on, e.g. reference data for healthy control groups, data from other healthcare providers and even lifestyle data supplied by patients themselves under "quantified self" schemes.

Greater convenience

The requirements for identity management hinge on the support initiative's scale and complexity as well as its high demands as regards data security and verifiability. The solution must be able to grant authorised and uniquely identified individuals from a range of disciplines, projects, organisations and nations straightforward and secure access to specific resources on the basis of a shared infrastructure. Simplicity and convenience are needed where data are collected, managed and delivered as well as where researchers access these data for analysis.

The SWITCH edu-ID solution is supported by the federal government and meets these requirements. It is based on international standards and simplifies research collaboration and lifelong learning through an innovative approach that puts the service user at the centre rather than his or her temporary role within a particular organisation.

SWITCH is developing its identity management solution in conjunction with its national and international partners in the academic community.

Further information:
SWITCH edu-ID project website (https://projects.switch.ch/eduid/)
Identity Blog (https://identityblog.switch.ch/)
Story dossier (http://www.switch.ch/dossiers/identity-management/)
Swiss edu-ID at swissuniversities (https://swit.ch/edu-id@swissuniversities)
National Support Initiative "Personalised Medicine" (https://www.sbfi.admin.ch/)
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