Getting to Know IDPro – Heather Flanagan, Body of Knowledge Editor

We recently sat down with Heather Flanagan, the person responsible for editing and managing the development of IDPro’s Body of Knowledge. With the latest Issue now available to the public, Heather had a lot to share about her experience within the identity industry and her work on this important contribution to the community.

IDPro: Can you share a bit about yourself and how you got involved in the identity industry?

Heather: How does anyone get involved in the identity industry? By accident! My education is actually in Medieval English History and Library Science, and yet somehow, within six months of graduating, I was managing a Galacticom Bulletin Board System (BBS) and picking up books on DNS and Sendmail. Once an individual starts administering IT systems, managing identity and access is a fundamental part of the job. It only grows from there.

It’s been 25 years since that BBS and 15 years since IAM was first formally recognized as part of my job. It’s been about 10 years since I went independent and IAM (in particular academic federated identity), and standards development became the majority of what I do.  

IDPro: What brought you to IDPro and encouraged your decision to join?

Heather: I think I was one of the first 100 people to join IDPro – back when it was incubating in Kantara – and I was on the committee of two that developed the initial Code of Ethics. One the organization began forming, joining was never in question. By that time, I had already observed that getting a handle on the ins-and-outs of IAM took a minimum of two years for everyone. Having a professional organization on hand to serve as a place to consolidate discussion, support, and group therapy made for an easy decision: “wait, we as an industry aren’t doing this already? Let’s get this party started!”

IDPro: Can you explain your role in IDPro and how it has evolved?

Heather: Once IDPro was really off the ground, I continued to read the newsletter but most of my time was focused on being the RFC Series Editor, providing executive oversight for the publication of RFCs for the IETF, IRTF, IAB, and Independent Submissions stream. So I found out about the IDPro Principal Editor role almost too late, but how could I not apply? This is like a dream role: I get to design the publication process from the ground up, rather than inheriting a rather calcified process designed by someone else 30 years ago. I get to offer back to my core community of IAM practitioners the kind of thing I’m really good at: words, process development, and IAM. 

That’s actually a point I’d like to press on for just a moment: efforts like the IDPro Body of Knowledge, or really any project at all, need so much more than just the visionaries and architects. It requires newbies to point out where information isn’t clear enough to educate someone new to the field. It requires people whose specialty might be writing and not architecture. It requires people who do more with implementation than design. Every single person reading this has something that the IDPro BoK needs to really be successful, whether they believe that or not.

Fast forward to today, and I’ve found the role needs even more of the skills I have in my portfolio. It needs more volunteer wrangling, social media outreach, and the development of proposals for new lines of effort (in this case, profiles and the certification program). So, what was a dream role for me got even better! I have a brilliant opportunity to help the IAM community far beyond my usual home of academia and standards, and that’s a fantastic feeling.

IDPro: Why do you think IDPro is important for the identity industry? How does the Body of Knowledge fit into this?

Heather: The IAM industry is still too dependent on on-the-job training and mentorship models. I participated in a webinar earlier this month called “Hiring for Identity and Access Management,” with a higher-education focused organization, InCommon. The point of the webinar was that hiring experienced IAM practitioners is extremely difficult. I think that is the case in every sector, not just higher education. The IDPro survey has highlighted just how few people feel proficient in their roles until they’ve been in their jobs for years. 

How are we supposed to improve as an industry, an industry that is so important because IAM touches every aspect of the digital experience, if we can’t get practitioners to feel proficient until they’ve been doing this for years? There has to be a better way, and I’m hopeful that the IDPro Body of Knowledge and the future certification program can be that better way. I want to see us establish a common baseline that will allow organizations to really focus on what’s unique to their situation, and cut out teaching people what IAM means.

No one knows IAM better than the people in the field today. I want those people to take their knowledge and their passion for what they do and help me turn the Body of Knowledge into something we as an industry can be proud of.
On the IDPro website you can access the full Body of Knowledge, learn about membership, and better understand how the organization is supporting the identity industry.

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