Identity lifecycle management (ILM) involves the management of user identities from the moment a user enters an organization to their departure. A robust ILM setup uses automation to simplify onboarding, user privileges, and offboarding. The result is enhanced security, improved efficiency, and reduced burdens on time-poor IT teams.

Identity lifecycle management combines two important concepts: user identities and lifecycle management.

  • User or digital identities represent a single user, device, app, or organization. Each identity brings together information about the user. This information is used to authenticate and authorize the user as they navigate network resources.
  • Lifecycle management refers to a process. The user lifecycle runs from onboarding to offboarding. ILM must apply controls and automated processes at different lifecycle stages. This includes creating profiles, assigning roles, updating credentials, and deleting users from the system.

This article will explain how identity lifecycle management works and explore its benefits within modern organizations. We will also run through the access management lifecycle, providing a clear outline of how the process works.

Key takeaways

  • ILM encompasses the comprehensive management of user identities from the moment they enter an organization until they depart, combining user identities with lifecycle management processes.
  • Implementing ILM brings significant benefits, including automation, reduced costs, heightened security, and increased flexibility in user identity management.
  • Deploying ILM is not without its challenges, such as ensuring safe and efficient onboarding, establishing a comprehensive source of identity information, managing third-party users and freelancers, handling role changes, automating processes, and ensuring secure offboarding.
  • The Identity and Access Management (IAM) lifecycle comprises stages like user provisioning, privileges management, adaptation to changing roles, user offboarding, and auditing.
  • IAM systems play a crucial role in enhancing security, increasing productivity, facilitating policy delivery, and offering flexibility in identity management. They automate tasks and provide a reliable solution for managing identities throughout their lifecycle, especially in complex hybrid cloud environments.

Identity lifecycle management definition

Identity lifecycle management (ILM) refers to the processes and technologies used to manage the creation, maintenance, and eventual retirement of digital identities within an organization. This encompasses the entire span of an identity from its initial setup, through its active use, to its final deactivation or deletion.

Identity lifecycle management benefits

Identity lifecycle management brings various benefits when applied correctly. Advantages of introducing ILM include:


ILM includes automated onboarding. Automation speeds up the creation of user profiles. New hires can access the resources they need instantly. The access management system also assigns suitable privileges to each role. Workers need access to critical assets but nothing more.

IT teams can automate other identity lifecycle processes as well. ILM automates password changes and policy delivery. It also streamlines offboarding, automatically revoking access for unused accounts when individuals leave.

Reduced costs

Manually managing the identity lifecycle is time-consuming and costly. IT teams cannot afford to waste time on individual password requests. Setting up and administering privileges absorbs time that could be spent on more productive tasks. ILM makes every lifecycle task more efficient, driving down IT costs.

Security and risk management

Poorly managed user identities pose a security risk. ILM tackles this problem at the beginning, during, and conclusion of the identity lifecycle.

Ex-employees or third parties could access old accounts to compromise network resources. Without automated policies, users can acquire too many privileges – a process known as permissions creep. This expands the threat surface and makes life easier for cyber attackers.

Lifecycle management systems also deliver data about access requests and policy delivery. Companies can prove that they are compliant with industry regulations.


Leading lifecycle management solutions integrate seamlessly with HR tools like WorkDay or BambooHR. It’s easy to add or remove employees or groups as needed.

ILM systems based on Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS) integrate with cloud directories. This makes it easier to manage ever-changing cloud identities. They also work with popular SaaS apps like Zoom, Dropbox, and Microsoft 365. IT teams can adjust identity management to suit dynamic cloud workflows.

Identity lifecycle challenges

Implementing identity lifecycle management is not always a simple task. Organizations must plan deployments carefully. Here are some common challenges that arise during ILM roll-outs:

Onboarding users safely and efficiently

Most fundamentally, IT teams must focus on the start of the identity lifecycle. ILM systems must onboard users safely. They must assign suitable permissions. And they need to ensure secure access by associating every new user with appropriate authentication factors.

