Controlling access to data systems has become more important than ever before in a world where data breaches have become a common occurrence. The prevalence of hacking continues to grow rapidly, but research shows that 69 percent of data breaches occur as a result of unauthorized access from internal users.
Why Use IAM Software?
Identity and access management seeks to solve the problem of unauthorized access by using sophisticated processes and software to track and control who has access to any given system or group of systems. Likewise, the quality and appropriateness of software deployed by an organization is the primary driver of the effectiveness of IAM. Organizations seeking to implement IAM, therefore, need to understand how to choose the right software solution.
Making the right decision when you’re looking at enterprise identity management software for your organization is critical. Choosing the software for your project can mean success or failure. It’s important to understand where the process can go wrong and to take the time to make the right decision the first time around.
The use of IAM software helps companies to manage user access in an automated and time-efficient manner to further reduce the chances of data breaches with fewer resources. Software can, for instance, automatically assign access to a range of systems when users are assigned to a particular role. Access privileges can also be easily revoked when users are finished with a particular project or moved to a new role.
Software also enables organizations to seamlessly manage access to third-party systems using APIs, URL blocking, and even packet interception. Modern software tools use standard protocols, so businesses can more easily manage legacy systems while remaining prepared for future upgrades or software migrations. Standardization also increases the feasibility of using multiple software solutions simultaneously.
IAM software varies widely, but most of the leading software solutions have been proven to be effective over many years. These software tools can be updated frequently, and many of the cloud-based solutions are updated continuously. Therefore, software solutions are secure and constantly adapt to new changes in the business, security, and technological environments.
Most software solutions can be easily deployed. Large organizations often rely on dedicated IAM professionals, and software can enable these professionals to perform their roles more efficiently. There are also software-based IAM solutions designed for smaller organizations and even individuals. As long as the right software solution is selected, the chances of a data breach occurring can be significantly reduced in less time.
IAM Software Selection Due Diligence
Just about every company that provides identity and access management solutions will assure you that their offering will meet and exceed all of your needs. But how can you be certain their product will satisfy all of your business needs and be cost-effective?
If you make the wrong decision, your project could fall short of its requirements, go over budget, or just outright fail. If you make the right decision, you’ll satisfy all of the business requirements, finish within your budget, secure your organization, and create a framework you can use for future projects with minimal cost.
By being thorough and detailed when selecting an identity management software solution, you can be confident in knowing that you chose the right product for the right price.
Define Your Business Objectives
Integrating a new software product into your business requires to first define your business objectives. Documenting what it is that you want to improve and also determining an ROI projection is critical.
To property implement your business objectives, document the objectives you have and share them with your executives and stakeholders. Get their feedback and add that to your projections. What’s key is basing your ROI figures on estimates or solid numbers given to you by your executives rather than from your own conclusions. Some benefits include:
- Merging processes across several departments into single workflows.
- Reduce the time and cost it takes to begin a process by automating communication and other processes.
- Making sure processes aren’t lost and are finished within reasonable timeframes.
- Find information faster and prevent duplication of the information you have.
- Keep users updated automatically with regular reports and changes as they occur.
- Create an audit trail to ensure compliance.
- Determine the productivity of your staff so that bottlenecks can be eliminated.
Once you’ve determined the processes that are the most critical, you can work out how they need to flow, and then determine the value you’ll get from automating them. At this point, you’re prepared to create your ROI projections as well as the request for your proposal.
The ultimate goal here is to acquire a solution that will be able to fully integrate your business processes while keeping within your established budget. Most software providers will say their applications can be customized to fulfill any and all requirements, but with your business processes fully established and in-hand, you’ll easily be able to determine the weak spots.
Imagine you need a solution that must assign tasks automatically. Just about every application will be able to do that at a high level. But take this as an example of a more thoroughly fleshed-out process:
When a task is created, it must be automatically assigned to individuals in the necessary department round-robin. The person who is assigned the task needs to receive an email notifying them of the task and providing them a link to view and edit it. This must all work seamlessly on various devices such as phones, tablets, and computers. If the person that’s assigned the task does not edit or view the task within eight working hours, the task must be automatically assigned to that user’s manager. Once this is done, an email must be sent to the user and their manager.
