... from the desk of Roger Sullivan

Monday, April 30, 2007

Well and truly ...

It's been a while since my last post. And I know that there has been more than enough happening to provoke a comment or two. However I thought it most ironic - at least for me - that one of the last posts I submitted was on positive international relations. Yesterday, I was witness to the worst.
Let me start by saying that I'm getting home approximately twenty four hours later than expected due to Aer Lingus "mechanical problems." As one of my Irish traveling companions, who understood the Dutch radio conversations between the gate agent ground staff said, "In purely technical terms, our plane is well and truly done for."
Friday day began by my not having slept well at all. For some reason, on the night before a week-on-the-road-ending homeward leg, I don't sleep well. In this case, it may be attributed to the Belgian chocolates consumed just before midnight. The high-octane confectioner's caffeine was given an additional boost through my system by a combination of adrenalin and fast-walking to retrieve a wayward wallet (more on that later), as well as an eventful week with the Liberty Alliance.
Nevertheless, I arrived at Brussels airport with good time to spare, knowing that I would have an hour and a half nap time on the plane between Brussels and Dublin. And then another six hours nap time between Dublin and Boston. No problem! I'll be well and truly rested before arriving home. And, to top it, I'll have the four hour layover in Dublin to buy the necessary peace offerings after having been on the road (once more) for a week during which various difficult situations needed to be handled by my ever-understanding and rise-to-the-occasion spouse.
The initial delay of a few minutes before boarding grew into tens of minutes, which grew into an hour, during which I continue to think, "No problem. I can make a quick swing through duty free. All I need is a 30 minute connection. I really don't care if the bag makes it so long at I do."
Well, to quote my Irish queuing friend, "We were well and truly done for!"
The hour turned into two. The two turned into four. In the mean time, a couple American colleagues and I left the secure departure gate area to try to scour up alternate routing. The British Airways agent said, "What is going on in Boston this week? There's not one seat available to Boston through any European gateway city!" [Note to self: Find out what is going on in Boston this week!"] Without success, we made our way back through security and customs to slink back to our places in queue for the (now five hour delayed) Aer Lingus flight to Dublin. My motto when in travel difficulties of any kind, "Forward motion is King!"
(By now, I know that a few of my reading colleagues are muttering, "So you got delayed. Big deal! Get to the point, already!")
OK, here goes.
When we arrived in Dublin, two hours past my thirty minute duty-free shopping window, the "... Boston and Chicago connecting passengers ..." were directed to the Aer Lingus transfer agent. When we arrived there, we found a comely, lovely, patient, Irish lass manning (personing?) the transfer desk near baggage claim #2. I am well and truly sorry that I neglected to get her name. However it was between 15:00 and 16:00 local time. (This provided for the follow-up email to Aer Lingus Management.)
When the American contingent arrived, flush-faced, weary, and brusquely at her post, she was already being accosted by another traveler with some sort of issue that I couldn't for the life of me understand. It had something to do with hunger and thirst issues, multi-hour delays, 5.5 Euro food vouchers, and demanding that he was " ... General Manager of [his] company … and wanted to speak with someone from Aer Lingus of equivalent stature!" (Good luck with that, buddy, now just please step aside so rational people can get help.) She patiently asked if he would pause for a moment so that she could ask a question or two and then arranged for a supervisor to speak with him.
I introduced myself as having been on the delayed Brussels-to-Dublin Aer Lingus 631 flight. What happened next was well and truly amazing. She said, "Oh, yes. I have your names right here ... 'Sullivan, Meyer, Cummings (the reader will note that name - a name that will live in infamy ...), etc. etc. etc. Here are the arrangements that we've made' ..." She then went on to indicate the airport hotel accommodations, dinner and breakfast vouchers, transport to and from the hotel, plus (miracle of miracles!) that our checked bags were being off-loaded and would be delivered shortly to belt #2, plus the rebooking on the next Aer Lingus flight available on Saturday morning.
I was well and truly pleased. I had had visions (aromas?) of having to spend the night at the hotel without a change of clothes, toilet kit, or access to my spare novel in the suitcase, having finished Patterson's latest during the delay.
By now, we are all waiting for bags to arrive. It was taking a few minutes during which the point of the story will be told. The first trolley was wheeled out containing all the bags save one (mine). During this time, Miss Transfer Desk had made the extraordinary effort to come out from behind the protecting counter to make sure that were all set. You’d never see a U.S. carrier agent do that! I started to inquire about any bags (like mine) in the back room, when Mr. Cummings decided that moment was the proper time to tell Miss Transfer Desk exactly what he thought of Aer Lingus efforts to this point. Moreover, his need to vent was more important than anyone else's concern. Mr. Cummings started by dropping the "F-Bomb" right off - a sure way to endear one's self to any customer service representative. It went downhill from there as his little temper tantrum continued. She patiently and stoically listed to him. Politely replied, "I understand." And remained passive to his rude accosting.
In the mean time, the baggage handler had left looking for my bag so I went up to her after Mr. Cummings had left for the shuttle bus to say, "On behalf of Americans everywhere, I apologize for that." She replied, "No worries, I'm used to it."
I was well and truly stunned and speechless. What a sad thing that she feels that way. We have a lot of work to do, My Fellow Americans.
We need to leave a place happier because we've been there rather than the place feeling happier that we've left.
So, here's the story behind the story ... Ten years ago, my wife and I visited Europe when my daughter was studying in Rotterdam. We went to a bar in Brussels' Grand Place. When we returned to the hotel, she discovered that she had left her purse (with cash, credit cards, and passport) under the table in the bar. On Thursday last, several of my Liberty colleagues happened to go to the same bar for a 'last night beer.' From where I was sitting, I could see the hotel where my wife and I stayed ten years ago. I told my wife's story over the drink. It got a couple chuckles. We left for our hotel and got about a half block away, when one of my colleagues realized that he had left his wallet (with cash, credit cards, and passport) on the table (no, I am not making this up!). We raced back and, sure enough the bar tender pulled the wallet out of the same drawer as my wife's purse ten years previous. In both cases, not a cent was missing, not a credit card out of place, and the passport was in its slot.
In both cases, the one thing that stuck in my mind after the fact was that the bar tender looked at me so strangely when I profusely thanked him. My panic and relief was completely counterbalanced by his sense of calm and normalcy.
My week was a lesson in contrasts. I’ve been well and truly humbled. How was yours?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I don't know how they do it

