November 20, 2009

by Ioana Justus

If you were asked to throw a few million dollars out the window, would you do it?for mysite

If yes, let me know where and when – I’ll happily wait outside with my catcher’s mitt. More likely, the quick answer to this question is a resounding “NO”. Few circumstances would lead someone to literally throw millions of dollars out the window, down the drain, etc. Not a million dollars, not in a million years.

What about companies that, effectively, waste millions of dollars trying to implement identity management?

The sad reality is that many organizations trying to implement identity management do just that – waste big money – on the wrong technology, or even on the right technology that sits idle because it can’t be used as designed. Worse, some organizations look to even more technology to “fix the shortcomings” of their selected product. The end result is the identity management version of Frankenstein’s monster.

If you peruse the latest identity management articles from your favorite research company, you’ll find the same discussions over and over:  How do we justify the cost?  Why do so many companies stop at “single sign-on”?  Why do implementations take so long?  Why do implementations get halted mid-effort?  What’s the true benefit of identity management?  What’s the ROI?  You’ll also find the same tired answers – whether in printed form, or at one of the many IAM conferences across the country: IAM saves costs at the help desk. IAM can help with audit. IAM can reduce headcount in your access services department. Companies bite off more than they can chew, ROI takes too long, so they give up.

But what does it all mean?

Are we really doomed to these behemoth infrastructures that sit largely un-used, while we pay off consulting and software bills that often run into the millions (if not tens of millions)?

No, we’re not.

IAM is not a lost cause. It can lead to lower costs, easier audit processes, and a demonstrated postive return on investment (ROI). But it takes time – and discipline. As with many aspects of security, identity management is not about technology – it’s about people and process. The technologies are out there, and getting ever-more mature. But, IAM is NOT a Mac or an iPhone – you don’t just turn it on and it magically works. There is a lot of configuration and even custom development that needs to be done after you install your product suite of choice. Even before that, there is a TON of data cleanup, data modeling, and process design that needs to take place, and that is at the heart of this series:

Identity Management in 13 Easy Steps

Of course, the series title is a bit tongue-in-cheek. There’s nothing particularly easy about identity management. Then again, it’s not rocket science, either. It just takes a little thought and a lot of tedious effort – and did I mention discipline? The focus of this series is all on process and data. In fact, product selection is saved until the very last article. That’s right – if you can keep your instant-gratification urges at bay, I recommend that you don’t even bother buying anything until you’re ready to use it. Why spend all that money on a fancy technology if it’s going to sit there, idle, while you beat your head against the wall trying to clean up the data and processes that it needs to function?

An identity management implementation will only be as good as the data and processes feeding it, and that’s the problem many companies face today – most organizations buy a product and figure out after the fact that they have a ton of work to do to make it function. As a result, there is such a lag between the time of purchase and the time of ROI, most management teams lose patience and halt the effort. If you pave the way to implementation by first cleaning house, when you implement the technology its benefit will be seen quickly, which will encourage management to keep it going and try more.

There’s another critical aspect to this approach: gaining the needed experience to properly document requirements. Identity management is extremely complex. No one can just walk in and “get it” in one sitting. Even if the high-level concepts seem obvious, you have to live with the dirty details for a while to really understand the needs of your particular situation. The better that understanding, the better the requirements. The better the requirements, the better the product selection. Choose the right product, and you avoid tossing millions out the window.

Are you ready for this journey?  If so, let’s get started. Here is the series I have planned – one article per month. This may not seem like much, but unless your implementation will have a very small user base, it will take longer than a month to execute most of these steps anyway. Of course, the series may change along the way – I’m already concerned about the volume of information I’m trying to fit into some of the articles. I may find as we go that a few of these topics will require multi-part articles. We’ll deal with that when it arises.

For now, here’s the intended schedule:

December 2009: Identity Management 101 – an overview of the different components of an IAM suite, to make sure we’re all on the same page and speaking the same language.

January 2010: Identifying Systems Integrations – not all systems will integrate (directly or indirectly) with IAM. Determine which ones will feed the priority list for the data cleanups and process work.

February 2010: Data Cleanup Part 1 – before your identity management system can work, it needs to be populated with all userIDs, and those IDs have to be clean. The first cleanup is focused on the primary IDs such as AD/LDAP and other key systems.

March 2010: Data Cleanup Part 2 – a key benefit of identity management is the ability to link userIDs in multiple formats from a variety of systems to the user’s primary record. The second cleanup focuses on identifying which IDs belong to which users in preparation for proper linking.

April 2010: Preparing for Password Self-Service – password self-service is a key cost savings of IAM, but it’s harder than you might think. This article will help you prepare your policies and your users for the technology to come.

May 2010: HR as a Source of Record – the HR system is a primary source of record for employees. It can also be one of the primary sources of errors and limitations for identity management. This article will explain the issues that most companies experience when interfacing with HR technologies (and departments).

June 2010: Role- and Rule-Basing – in order for auto-provisioning and -deprovisioning to work, the roles and rules need to be defined. This article will teach you how to avoid turning this effort into a rat’s nest.

July 2010: Role Hierarchies – workflows cannot be enabled without proper approval processes. But approvers aren’t always line managers. This article describes the various role hierarchies that should be established, and the synergies that can be achieved between identity management and other sources of record (e.g., financial systems).

August 2010: Workflows – workflows are the key to automating many processes. This article discusses the considerations in setting up workflows to ensure that they function effectively.

September 2010: Termination and Transfer Gotchas – terminations and transfers are key control activities that are of great interest to auditors. Getting this right in identity management will save everyone a lot of work. Getting it wrong can be disastrous. Learn the pitfalls in this article.

October 2010: Password Self-Service – whereas the April article deals with the foundational aspects of password self-service, this article deals more with the implementation aspects: how to select challenge questions that make sense, exposing PSS outside of the corporate network, etc.

November 2010: Effective Business Cases – now that your house is in order and you have almost a year’s experience with your organization’s circumstances, it’s time to build a business case to buy a product. This article explores a number of value-added functions of identity management that will intrigue your management and encourage them to allocate budget.

December 2010: Requirements and Product Selection – you’ve cleaned your data, defined your processes, and secured a budget. It’s finally time to pick a product. This article will help you document and prioritize detailed requirements based on a year’s experience in the trenches, so that you can make the best product decision possible.

About the Author Ioana Bazavan Justus

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