Sitting down with your vendors and giving them detailed process requirements, such as this one, will go a long way towards finding one who can provide solutions for your exact needs while remaining within your budget.
Defining Business Requirements
The key to selecting the right software solution is to start by understanding your unique business requirements. There are hundreds of different software solutions available in the marketplace because needs vary widely. Some organizations have already deployed some form of IAM software solution, and they either need a supplementary solution or are in need of an upgrade. Other organizations are new to using IAM software or currently use rudimentary IAM solutions, such as password managers or IAM solutions designed for consumers.
When choosing IAM software, your organization should start by taking account of your organizational objectives. Many organizations seek IAM solutions in response to a data breach or an alarming instance of unauthorized access. In these cases, it is crucial to focus on addressing a wider scope of potential threats rather than patching the one specific issue that occurred. The fundamental cause of security problems is often a lack of proper internal controls or a lack of understanding of security challenges among individuals tasked with managing security.
Your organization should also consider the range of third-party software applications that you are currently utilizing. IAM software should be compatible with any software that runs on your internal network and with cloud-based solutions that your organization utilizes. You should also take into account any APIs that your organization takes advantage of and the API support that an IAM software solution offers.
Best Practices for Software Selection
When selecting a software package, you should start by evaluating the reputation of the vendor that you are considering. Anyone can create software, so some solutions are made by an individual or a small team with a limited reputation. Some software tools have a history of enabling data beaches or being exposed for having serious security vulnerabilities.
It is also a good best practice to thoroughly study online reviews from similar organizations that have used a particular solution. Some providers claim to offer everything under the sun, but they often underdeliver through shoddy implementation.
The availability of customer support should also be thoroughly considered since your organization will inevitably encounter technical challenges on a regular basis. Some providers include customer support with their products, but carefully consider any limitations. Most providers impose significant limits on the availability of their customer support resources, but reputable providers usually offer additional support resources for an hourly rate or have a community of certified third-party contractors who can be hired for professional assistance.
Software Selection Criteria
The software selection criteria used by your organization should be tailored to your needs. Relying solely on a general set of selection criteria will lead to serious problems when the unique needs of your organization are not met. However, there are some general selection criteria that should be used by nearly all organizations, such as:
Support for multi-factor authentication: Multi-factor authentication can improve security throughout your organization. Also, when using IAM tools to access legacy login systems, support for multi-factor authentication can streamline account recovery and reduce the need for manual intervention.
Active monitoring: One of the most powerful features of modern IAM software tools is the ability to actively detect, monitor, and respond to potential threats. Since no system is fully secure, active monitoring is the most effective way of denying unauthorized malicious users the opportunity to study and exploit a system.
Third-party management: Third parties that access a system are a serious concern for most organizations. Software can help to minimize access to these users while enabling them to obtain the access they need in less time.
Integration: Many of the best IAM software providers have actual partnerships with other leading software providers in a wide range of fields. These partnerships enable seamless and highly secure integration.
Ease of implementation: Some IAM software tools can take months or even years to fully implement. Carefully consider your organization’s timeline and integration budget before making a decision.
When Customization Is Necessary
If your organization has complex needs, you may need to customize a software package for your requirements. Nearly all of the best IAM software providers recognize the need for customization, so they provide many means of customization.
When you need to customize your software, APIs are important for simplifying most of your customization needs. APIs also make customization easy when using other software or when accessing systems remotely.
When you need a high degree of customizability, look for vendors that either offer customization services or can provide access to their source code. Many of the leading software providers have training programs that can quickly get your development team up to speed about how to implement customization for their particular software tool.
Request for Proposal
If you do produce a lengthy RFP, and you most definitely should, you’re going to find that a lot of vendors won’t respond to it unless they believe there’s a great chance of getting your business.