I continue to be amazed at some of my Liberty Alliance (gratuitous plug for Russ) blogging colleagues especially here and here.

Where do they find the time to do all their postings?

They keep the challenge bar high indeed for the rest of us mere mortals who only occasionally have a thought or two worth sharing.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The best kind of international relations

On a tourist side-trip to Kyoto, we met this group of young people who were also touring the same beautiful temple. (Note: Full school uniforms on a Sunday afternoon!)

We kept passing them throughout the hour or so that we spent at the shrine. They were eager to practice English with the "Americans."

What a delightful bridging of cultures - if only for a few minutes.

Taking entrepreneurialism to new heights

Under the "One China Two Systems" approach to hotel space management, several members of the Liberty Alliance Sponsor meeting recently held at the Hong Kong Excelsior Hotel were denied rooms when checking in last week.

Under "unavoidable" and "extraordinary" circumstances we were left to hang about in the hotel lobby from 8:00 PM when we arrived (after 24 hours in-transit on average) until an "estimated" 11:00 PM. You can only imagine the mental and physical distress. We were all trying to maintain some reasonable modicum of social decorum while trying to politely but very firmly state our displeasure at the inconvenience. We were, after all, spending a good deal of money on the hotel as a meeting venue and could not possibly imagine the "circumstances" that the hotel had suffered. We had all booked more than a month previous and the hotel was well aware of the arrival dates and times.

We could not get a clear response to our questions. Indeed, we couldn't get any response at all. Speculation ran from some sort of police situation to a broken water main. Both of which drew at least some level of sympathy for the hotel management as being events clearly out of their control.

However, about 10:00 PM we began to notice groups of airline flight crews coming down the elevators and checking out. Soon thereafter, room keys became available to the waiting Liberty Alliance and other guests camped out in the lobby.

It would seem that the hotel had figured out a way to get double revenue for a single room. When a guest checks out in the morning, the hotel books the room to an airline crew for the day. When the airline crew checks out for their evening flight, the room is now billed (for the second time that day) to the waiting guest.

Two systems indeed!

P.S. In full disclosure, I received a room when I arrived. However, in sympathy for my traveling companions, I waited up with them (at least for part of the time) until exhaustion over came my empathetic feelings.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Nice job by nice people

Carolina Canales-Valenzuela and Paul Madsen (yes, that Paul Madsen) gave an excellent webinar today on Liberty Alliance’s recently announced ID-WSF 2.0. Carolina and Paul are co-Chairs of the Alliance’s Technology Expert Group and are primarily responsible for ‘herding the (technology standards) cats’ within Liberty.

