One of the big projects I am working on right now is directory services for identity management. In these directories digital identities such as loginnames, addresses, access rights, etc. are stored. With an adequately structured directory service, the proper management of access rights becomes a lot easier, which translates into cost savings and better security.
Examples of these include the internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) and Microsoft’s Active Directory. A lot of organizations however, have requirements beyond these systems, and for these a wide range of custom solutions are used.
In order to improve on that, we must see directories as infrastructures. The management of user names, their access rights and personal preferences can be separated from the applications and consolidated into a single directory. As an example, you can think of one login name to use for multiple independent websites. This will allow users to work with only a single digital identity, and it will allow systems management to have better control over who accesses what. As this infrastructure is separated from its applications one will get all the usual issues: it becomes more important to specify the services, the service levels, and the way in which demand is matched with supply.
Directories as infrastructures also differ from other infrastructures. Although the technical operation can often be centralized, the management of the actual user information is delegated in a hierarchical way. In addition, access control on the information in the directory itself, who can read or modify what, is very fine-grained.
All in all, we see that creating a directory infrastructure requires a lot of attention to management issues. Furthermore, it would make an interesting business case study as to why public directories for identities are not gaining a lot of traction. Examples of such public directories are TypeKey and Microsoft’s Passport.
For more on this see my del.icio.us links on this, where you can also find links to a great presentation by the founder of Sxip.