Identity and access management is a set of technologies that manage user identities and allow companies to control access to critical resources. The rise of remote working and SaaS tools make cloud-native IAM a popular option to secure networks.

IAM solutions have various components. Single sign on (SSO) brings together many apps under one log-in system. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) strengthens access controls. And automation tools make it easier to manage profiles and track user activity.

IAM is proving its worth as an enterprise security and management tool, and it has a wide range of potential applications. This glossary article will explain the main identity and access management basics. We will explore some core challenges faced by users, and quickly discuss whether IAM is the right solution to your access management issues.

Identity and access management benefits

Benefits of IAM

There are plenty of IAM benefits that users need to know about. Benefits include improved security for users and admin staff. But the advantages of IAM go beyond security, extending to information sharing and a more streamlined user experience.

1. Better security for enterprises

The most important identity and access management benefits concern security. IAM improves security on an organizational level, creating strong defenses that are relevant to today's cloud environments.

Access management allows administrators to assign access privileges to specific roles or individuals. This limits users to resources they need. Everything else remains out of reach and protected. If users with inappropriate access privileges try to access denied resources, the access management system blocks them and reports any suspicious activity.

IAM systems also strengthen the network perimeter. The use of SSO brings all critical resources under a single portal, including cloud and on-premises apps. This access point is protected by standard passwords and multi-factor authentication, creating a double layer of defense.

IAM provides two additional layers of network protection. First when users try to log on, but also when they move throughout a network.

IAM systems also make it possible to enforce security policies consistently across network architecture. Up to date user communities cover all devices, apps, and platforms. Identity and access management makes privilege creep far less likely.

Centralized tools make it easier to detect security policy breaches when they occur. Some IAM packages use machine learning to analyze user activity and improve security. Security teams can carry out proactive risk mitigation and improve their overall security posture.

When violations occur, IAM provides admins with the power to revoke privileges as required. Automated user management also reduces the risk of human error when off-boarding accounts or assigning permissions.

Overall, access management systems deliver key security services. They authenticate and authorize users, they detect violations, and they also improve visibility – empowering security teams to achieve more.

2. Reduced operating costs through better resource organization

In hybrid cloud and on-premises environments, the cost of managing network access can rise exponentially. IAM solves this problem by bundling together diverse assets and creating a single point of access.

Federated identity management connects internal user profiles with partner organizations. Managers can share application access across stakeholders without losing control over security. And using a single IAM app reduces the cost of managing complex user communities.

Streamlined password requests also save money. Every time a user requests a fresh password, security teams must verify their identity and find locations where passwords are stored. When you factor in lost productivity as users wait for access, the total cost per lost password is around $70. Automating the process vastly reduces this overhead, and speeds up admin procedures as well.

Another cost benefit of IAM is that companies can accelerate their switch to cloud platforms. Cloud native IAM removes the need for expensive on-premises systems, and fits the needs of today's companies more closely.

Finally, a strong IAM setup will reduce the cost of data breaches. When only authorized users can access private data, it is much easier to exclude malicious actors.

3. Robust password management in complex settings

User credentials are a common network vulnerability. This risk grows as employees have to handle passwords for multiple SaaS services and on-premises portals.

IAM provides a solution. Password management features in IAM packages make it possible to enforce strong passwords and require regular password updates. SSO simplifies the log-in procedure. Employees only need to enter one set of credentials. There is no need to use written reminders or rely on easy-to-remember weak passwords.

When workers forget their credentials, IAM makes it much easier to request password resets. Security admins can automate password requests. This saves time and also encourages users to use stronger passwords.

4. Compliance advantages

Regulations increasingly focus on implementing watertight data security policies. IAM is recognized by multiple regulations as a necessary part of securing sensitive data and achieving regulatory compliance.

A well-designed IAM setup will help companies meet obligations under the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It is also a best practice in complying with Sarbanes Oxley (SOX), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and PCI-DSS in the credit processing sector.

This makes perfect sense. Access control prevents access to networks by unauthenticated users. Privileges management enables managers to restrict data access and enforce the principle of least privilege. This is a core part of all data compliance strategies.

5. Better user experience for all users

Identity and access management benefits also include user experience improvements.

Single sign on simplifies user access, allowing employees to use one set of credentials for all assets. Automated password requests save time, while automated privileges management makes it unnecessary to request access from IT teams.

Information sharing is also easier with IAM solutions. Systems like federated identity management make sharing files and data between partners smoother and safer. Users authorized by identity access management can trust that they are genuine, and collaborate freely.

IAM systems suit remote user access as well. Users can log in anywhere with any device. Provided they can prove their digital identity, users can access the resources they need.

6. Time savings across the organization

Organizations are always seeking to work smarter and save time. IAM systems play a role here as well.

Automated identity management takes the human element out of managing user communities. Security admins won't need to spend hours managing passwords, on-boarding new hires, or filtering out orphaned accounts.

IAM tools make it easier to audit user privileges and apply changes across cloud environments. Companies can add new services or partners without lengthy administrative processes. And as new services are added to networks, identity management ensures that users won't become burdened by huge lists of passwords.

IAM challenges

There are many IAM benefits, but it's unrealistic to neglect the challenges involved. Implementing IAM is rarely hassle-free. Key challenges could include:

1. Setting up user profiles

Before IAM is operational, security teams must on-board existing users with the right role description, user credentials, and access privileges. In large companies this can be a daunting task, reaching across multiple departments, locations, and even continents.

Matching users and privileges is a complex process. Individuals require access to different cloud resources. This may involve different permissions within a specific application such as content management systems or accounting tools.

Role based access control tools can help here. The right tools guide security admins as they set up profiles. But constant testing and vigilance is needed to make sure privileges continue to work properly.

2. Interoperability and app sprawl

IAM services also have to work with many different network assets. They may need to manage access to on-premises legacy applications, SaaS tools, PaaS suites and third-party resources. Device identities range from mobile and work from home devices to IoT sensors. Getting everything to work together is challenging.

IAM services are designed to provide secure access to existing cloud platforms. But there may still be compatibility issues with individual apps. Your security team needs to ensure that access management systems fit their needs before commissioning any products.

SSO can resolve these problems. With the right single sign on system in place, companies can gather together all assets. This makes managing communities of cloud apps much simpler.

3. Continuity – maintaining focus

IAM is not a one-time purchase or technical fix. It is a constantly evolving process that adapts to changing business needs. Security teams need to plan for audits and revisions as events unfold. They cannot rely on automated profile management and SSO to run without regular checks.

Companies need to know that new hires are receiving appropriate privileges. They need to be sure that privileges are accurate and protect sensitive data. And they need assurance that users are deprovisioned when they leave the organization.

Privileges creep is also an ever-present danger. As time goes by, the number of users with admin privileges often grows. Security admins must act to prevent over-privileged users and enforce access policies consistently.

Should your business use IAM?

Most likely, yes. Identity and access management is available for large and small enterprises. It is a sound investment for all companies that rely on cloud infrastructure and remote work.

Implementing IAM is complex and requires careful planning. But as we've seen, access management has many benefits that make the process worthwhile.

IAM services protect critical data and applications from external and internal threats. SSO portals simplify the workload of admins and users. And the overall IAM package helps companies comply with demanding information security regulations. These are crucial functions that would benefit almost any organization.