For those who weren’t able to attend the session, a replay is available here.

For those who would like more information on all things Liberty, please visit the Resource Center on the Liberty Alliance web site.

Nice job, Carolina and Paul!

Friday, September 22, 2006


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I lived in Lower Manhattan while with Phaos Technology prior to Oracle acquiring the company.

As the nation remembers the events of September 11, 2001, I will forever remember the view from my apartment window.

This was taken in the Spring of 2002 and is toward the Northeast across the roof of Trinity Church. In the center of the photo, you can just see the top of "The Cross" at the WTC site.

No matter how hard the day went at Phaos, this view each night gave me a centering moment to think about priorities.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Well THAT was a pleasant surprise …

I’m in SFO, returning to Boston. I have adjusted to the new TSA guidelines for prohibited carry-on items and have been able to remove the contraband, yet still maintain a degree of creature comfort – AND carry on my roller-bag. Life is getting back to ‘normal.’

I was originally going to post on my tips & tricks for carry-on bags. Mine are much simpler than others with their toiletry stashes in multiple cities. But as I was passing through security, a tall, imposing, suited gentleman walked into the area like he owned the place, and checked the x-ray screen - of my bag. My first thought was, “This can’t be good!” Sure enough, my briefcase was ‘snagged’ for the dreaded “extra screening.” [NB: IMO, a briefcase screen is potentially much more disruptive and time-consuming than a suitcase screen. Because, being a creature of habit, everything has its place. When the contents are removed, it’s a real pain to get them back in all their little compartments!]

The next thing I knew, the gentleman (did I mention that he was BIG?) was looking at me across the across the belt, asking “Where are you flying to today?”

Now, I don’t know about you, but even when I’m not doing anything wrong, that kind of innocent question in a relatively stressful situation can be pretty unnerving. And, I had read recently that this kind of “behavioral analysis” questioning is going to be part of the security screening process. Well, I hadn’t had time to even find my innocent-as-a-lamb face that I usually reserve for Border Control Officers – let alone put it on.

After a brief exchange of pleasantries, the gentleman handed me his business card! Now, I’m thinking, “Wow, this is a really new kind of behavior analysis test.” After I quickly scanned the card, he introduced himself as Mr. Edward W. Gomez, Federal Security Director, San Francisco International Airport.

Now comes the surprising part:

Mr. Gomez: “Do you travel a lot?”
Me: “Yes.” (Remembering to keep answers brief in high-stress situations.)

THEN HE SAID: “How are we doing here [in SFO] compared to the other cities you travel through?"

Here was a Federal Department of Homeland Security, TSA area director asking for a performance evaluation!

I must say that I was a bit surprised …OK, “stunned” is the more appropriate word. After recovering, (my jaw from the floor) I said that I thought that, in general the screening process is getting much more consistent from airport to airport. I appreciate this very much because I don’t have to remember whether this is the airport with the no-shoes policy. You simply always take them off. And that’s just fine with me. (And, by the way, I know that this was probably a stupidly inane response. But I was still recovering from my surprise. Mr. Gomez’s email address was on the card, and I intend to use it for a more thoughtful reply.)

We talked a bit more about the extra burden caused by the new “no liquids” policy and how that will continue to affect travel. I thanked him for his interest and the job that the TSA is doing and went to find my briefcase. (Remember, it had been ‘snagged.’)

When I got to the screening counter, the lady with my bag informed me with awe in her voice, “He’s the Big Guy!" I had already observed the "big" part, but that's not what she meant. She continued, "He’s responsible for this whole area.” She went on to say that there are many management layers between the line screeners and him but, “ … he comes down here all the time asking questions – just like that.”

As I left the screening area, I caught his eye once more and thanked him for his interest.

Well, let me say it a bit more publicly, Mr. Edward W. Gomez, you are to be commended!

We hear lots of negatives these days about Homeland Security and the TSA. But here is a senior dedicated public servant asking questions (many times) and being genuinely interested in improving his customers’ experience. He is setting a terrific leadership example for all those under his management.

On behalf of those traveling for business or pleasure through San Francisco, thanks very much, Edward Gomez!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


The following appeared in the New York Times today.

September 6, 2006
To Stay Alive, Iraqis Change Their Names

In part, the article goes on to say:

"The country’s Sunni-Shiite bloodletting is driving many Iraqis to bury the very essence of their identity: their names.

