The project is finished – but we’re still on the ball!

When the national cooperation project “Swiss edu-ID” – supported by swissuniversities – started in 2014, it was clear that it would not be a walk in the park. Replacing a system like SWITCHaai that is running very well since more than a decade is not easy. Universities have to be convinced of the new solution – both in terms of technology and benefits – and also have enough time and resources to implement it.

With the Swiss edu-ID project, a major conceptual change from a decentralized authentication infrastructure to a centralized one was planned. This creates stronger dependencies. A stable basis of trust and smooth operation were important prerequisites. In parallel with the universities’ efforts, SWITCH therefore continued to expand the service and took measures to ensure performance and fail-safety.

After the SWITCH edu-ID service went live in 2015, edu-ID accounts were initially used primarily for guests or for study registrations. Various workshops were organized with interested universities, and a handful agreed to take the planning for a migration in hand as pioneers. In 2017, SWITCH led by example and migrated to edu-ID – of course, as a very small organization, not directly comparable to a university.

The University of Lucerne then became the first university to dare the “adventure” of switching to SWITCH edu-ID at the beginning of 2019. Since then, 23 other universities and Swiss Library Service platforms have made the switch. Two more (HES-SO and FFHS) will follow at the end of this year.

SWITCH edu-ID participants map and list

They all share the experience of participating in a project with one common vision in mind: Implementing the new identity and access management standard of the Swiss university landscape.

The close cooperation helped us to gain insights into the infrastructures and processes of the universities, to recognize similarities but also differences more clearly, and also to realize that “one size fits all” has only limited validity in a very heterogeneous academic IT landscape.

In the course of the workshops, we were able to learn a lot from our partners.
At the closing event on September 8, Christoph Graf gave a few examples of important concepts that we encountered (with a twinkle in his eye) with the help of those present:

  • BCUL: “Hogwarts” is in Switzerland, precisely in Lausanne. BCUL is worth a visit – and enjoy the Harry Potter feeling.
  • BFH: “Dedication” is a key factor and the reason why one single person can move a lot.
  • EPFL: “User-centric identities” as concept was explained to us back in 2003 – we probably did not understand it at that time, but now we do.
  • Distance University: “Courage and trust make us stronger.” A healthy basis for ambitious projects. And thus the first to adopt the edu-ID of those present at the closing event.
  • FFHS: “Bugs are everywhere around us”. They recently found a bug in our interfaces… even before adopting the edu-ID.
  • FHNW: “No change to identity management without corresponding enterprise architecture”. At FHNW things take a while, need to ripe, and when ready, are implemented with military precision…
  • HfH: “No, not again… Apologies” (and some swearing) – me after pressing send before checking the To-line for the x-th time
  • PHBern: “Why not mixing it up?”: The idea to mix the “Push” and “Pull” method was born.
  • PHGR: “There are four official languages.”: We all know – but we still think the fourth one is English, while PHGR is even counting and supporting 7 local languages 😉
  • SLSP: “Short paths are better”: They adopted edu-ID without using AAI first.
  • UNIBAS: “Reconciliation is a good idea.”: Whatever you do, do it in a way you can prove, it works. And SWITCH needed to adapt its APIs…
  • UNIFR: “Think about data protection.”: We did and published the legal FAQs.
  • UNIGE: “The bigger a university the larger the charts.”: We’ve seen the most impressive ones in Geneva!
  • UNIL: “Yes – but only after accepting our terms of use.”: And the Lausanne model “linking after admission” was born.
  • UNISG: “No unnecessary actions.”: And the St. Gallen model with the “linking on demand” scenario was born.

We consider ourselves fortunate to have learned all this and much more from and with our project partners from Swiss universities.

The journey is far from over. More universities will switch to SWITCH edu-ID and identity management concepts will continue to develop in the direction of self-sovereign identities. SWITCH will follow this path or even lead the way. And of course ensure the interplay of the academic identity federation with a future national e-ID.

We would like to thank all participants for the fruitful collaboration and look forward to further joint projects to strengthen Switzerland as a center of excellent academic education and research.

In the name of all those present at the closing event: a special thank goes to Petra for the perfect organisation.

Christoph Graf, project leader Swiss edu-ID
Rolf Brugger, deputy project leader Swiss edu-ID
Petra Kauer-Ott, project coordinator Swiss edu-ID
SWITCH edu-ID team

Some more impressions from the Swiss edu-ID final event on September 8 2021 (lake Biel):

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