Today I ran into an interesting post on Matt Flynn’s Identity Management Blog entitled Extending the ROI on Provisioning in which he discusses the fact that, in addition to the “traditional” value propositions centered around increased efficiency and cost reduction, there are also significant risk management and oversight capabilities that can be had.
All provisioning solutions provide some facilities for:
- Reduction of paper-based processes in favor of electronic requests and work flows
- Reduction of manual updates in favor of automated entitlement updates
All provisioning solution providers strive to have a compelling story for these items. Additionally, these were the focus of the first generation of solutions which emerged in the ’90s.
For the Identity Management programs with which I have been involved, automation and risk management have been equally important. This is somewhat reflected in the definition I use for provisioning:
Provisioning is the processes and systems which:
- Manage the entire Lifecycle of an Entitlement from request, through approval processes, onto issuance, and eventual revocation
- Provide transparent views of the status and history of each step in the Entitlement Lifecycle through the creation of durable and detailed records, which include all the information required to provide non-repudiation and event reconstruction for each step in an Entitlement Lifecycle
Note: Fulfilling these objectives always involves a mix of manual and automated activities, technical and procedural controls.
Based on my experiences, having prepared several product selection scorecards in this space, there are two major approaches (philosophies), that provisioning products take in this space:
The provisioning system “sees itself as”…
- Coordinating identity and entitlement activities among systems with the objective of providing automation
- – - OR – - -
- Maintaining a single centralized record of reference for identity and entitlement, as well as providing tools to automate approval, issuance, revocation, and reconciliation
The “Centralized Record of Reference” concept is the watershed between these two. The systems that are designed purely for automation tend to focus on “Coordination” of external events. These systems often do not contain an internal store of entitlements. The systems that maintain a “Centralized Record of Reference” approach have the ability, through reconciliation, to validate that the entitlements in the “wild” (e.g., in AD, LDAP, within local applications, etc.) match the “official” state (which they maintain). This enables these systems to detect changes and take action (e.g., drop the privilege, report the discrepancy, trigger a follow-up work flow, etc.)
Which system is right for you?
This really depends on what percentage of your systems require tight oversight. If you are in an industry with low-IT regulation, and the data of your core business is low risk, then it may make more sense to invest in routine manual audits of a few systems, rather than monitoring your entire IT world. On the other hand, if you are in an industry that is highly regulated, with high-risk data, then the automated oversight and reconciliation capabilities are likely a good fit for you.
FYI, last week I co-taught a one-day class on Identity and Access Management Architecture at RSA 2008. For the last 3rd of the class, Dan Houser and I had a list of advanced topics for the class to vote on. I prepared a module on Provisioning, but alas it was number 4 out of 7 options, and we only had time to cover 3… As a result, a Provisioning slidecast is “coming soon” to the Art of Information Security podcast.