AGU Transforms Its Digital Footprint In Pursuit of Building a Better World for Humanity


The pandemic shook organizations in many ways over the past year, and the American Geophysical Union (AGU) was one of them. Facing the reality of an increasingly remote world, AGU shifted their operations online and leveraged identity to make the experience seamless for their members. 

For more than a century, AGU has supported 200,000 earth and space enthusiasts and experts worldwide. In a normal year, Jay Brodsky, chief digital officer for AGU, says the organization “has people from all over the world accessing our website and partner websites for numerous activities such as nominating someone for an award, modifying user profiles, submitting research, registering for an event and more.” Also, AGU hosts an annual conference where members share research and ideas aimed at solving society’s biggest challenges. With COVID-19, that approach had to be abandoned for a virtual experience. Could it securely yet easily get people registered? Could it safely allow attendees access to the right information, particularly across different platforms? Could it scale to meet a large number of users viewing and sharing a ton of data at the same time? Could it establish an identity platform that could securely improve user experiences beyond the event? 

“A lot of our efforts in the past years have become more digital. It was always in our plans to include more virtual interfaces and interactions because our users are located around the globe and access our website from various means such as via a satellite phone in the field or a secure network in a lab,” Brodsky said. “And with our event, we always wanted to be able to share their work from wherever they are located without dealing with hotels, visas, or the global impact of getting on a plane. The pandemic just accelerated those plans.”

Successful Online Event

After months of watching to see if the pandemic would ease and the conference would be able to occur physically, AGU realized in September that it had to move its event online. “We really didn’t have a lot of time to get up and running,” Brodsky said. “We needed to host 25,000 people online, identify them, allow correct access and do it in a highly scalable way.” 

Brodsky said an additional challenge was that the event used a dozen best-of-breed partner websites. AGU tasked ForgeRock to integrate all of them with one underlying identity platform so users could move seamlessly amongst them -- all in just a couple of months. “We were looking for a solution that could deliver this identity experience and stitch together dozens of websites. Only ForgeRock was ready to take on the work in a very short time period. It was not a difficult choice to go with ForgeRock,” he said. 

With ForgeRock up and running, Brodsky said, “Our user conference was highly successful and ForgeRock was the right choice to make. With ForgeRock Identity Cloud, we were able to get up and running within weeks and scaled to ensure the virtual event was a success. AGU allowed more than 25,000 people to seamlessly and securely access 8,000 pre-recorded videos, 800 Zoom meetings and more.” 

He added, “The implementation was really revolutionary in terms of user experience, with a consistent log in that is unique not only to our platform, but also for our third-party vendors: It has the same functionality whether users are submitting an honor or purchasing a registration to a meeting. ForgeRock is allowing us to leverage our best-in-breed partners without our users seeing the complexity behind the scenes. We now have a consistent and safe experience for our users.”

The solution was complex because each third-party vendor delivered content differently. One vendor used SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language), while one used OIDC (OpenID Connect) and another used a single custom token model. “ForgeRock helped us do a lot of things we had never done before like using authentication trees to customize the user journeys,” Brodsky said. “It was very complex, but they brought it all together and took care of the identity aspect that we didn’t know about.” 

He added, “It’s really easy to set up new authentication journeys, integrate data about users from our CRM system on a just-in-time basis and do that in a low code manner.”

Modernizing Its Infrastructure

After a successful virtual event, AGU began modernizing its website to deliver a similar secure and exceptional user experience. Like the virtual event platform, the website also includes best-in-breed solutions so the challenge was similar. For example, users can visit AGU to learn about an award, but the rest of the process (nomination, submission, judging, etc.) goes through AGU to a partner website. “We need to know that the processes are secure and the right people are submitting and judging,” Brodsky said. “When we’re delivering these solutions, our users aren’t fully aware or understanding how complex it is, they just need to know we have the highest levels of security with ease of use.”

Today, AGU is implementing ForgeRock into its website and its 14 partner websites. Jay gave an update by saying, “ForgeRock Identity Cloud enables AGU to simply and quickly deliver a good user experience, one that is secure and easy to use. It’s really easy to set up new interfaces and user flows with authentication trees, it’s easy to get users logged in without making them go through a lot of hoops.”

What’s Next 

Jay said AGU recognizes a great deal of potential that ForgeRock Identity Cloud has in order for the organization to continue to deliver optimal user experiences. For example, AGU is considering allowing users to log in with their individual’s institution’s log ins rather than one specific to AGU. He said, “For us, security is critical -- it’s our responsibility to our 200,000 users to deliver security best practices with ease of use. We’re housing important data for our members, so doing things like moving to two-factor authentication and implementing an identity platform with a better federated solution will continue to meet those goals. In the future, we hope users can identify themselves with their institution and we can leverage that identity and tie those pieces together to make it a better user experience for the whole community.”

Learn more about ForgeRock Identity Cloud.