To counter this, you’ll want to make a preliminary RFP that’s much more succinct. Use this RFP to narrow down potential vendors. While this RFP will be shorter, it should still be highly specific to your business. Some of the questions you might include are:
- List only a few of your processes in high detail. Can this system automate these tasks?
- What’s the timetable for the full implementation of the new system?
- What level of knowledge is necessary to maintain or modify the system?
- How much will the new system cost over the next five years, including implementation, consulting, and training?
Take the responses you get from this shorter RFP and whittle down your list of vendors even further. Once you’ve done this, you can send your full-length RFP to the remaining vendors and let them know they’ve made the shortlist.
With your follow-up RFP, as with your preliminary one, your questions should be in great detail and answerable in a quantitative manner. Here’s an example:
What sort of knowledge and training is necessary and how long does it take for a user to create a custom table with modifiable columns and fields?
One system might not allow this. Another system might require a system administrator to create a table in just a few minutes. While still another might require hours of training and hundreds of dollars in consulting fees and custom programming. This is why it’s critical to ask the right questions and validate the vendor’s responses during their presentation.
Taking the example of tables a step further, you might also ask:
- Do custom tables work like default tables?
- Can custom tables and default tables be linked to each other?
- Can reports and business processes be used with custom tables?
Getting precise answers to these sorts of questions will give you a much more detailed idea of what it will take to implement the solution in terms of cost and time. These answers will also give you a sense of confidence that the vendor you select will be able to provide you with the right solution.
Ask for a Custom Demo
Most enterprise software companies have a standard demo they show to their potential clients. While these are good for getting an idea of how the software functions or which problems it solves, they’re ultimately not very useful if the right questions are not sked during the product demo. Vendors tend to focus on the functionality that works well and obfuscates the parts of their system that don’t.
While you should certainly ask for a demo that more closely reflects your business processes, keep in mind that it’s unreasonable to ask a vendor to invest an inordinate amount of time into customizing their system to meet your needs when they aren’t sure they’ll get your business.
While a solution may work for your business and meet your needs, keep in mind that adapting it for changes to your processes down the line may inflate the cost of the system beyond what it took for the initial implementation. In other words, it’s imperative that you determine how difficult it is to modify or configure the system and how much help the vendor provides when doing so.
To determine this in a demo, you need to take a two-step approach. The first step is to go through your processes and select one that is absolutely critical to your business. If this process is unique to your business, even better. Pass this process to the vendor and ask them to implement it within a given amount of time. If they can automate your most critical and complex process and demonstrate it to you, they’ll likely have few issues in automating the rest of your processes. If they fail in this step, you can save everyone’s time, skip step two, and move on to another vendor.
Step two will involve having the vendor modify their system in real time while you watch. Do let them know in advance so they can have the necessary resources on hand to make these changes, but don’t give them the exact details of the change beforehand. The purpose of this step is to determine how difficult it is and how much time it takes to customize their system. This will help you understand if it’s something your staff will be able to complete in-house, or if you’ll need to pay the vendor to make any changes.
Can a Single Software Solution Resolve All IAM Risks?
Many organizations ultimately choose to rely on a single software solution in an attempt to reduce security risks. A single software solution can be appropriate and effective in many cases when all needs are met by that solution. Using a single solution is usually favorable for smaller organizations that have fewer resources to master several tools simultaneously and to customize their deployment. However, using multiple solutions can help to resolve additional IAM risks for some organizations. Evaluate your own needs to decide whether relying on a single provider is appropriate in your unique situation.
An enterprise IAM software solution can streamline processes, reduce costs, reduce errors, strengthen security, and improve customer relationships, just to name a few. Yet failure in proper software selection, implementation, and maintenance can prove to be catastrophic. Take your time when looking for an IAM software solution for your business.
Beginning with a detailed assessment of your business processes, objectives and requirements, and taking a thorough and disciplined approach with software vendors, you’ll be able to make a decision on a solution that will stay within budget, meet all of your requirements, and continue to serve your organization for years to come.