Ariel Gordon and Aude Pichelin from France Telecom (FT) yesterday announced at the 6th Digital ID World in San Francisco release of an OpenID service to their 40 million subscribers. Congratulations to the OpenID community for this big success. It is not surprising that it is FT with it's Orange brand being the first company running an internet scale OpenID service. On the one hand, it's a smart company. They strongly contributed to the emergence of the SAML standard and pushed IBM into the Liberty Alliance some 3 years ago. On the other hand, if there is any industry which can make a business out of running OpenID services, it's the telcos, because they are wired right through to our purses.
But OpenID was only a smaller part of FT's advanced identity management strategy, which consumed less than 3% of their total project budget and therefore shouldn't have been too difficult to give it a go. The rest of the budget went into something I would call the foundation of the future (post-UMTS) telco business modell, converging management of identities for voice and non-voice services through wireline and wireless and using the SAML v2 standard to open up the whole infrastructure for plug & play style partnership business.
Telcos on their own haven't been too good in creating services needed or otherwise attractive enough to be broadly used, since they invented SMS. So they need partners taking care for this in order to survive.
Being more and more reduced to an IP tunnel provider, telcos at least should try to make the most out of it in offering a powerful infrastructure for mobile and wireline services. FT have done their homework in an obviously excellent way, clearly focussing on the improvement of the user experience through simplifying sign-on within their SAML based converged infrastructure. They pull authentication information from the DSL and appliance level, add available user information and use these to provide reliable identities even without forcing them through login and account creation processes.
Ariel described, that during downtimes of their identity system with users being forced to sign on manually, online service sales drop by 50%. Even if this does not necessarily mean, that they have doubled sales, because part of those 50% would just return after the service is back up, there seems to be space for a pretty quick return on investment and revenue growth.
I have invited Aude, Ariel and Hervé, the latter on being technically responsible, to come to Munich for next years European Identity Conference and talk about latest developments.