Interview: Duane Blackburn Co-Chair, GIS Planning Committee

Interview with Duane Blackburn, S&T Policy Analyst, the MITRE Corporation, Co-Chair, Global Identity Summit Planning Committee

GIS logoDuane Blackburn, MITRE Corporation’s Science and Technology Policy Analyst, is a co-chair of the Global Identity Summit (GIS) Planning Committee. GIS stands as the largest global biometrics industry gathering in the world, held annually in Tampa, Florida.

Last year, Blackburn kicked off the conference with opening remarks on our modern day perception of identity. Recently, FindBiometrics president Peter O’Neill had a chance to speak with Blackburn on the topic of this year’s upcoming Global Identity Summit, how the conference has evolved over the years and how the identity management industry is still changing thanks to new technological innovations and the influx of diverse viewpoints.

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Peter O’Neill, President, FindBiometrics (FB): It is only six months to the largest global biometric gathering at the Global Identity Summit in Tampa, with all of the increase focus on biometrics over past two years what changes are you bringing to the show?

Duane Blackburn: I think the best way to answer the question of what has changed is to actually take a quick sojourn into what hasn’t changed, as that provides context for structural changes in the 2015 Global Identity Summit.

The critical piece that has not changed is the basics of how the conference is developed and managed – the structure of the event is still managed by the federal government to meets its needs and those of the greater biometric and identity community.  Those needs have simply evolved over the years.

The Global Identity Summit’s predecessor was the Biometric Consortium Conference.  The Biometric Consortium was originally chartered in the Clinton administration as a subordinate activity of the National Security Council and was a government-only, biometrics technology-focused activity. It evolved to add public-private working groups, and then added an annual conference.  The government’s biometrics focused intensified after 9/11, with its activities coordinated by the National Science & Technology Council’s Subcommittee on Biometrics and Identity Management. This Subcommittee was really driving biometric technology advancement, integration, and then interoperability, and it “adopted” the Biometric Consortium Conference and transitioned it into an information-sharing and collaboration-building event in support of federal activities.  As the Subcommittee’s work evolved from technology development to integration and interoperability issues, its focus necessarily shifted from core biometrics research to a broader view of identity – which is required for any system using biometrics to be successful.

The Biometric Consortium Conference’s focus similarly evolved to the point where the name didn’t really make sense anymore.  Biometrics don’t operate in isolation, they are a part of an identity system.  Those identity systems (especially federal-based systems focused on law-enforcement, immigration, and terrorism) are connected with partner systems from around the world.  Thus, the “Global Identity Summit.”  Along the way, the conference size grew to where the government felt it best to partner with AFCEA, a non-profit, to manage the large number of logistics issues required for the event to succeed.

From the government’s perspective, the biggest current needs are cross-sector understanding of identity activities and concerns, as well as collaboration-building so that the identity community can be positioned for future success.  There are now many other identity-related events, which is great, but they tend to focus on subsets of the identity space.  The government needed a single location to obtain a breadth of insight, as well as the ability to dedicate a significant amount of time to networking with identity professionals.  That last part is why the Global Identity Summit isn’t held in the Washington, D.C., area.  When the Biometric Consortium Conference was held there, it was challenging for federal employees, most of whom were down the street from their agencies, not to be pulled away by work or family obligations. We want conference attendees to collaborate with other attendees.  This particular event needs to be held elsewhere to meet its goals – an immersive environment is a must.

So with that backdrop, you can see that the 2015 GIS will be really focused on (1) understanding identity across multiple use-cases and sectors, and (2) public-private interactions, which leads to collaboration that sets-up the community for future success.  We’ve tweaked the track and session format from the prior years’ arrangement to better force cross-sector discussions on major use cases, and have added special sessions and workshops so that Summit attendees are able to provide their input and meet other identity professionals with similar interests.  We also removed one of the concurrent tracks and extended the event to a full three days so that we cut down a bit on having to choose one great activity over another.  These structural changes will not only help us better meet the goals of the event, but will also make the event a more engaging and tailored experience for attendees.  We’re very excited about the 2015 Global Identity Summit.

FB: I just returned from the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona with 90,000 of my colleagues and biometrics had a significant presence there. Are mobile payments and mobile security going to be addressed at the GIS in 2015?

Duane Blackburn: Absolutely, and that reinforces one of my earlier points:  there are now other identity events out there.  We aim to highlight or summarize the best from these use case-specific events in one location, and have higher-order discussions across multiple use cases to setup the identity community for future success.  That will in turn help drive a more cohesive and consistent understanding of identity for those focused on one use case, which will help them better prepare their future events.  The Global Identity Summit is working to establish a solid foundation that many others can continue to build upon in a variety of ways.

