Today eBay Inc. announced an identity and attribute provider product called PayPal Access. Some described as a "Facebook Connect for Commerce", others described it as an easy registration tool for mobile site. Today at the X,Commerce Innovate Conference someone suggested to me that this is the first step for eBay Inc. to offer full cloud based user management for e-commerce sites and merchants. You can also see the official press release from eBay Inc. here.
Most of the press and coverage today focused on "Consumer Identity" - or more accurately Consumer Commercial Identity - and the benefit of PayPal Access for consumers and online merchants visited by those consumer. Consumer identity is indeed one facet of "Commercial identity" - but there is another side to commercial identity, a less understood - and arguably less sexy - side and that is Merchant Identity. What do I mean by this? Let's look at a scenario:
Merchants themselves are consumers of so many online and offline services (think of it as B2B services) - a company that sells on eBay - or any other online channel - has an eBay account, an account with a shipping company (FedEx), a Facebook account, perhaps another account with a email marketing service, bank account etc. Clearly merchants suffer from the same "account and password hell" that consumers do - but this hell is a lot deeper and hotter for merchants, consider these facts
- Most merchants have employees/contractors who create these accounts on behalf of the merchant,
- A lot of these employees (for smaller merchants) are part time or temps
- Employee turn over is high
Here in addition to the usual forgetting one's password - which for merchant leads to loss of productivity and money - sometimes the person who created the account simply leaves - if you are lucky and s/he good terms, you end up having to chase the employee and restore your access, if not, you are exposed to unauthorized access by the employee or down right "account take over".
You might say, what is the difference between this and consumer identity, these employee are consumers to and technically there is no difference. But look closer. Merchant use cases are fundamentally different. In consumer identity use cases, a consumer is a principle and gives consent on his/her own behalf to a agent (another site or application), the IDP itself recognizes the consumer is the principle and allows her (and ONLY her) to change or revoke this access. In Merchant cases, what appear to be the consumer is really not a principle binded to the merchant identity but an employee. In this case IDP must recognize this "hierarchical relationship" and allow and "admin" employee of merchant to monitor and manage the life cycle of tokens (and identities) of employees.
In the use case above, merchant X would not reveal its primary eBay user name and password to any employee, the would provision an account for each employee. Employee then logs into eBay using her own account - and via PayPalAccess - All the while PayPal Access monitors and manage all the tokens issued to all employees of merchant X. Should an employee leave or changes function, the token can be revoked by merchant X admin regardless of employee's decision.
If this sounds familiar to LDAP or ActiveDirectory, b/c it really serves the same function: Enterprise Identity, in this case enterprise is really a merchant. This is not unexpected in the world where enterprise identity, consumer identity (a.k.a social identity) are converging - and there is a need for a cloud based enterprise user management.
Please note that this is NOT an annoucement (or leak) for PayPal Access Cloud-Base user directory. IT IS NOT, REALLY. I just wanted to point out the there is two sides to commercial identity, a sexy side (consumer) and a side that can make you money (merchants).
In the next post, I will write a bit about Consumer Commercial Identity and how it may be different that social identity.