Identiverse 2021: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going

Identiverse® 2021 has concluded and we’re still reeling from the excitement of the knowledge exchanged during the event, the sense of community that was created – even with a hybrid environment – and, of course, the big announcement about the CIDPRO™ certification! While it would be impossible to capture every memorable moment from the event, Identiverse Content Chair and IDPro® Board Chair, Andi Hindle, shared his perspective on the history, importance, and future of Identiverse during a recent interview. 

  • Can you tell us about your role with Identiverse?

Andi: I’ve been the Content Chair for Identiverse since 2015, responsible for the agenda and conference content. For the most part, the agenda is assembled based on submissions from our public call for presentations. Proposals are all evaluated by a cross-industry content committee, which I form and chair, and selected presentations help us shape the conference.

  • How did Identiverse come about?

Andi: Identiverse was originally called the ‘Cloud Identity Summit’ (CIS), and was founded by Andre Durand (CEO & Founder of Ping Identity). The first summit — and it really was a ‘summit’ — was held in 2010 when organizations were just beginning to move data and applications into the cloud and there were big questions about how to deal with digital identity in that context. Andre brought approximately 50 industry leaders together in Keystone, Colorado, to discuss how to move forward. Over the next few years, CIS became a forum for those specific topics to be discussed and for best practices to be shared.

Eventually, overlaps and interactions between the identity, security, and privacy sectors grew more significant and the focus of the conference expanded well beyond its original cloud identity remit. At the 2017 event in Chicago, Illinois, we announced that the conference would be renamed, and in 2018 we held the first conference under its new ‘Identiverse’ moniker in Boston, Massachusetts.

  • What made the 2021 conference different from previous years?

Andi: Quite a lot! In 2020, as a result of the pandemic, we had to flip the conference on fairly short notice from the usual in-person format to a fully virtual event. In all honesty, no one really knew how to run an event like Identiverse in a completely virtual environment, so we had to be quite experimental. For 2021, we realized that there was at least a possibility of having a small in-person audience but we would still need to welcome the greater part of the audience remotely. So, we experimented again by putting together a ‘hybrid’ event: essentially one conference across two venues — in person, and remote. All of the presentations were available across both venues; all the sponsors and exhibitors had a presence in both venues; and everyone attending had the opportunity to interact and to network. 

Despite all of the adaptations, the core elements of the event stayed the same: stellar presentations from a wide range of speakers; thought-provoking discussions; deep exchanges and development of knowledge and leading practices; opportunities to discover new products, solutions, and approaches; and a chance to build and nurture peer relationships. Oh…and I think people had fun, too 🙂

  • What is your favorite part of Identiverse?

Andi: Oh, that’s a tricky question! Picking just one thing is really hard, so I’m going to pick two. 

On a professional level, it’s the process of reviewing all the great proposals we get through the call for presentations and then reviewing all the final presentation drafts. It’s honestly a huge privilege to get to see everything in advance of the conference and I’m humbled every year by the sheer amount of work that all the presenters undertake so they can share their experience with their peers. This exchange of information is such a critical part of continuously raising the level of the entire industry and ultimately helping to ensure that our digital world is as easy and safe to use as possible.

On a personal level, the opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues across the industry is tremendously valuable — particularly those with whom I don’t routinely interact during the year. In those instances, this is the one opportunity I get to reconnect.

  • Who should attend Identiverse, and why?

Andi: I have some experience (a long time ago!) as a sound engineer for theatrical productions. A mentor of mine at the time, a veteran in the industry, explained that sound is something that people shouldn’t notice at all when it goes right. But even the tiniest error — a sound effect off-cue by a second or a moment of feedback on a mic — can ruin an entire show for everyone: cast, crew, director, and audience. We would run workshops with the cast and the crew so they understood better what we were doing, and why, and explain how they could help us. And we would spend time with the director and the producer so that we would have their support and the proper resources to do the best job possible.

Digital identity is a little bit like that. It’s a critical part of our digital experience which means it’s increasingly a part of our everyday lives. When it’s done well it should really just disappear into the background. When it goes wrong, even a bit, it can be damaging. Hopefully the damage is nothing more than minor irritation and some wasted time. But in the worst cases (like identity theft, data breach) individuals and businesses can be deeply impacted for significant periods of time. There are also challenges around the inclusivity and accessibility of digital identity solutions. Poor design excludes people from vital services; yet this can be easily avoided by using the right technologies, tools and techniques.

So, who should attend Identiverse? Well, the ‘sound engineers’ —  that is to say, digital identity professionals — should definitely be there. It’s vital that we all share our knowledge, and get help from others to solve problems so that we can ensure the best possible outcomes for everyone using our systems. Identiverse is a great place to do that.

Beyond that, the rest of the ‘crew’ — application developers, IT, security and privacy professionals, dev-ops…everyone whose work interacts with digital identity in some way. All these people benefit from learning what modern digital identity looks like, how it works, and how to use and support the capabilities provided. The Identiverse agenda increasingly includes material that is relevant to these adjacent professions. Finally, the directors and producers: senior management and the C-suite, who (even if they don’t know it yet) rely on identity systems that work well. They also benefit from learning ways to build better businesses with happier customers by supporting their identity teams who are responsible for creating better, safer experiences. Identiverse is a great opportunity to get a better understanding of what can be achieved, and why it matters.

Over time, the whole industry needs to think about how we best address the ‘cast’—employees, staff, contractors and so on; and the audience—the general public that relies on digital identity.  As we introduce new and safer identity solutions, making sure end users know and understand what to expect is going to be critical.

  • What role does Identiverse play in the identity community?

Andi: I’ve mentioned a few things already: knowledge exchange, peer network development, and industry outreach are all vital to the industry and the community as a whole. But for me, there are two things that I think are especially important:

First, the way that Identiverse supports new digital identity professionals. The IDPro skills and programs surveys consistently indicate that it takes time — too much time — for people to feel like they are proficient in this field. The more we can share knowledge and provide peer-led learning, the more we can improve that neo-pro experience. For some years now, the agenda has included an ‘introduction to identity’ session, and we make sure to have a balance of material across the agenda that is suitable for different levels of experience and technical knowledge. When you add the unparalleled opportunities at Identiverse to talk informally with recognized experts in the field, then we have a pretty welcoming and productive environment to help smooth and accelerate that initial journey into the industry.

Second, the platform we offer for emerging talent to have their voices heard and their opinions counted. Roughly half of the presentations at Identiverse 2021 were given by presenters who had not presented at the conference before, and for quite a few of these it was their first presentation on a public stage. That percentage has been pretty consistent for about five years, and we’re constantly improving the support and the mentoring we can provide to help each presenter be successful. I’m also proud that the 2021 speaker line-up was our most inclusive to-date. The industry still has a lot of work to do in this area, but it’s good that we’re starting to make some tangible progress. Supporting ‘emerging talent’ isn’t just about speakers, either.  Established vendors, start-ups, consultancies, systems integrators, standards bodies, trade groups, and even some enterprises and public sector organisations are innovating at pace. They too need the opportunity to explain and to showcase what they are doing, and to get input from others in the industry so that solutions are as good as they can be; and Identiverse provides a great forum.

The broader and more diverse our industry is, the better we will be able to provide solutions that work well for everyone. Identiverse plays a critical role in helping that to happen.

Onwards and Upwards

2021 is already shaping up to be another successful year for IDPro. We are looking forward to creating new connections in the identity industry, celebrating future CIDPRO certifications and, of course, attending future Identiverse events. Visit the Identiverse event website to view the 2021 proceedings on-demand, interact with the identity community, and sign up for announcements about Identiverse 2022.

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