It is clear that the use of mobile technologies and some of the identity issues associated with them are going to be at the forefront of the community for the next several years, so we will definitely have a session devoted to this in the Global Identity Summit.  As in most sessions, we aim to have perspectives from multiple sectors participate in that session so that we can better understand different viewpoints.  That informs the community what commonalities exist to build upon and what still needs to be done.  We feel that this will be more beneficial than prior years’ structure where the perspectives on an issue from the federal government, industry, academia, and foreign partners were provided in separate sessions.

FB: I think that is an important shift in thinking because all of these different areas are blending together now.

Duane Blackburn:  Definitely.  The identity space is much more complex than it was just a few years ago.  That’s why the Summit’s Planning Committee relies so heavily on session moderators, who do much more than simply introduce speakers.  These are individuals that really understand the session’s topic, its current status, and its thought leaders.  The Planning Committee tells them the goals for the session, and tasks them to work throughout their sub-community to determine how to setup the session’s topics and speakers to best meet those goals.  We need their insight and expertise to properly develop their sessions – it’s too complex now for the Planning Committee to simply do it themselves.

We also recognize that the GIS attendees have a wealth of insight that hasn’t been adequately leveraged in the past, so we are building in some special sessions to enable them to better shape the future of their community.  One example is “Lightning Talks” where we will have rooms with set subjects and attendees can register to provide a ten-minute presentation on the topic.  For example, we could have one room dedicated to the topic of “I wish the federal government would…” and enable a handful of GIS attendees to give ten-minute responses.  There will be some ground rules, such as no marketing pitches, but beyond that it’s an open floor for attendees to share their views on the topic.  Another example is “Round Table Discussions” where we’ll have 8-person round tables, each with a subject and a host.  Attendees will be able to pre-register for one of the other seats at the table and the group will have not-for-attribution conversations about that topic.  We’ll also have dedicated workshops where attendees (including exhibitors) can shape the future direction of the identity community.

We’re excited about all four types of sessions:  the strategically-developed one-way presentations, the ability for the participants to brief their thoughts on important topics, the non-attribution small-group conversations, and the forward-thinking workshops.  That combination will help the GIS meet its goals, as well as make the event more interesting to the attendees.

FB: I think you will find that those will be very popular given the speed with which our industry is moving right now. How do you go about deciding topics, is there a requests for proposals scenario? Can you describe that process for us?

Duane Blackburn: The Planning Committee uses two approaches, one for the traditional sessions and another for the special sessions I just described.

The traditional sessions are developed with a top-down process, which starts with the Federal Government identifying the actual sessions and the goals for those sessions. The Planning Committee then identifies a moderator and charges that moderator to work within their community to set up the session to meet those goals.  The Planning Committee reviews the moderators’ suggestions, and occasionally works with moderators to tweak their original plans if doing so is needed from a whole-of-conference perspective.

For the special sessions, we are going to open that up to the entire community to provide ideas on what those subjects really need to be. Our current plan is to issue a Request for Proposals on March 24, which will stay open for one month. Anyone, regardless of location, is free to submit proposals for special session topics for the Planning Committee to review.  Attendees can register for speaking slots and roundtable seats (if they desire) on a first-come, first-served basis during GIS registration.

FB: It must be fascinating to see the change year over year in the topics you see being brought forward. We see that in our business when we do our annual Year in Review.

Now I have a very important question for you: When are the parties? When is the opening reception? Seriously the opening reception is one of the few times the industry, the attendees and the exhibitors  get a chance to talk with one another in a relaxed environment. What is the scheduling around that?

Duane Blackburn: That is one of the main benefits of the GIS as it is the largest identity event in the world and you get a lot of different perspectives out there and the opportunities to have those conversations are one of the key benefits of attending.  The GIS’ own opening reception will take place on Monday evening this year, in the exhibition hall.  This has traditionally been on Tuesdays, but we decided to kick-off the entire event with it this year.

That is the only GIS-specific event that takes place, but there are many other events that attendees hold during the week. That is perfectly acceptable, and we encourage folks to host those events. We want the entire identity community to achieve as much benefit as possible from the event week.  It’s an immersive environment with a couple thousand of your associates – please leverage that unique situation as much as you can!

FB: Duane, thank you so much for giving us a quick overview on this year’s upcoming show and I will chat with you again as you get the requests for proposals in and start to see the directional activities. Thanks again for taking the time with us today.

GIS: Thank you for having us and we look forward to all of the great ideas from the community as we finalize the agenda for 2015 Global Identity Summit.