"To have to hide one’s name is considered deeply shameful. But with sectarian violence surging, Iraqis fear that the name on an identification card, passport or other document could become an instant death sentence if seen by the wrong people.
"That is because some first names and tribal names indicate whether a person is Sunni or Shiite."

Here in "IdentityLand" we discuss the nuances of whether users need to disclose personal information for a variety of transactions. Whether it's convenient or inconvenient, necessary or not, excessive or insufficient. These are legitimate topics that, ultimately, will mean the difference in how good systems are built and deployed for financial gains in their particular markets.

The Times article brings a whole new and sobering perspective to personal identity management and the relationship to one's "well being."

Comments on comments

Roland Sassen left a comment on my "...miles to go..." posting. Then Dave replied to my reply. I started a brief response, but got carried away ...

Yes, the technology exists (however exotic ala "Heartbeat-ID") to solve the personal identity portability problem. To a degree, that was exactly my point.

The issue remains that these technologies need to be deployed by reputable companies that I trust and that trust me - or the digital source of "me." This requires trust relationships between me, the Identity Provider(s) and the Service Provider(s). And the degree of trust is directly related to the "worth" of the transaction. Today, we're very much in a Jerry Maguire world. "Show me the money!" … and I’ll consider employing you as my [identity] “agent.”

There's a difference between needs of convenience, finance and well-being. The latter two are very important to my family and me and I'm willing to trade off (some) privacy concerns for personal gains that are financial or well-being (e.g. health, government services, etc.).

On the other hand, I will strictly control my privacy disclosure for relationships that are merely conveniences to me on the assumptions that: 1.) It’s none of their business; 2.) They don’t have a legitimate need to know; 3.) I don’t know what actual safeguards are in place to protect the data; and, 4.) I don’t know what they really intend to do with the information once it crosses the ether into the Service Provider bit buckets.

Years ago, the bank set all the rules for the one-to-one relationship. "Here are our conditions under which you may open a checking account, Roger." Today, information is shared with government agencies to try to prevent me from doing bad things with the money and/or discover if I am. Additionally, the regulators impose rules on my banking relationship that are beyond the control of the bank or me. It's the nature of the modern world. If I want the convenience of a checking account, I need to accept these rules. They were in full play when I opened a new bank account during my recent move.

These relationships are expanding and becoming one-to-many or even many-to-many involving businesses and consumers.

It is in this area where deployments are wrestling with the 'boundaries' between their needs, the needs of the consumer and the needs of their trading partners. These are not technical boundaries or limitations. They are all about contractual relationships – written or implied. It is difficult enough to establish these relationships where two parties are concerned. Add a third party (or four or five parties), and the complexity goes up exponentially.

The fact of the matter is that there are relatively few of these large-scale commercial deployments in place today where the interconnectedness could be leveraged as I wished to do. As these grow and we all become more experienced, that experience will trickle down to the “convenience” applications. The examples that I was trying to give were in the “finance” and “well being” categories – not convenience. Very few of these companies have the experience or willingness to extend their B2B or B2B2C mission-critical applications into an unknown world where users control virtually all elements of their identity information.

Market places require sellers and buyers. They don’t exist without both. Right now, I think that there are buyers who understand the need and would appreciate a solution. However, there are few sellers willing to participate in that market place under those terms – at least for the moment.

Cash still works, but it’s an inconvenient way to pay the bills.

Kudos & Quibbles

I received a nice nod from Dave Kearns in his newsletter. Thanks, Dave.

However, not to quibble (too much) there’s a nuance to the piece that I’d like to (gently) reposition.

Dave closes by chiding vendors – including my employer Oracle – saying that vendors need to provide identity applications that are useful to us in our daily lives. I thought that the timing of the statement was ironic, coming on the very day that the Liberty Alliance announced another set of qualified vendors having passed the Liberty Interoperable testing program – including my employer Oracle. The total of qualified products from a variety of vendors is now around 75.

Now to my quibble. The closing paragraph in my original posting included the following statement: “We do need enterprise Service Providers to begin to deploy these Identity Provider services more rapidly.” I mean that the financial institutions, government agencies, etc. should be doing the deploying of the 75 solutions that the vendors have created.

So, the technology exists to solve this business problem. The question remains: Who will take my money to manage this for me securely?

PS: One more quibble … I only this year became Vice President of the Liberty Alliance, having succeeded my good friend and industry colleague Timo Skytta of Nokia. He did a fantastic job for the Alliance and has been a tough act to follow.

PPS: Timo, I’m still waiting for the “other” job description…