They also need to provide timely access to critical workloads. Users should be able to start working as soon as they enter the organization.

Establishing a secure and comprehensive source of identity information

For ILM systems to work, managers need an accurate and comprehensive source of identity information. This requires a record of every user. It includes standard employees, alongside third parties, customers, freelancers, and even service accounts used by applications.

Managers need to know which user lifecycles to manage. Without this information, it’s impossible to establish basic ILM tools like single sign on and multi-factor authentication. So it’s often the first challenge faced during implementations.

Practical challenges include:

  • Bringing together different user directories, such as cloud and on-premises databases.
  • Synchronizing sources of identity information.
  • Managing unique identities and avoiding duplication.

Handling third-party users and freelancers

Users outside the core of an organization pose a major identity lifecycle management challenge. Every user with access privileges must fall under the lifecycle management system. This includes partners enlisted to maintain apps and devices, as well as freelancers who are active for short periods.

Dealing with role changes within the organization

Robust ILM systems include dynamic privileged access management. Profiles must change with user roles. If an employee rises in seniority, they may require additional privileges. Or they may move between departments. This requires a different role-based access classification.

If managers get this wrong, privilege creep can result. Users with too many privileges pose a major security risk, exposing apps and data to external attackers.

Automating relevant processes and reducing the IT workload

Poorly managed identity lifecycle management systems impose unworkable burdens on IT teams. Technicians find themselves constantly fielding password requests or adjusting roles manually. Applying automation to as many ILM processes as possible is a core organizational goal.

Secure offboarding

The end of the user lifecycle is a critical component of identity lifecycle management. ILM systems must automate the detection of unused accounts and ensure timely account deletion when employees leave. Residual access rights increase security risks, both from opportunistic attackers and alienated former employees.

Stages of the IAM lifecycle

Stages of the IAM lifecycle

When designing ILM systems, it is a good idea to plan solutions for each stage of the identity lifecycle. We can break the lifecycle down into the following stages:

1. User provisioning

As soon as they start, employees' unique digital identities should be integrated into the central user directory. Each account links to an SSO application, allowing access to every important workload.

At this stage, managers should also assign authentication information. The user should receive or supply authentication factors according to the organization’s MFA solution.

2. Privileges management

Each digital identity has a set of user privileges. Privileged accounts should generally be role-based. They enable access to workloads required by the user. But in line with Zero Trust Network Access, authorization processes should exclude access to unnecessary apps and data.

3. Adaptation to changing user roles

As the user lifecycle progresses, the individual may change roles within the organization. Each role change requires a reassessment of the user’s privileges. ILM systems should automatically discontinue obsolete access rights while providing access privileges to additional resources.

Identity lifecycle management should also include self-service tools for account maintenance. Manual processes allow users to change passwords or other identity verification settings. They may also include the ability to request access to applications temporarily.

User privileges must also be certified at regular intervals during the lifecycle process. Ensure users are not over-privileged. Access rights to critical cloud applications should always be tightly restricted.

4. User offboarding

Identity lifecycle management systems should feature automated offboarding. The system must detect and delete obsolete accounts. It must also remove inactive digital identities from user directories.

5. Auditing

IT teams should schedule compliance audits to assess lifecycle management systems. Audits should check user provisioning, account maintenance, privileged access, and offboarding processes. Include the detection of privileges creep and delete orphaned accounts immediately.

How an IAM system helps

Identity and access management systems have benefits for organizations of any size:

  • Better security by eliminating sources of human error and automating core tasks.
  • Greater productivity for security teams and lower costs.
  • Simplified security policy delivery to all relevant users.
  • Flexible identity management, including automation and self-service features.

An IAM solution is the only reliable way to manage digital identities throughout the entire identity lifecycle. Lifecycle management automates tasks that would otherwise remain manual. Automation makes an IAM solution the best way to safely manage identities at scale, across hybrid cloud environments.