UA Joins InCommon, Creates Closer Connection to State Universities

UA Joins InCommon, Creates Closer Connection to State Universities

By La Monica Everett-HaynesUniversity Communications
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Michele Norin said UA's InCommon Federation membership will mean more streamlined Web-based service between the three state universities.
Michele Norin said UA's InCommon Federation membership will mean more streamlined Web-based service between the three state universities.

The ability for faculty, students and staff to have a simplified, seamless and secure connection to Web-based services between the state's three universities is the reason behind The University of Arizona's decision to become a member of the InCommon Federation.

The federation exists to create a "common framework for trustworthy shared management of access to on-line resources in support of education and research in the United States," according to its Web site. The federation has a membership of about 150 agencies, organizations, institutions and businesses.

The UA's membership was announced last week in a campuswide memo from University Information Technology Services. The federation's membership fee is $1,000 annually.

Directed toward UA administrators, faculty, researchers and information technology staff, the memo explained that the federation's members would "easily and securely exchange user information in order to share online resources."

The way InCommon works is by allowing member organizations to exchange information and open up services to other member institutions while also reducing the cost of managing users. This way, the UA can share certain services with specified members, and other members can do the same.

"All of the foundational pieces are in place and the technical pieces are in place," said Michele Norin, the UA's chief information officer and executive director for UITS.

"We can now demonstrate or show the benefits of how being a member will work," Norin said.

For instance, if a student at Arizona State University or Northern Arizona University decides to study at the UA during the summer, that student would no longer have to sign up for a UA account to use certain services, such as the library.

Other benefits of the system include the ability to improve the range of services offered to students, faculty and staff; reducing future costs through "shared services"; the ability to extend offerings, such as degree programs, and integrate with the K-12 and community college systems; and improved security of Web-based services.

UITS was able to establish the UA as a member after successfully implementing Shibboleth, which is a single sign-on protocol allowing UITS to authenticate the identities of its users both internally and for InCommon partners.

Norin said the decision to join the federation is the result of an initiative supported by Arizona Board of Regents members in 2007.

That year, the regents requested that the three state universities figure out a way to make cross-institutional collaboration easier.

In addition to ASU and NAU, the UA has working relationships with numerous other InCommon members, including the National Institutes of Health, Apple, Microsoft and the National Science Foundation.

With ASU and NAU also InCommon members, this means UA students, faculty and staff will be able to access certain services provided by the two other state schools through the WebAuth sign-in using a UA NetID and password, and vice versa.

Likewise, Norin added, researchers working with agencies like the NSF or NIH will no longer have to create and manage separate identification accounts to access certain services provided by the agencies.

This, she said, should make the grant application process simpler and more secure.

"We're saying that we know they are from ASU or NAU and we trust their credentials," Norin said.

"This sets up a standard format so that when we do share that credentialing information we're all doing it consistently, and it can be done automatically," she added.

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