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Agile authentication: Techie toy or digital business imperative?

Jan Zeilinga | Aug. 7, 2015
The move to digital services and the rapid pace of technological change means IT infrastructure decisions have become business decisions, and a new term has entered the lexicon – ‘business agility.'

The move to digital services and the rapid pace of technological change means IT infrastructure decisions have become business decisions, and a new term has entered the lexicon -- 'business agility.'

Organisational requirements are constantly changing, so technology infrastructure must be built so it can accommodate -- or better, facilitate -- rapid change.

Business agility is not a new concept but with the explosion of the digital economy, we are getting to crunch time. Companies that haven't created agile processes are now seriously hampered in their efforts to compete with innovative digital services being offered by their competitors.

They may experience a gradual reduction in competitiveness, or they may be unable to adapt to rapid changes brought on by disruptive technologies or services like Uber or Airbnb.

I'd like to give an example of some technology infrastructure we all use every day which typifies the challenges organisations face in being agile and competitive. It's an example which shows how the business has to take responsibility for technology infrastructure and not just leave the choice up to its technical people.

Right now most of us log into various systems and services using usernames and passwords -- a process known as authentication. This basically matches digital identity information stored by the organisation to a person or, in some cases, a service.

The authentication options available to us are rapidly changing. A username and password may not be enough to do a bank transfer, for example -- we may be prompted for a 6-digit code sent by SMS.

In the past, it was common to issue special tokens to be able to access various high value services, and these are being replaced in some cases with device-specific services. We may be able to log into our Internet banking on an iPhone by using our thumbprint alone, with no username and password required.

There are at least three good reasons for organisations to embrace new authentication methods, which are:

1. Security. The issues associated with usernames and passwords are well known (and frequently exploited). Every authentication method has a certain risk profile, however, that may make it more or less appropriate depending on the situation.

If an authentication method is compromised for some reason, it needs to be replaced. And that replacement process needs to occur quickly and painlessly to minimise disruption to the business and its customers.

2. Convenience. You may be happy enough to log into a service using a username and password but what if the provider offered to authenticate you using a voiceprint instead?

That would be one less username and password to remember and you might only have to say 'hello' to get access. Ease of use and quality of customer experience are important differentiators between digital services, so convenience is also a competitive advantage.

 

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