Identity and access management is a critical tool in the battle to protect confidential data. IAM tools ensure that only authenticated users can access sensitive resources, and that data usage is strictly limited. With a solid IAM strategy in place, data remains secure. But employees can access the resources they need, whenever they need to.

The value of IAM is clear. But how should you create an effective IAM implementation plan? This article will provide valuable guidance about planning your strategy and what areas IAM strategies must include.

What to consider before implementing IAM strategy?

Much of the hard work when creating an identity and access management strategy takes place before implementation begins. Planning is crucial if you want to balance ease of use and secure user access. Here are some things to consider at the initial project stage:

1. Map your network architecture

The first step in implementing identity and access management is understanding the layout of existing network resources. Map on-premises router and server architecture, as well as critical apps used locally. Create a map of remote work connections, and any cloud-based services users access.

Discover and document existing IAM processes and assess how users currently access and share data. Use this information as the starting point for a roadmap from obsolete IAM to an effective, relevant deployment.

2. Understand the user community and privileges situation

Planners must also know who is using the resources protected by identity and access management tools. Build a directory of all active users, and link individuals to their access levels and business needs. It's good practice for IAM projects to list privileged users separately. These are users with wide-ranging network access. They are a primary target for external attackers.

3. Risk assess data and applications

Carry out a full risk assessment of each application. Understand where confidential information resides on the network environment, and who has access to this data. Apply sensible risk management to focus your IAM strategy on these high-value assets. The aim is to balance ease of use with security, so weaker IAM controls may apply around lower-value apps.

4. Clean up your data governance practices

Before implementing an access management strategy, it helps to clean up existing data storage practices. Standardize data formats to suit IAM technologies, and organize data to make it visible to security managers. Assess security policies to ensure they include robust data security rules, including penalties for data misuse.

5. Choose the right IAM tools

Investigate IAM solutions and consider different technologies. Most modern companies benefit from cloud-based IAM solutions, but legacy-focused IAM is also available. Look for products that deliver core IAM functions including:

  • Authentication
  • Authorization
  • Single sign on
  • Auditing systems
  • Identity federation

Search for a provider that allows identity migration from existing access management tools. This will enable seamless transitions from legacy solutions to multi-cloud hybrid environments.

How to create an IAM strategy?

IAM strategy steps

The planning stage builds organizational knowledge. First step is putting that knowledge together and creating a workable IAM strategy. Strategies vary depending on business environments. But they will generally include core IAM aspects:

User management

IAM systems must facilitate the creation of user profiles (identities). Identities must provide access to relevant resources and connect with resources via federation systems. Strategies for managing identities must also include provisioning and de-provisioning processes as part of identity lifecycle management.


Access control systems must verify the identity of all users at the point of entry. Multifactor authentication is a best practice, ideally featuring hardware tokens. Password policies must enforce strong, regularly changed passwords.


Authorization connects a user's access level to their role within the organization. Users should have access to the business data they need, but everything else should be off-limits. Additionally, apply privileged access management (PAM). This governs admin accounts that have the broadest access to sensitive data.

Authorization can be time limited. PAM assigns limited access to resources for the duration of a user session. But you can also set broader privileges based on roles. Automating privileges management saves time and reduces the risk of human error when assigning access levels.

Single sign on

SSO is a powerful addition to IAM systems. It combines cloud and on-premises resources under a single access portal. Users enter a single set of credentials. The SSO system accesses privileges databases to authorize each user across the entire network environment.

User directories

IAM requires an up-to-date, well-organized directory of network users. This acts as a reference point, connecting to PAM and authentication tools.

Many networks rely on Microsoft Active Directory, but hybrid cloud setups sometimes feature multiple directory formats. The IAM strategy should bring directories together to streamline access management. This may require carefully staged migration of existing identities to cloud-based directories.

Identity federation

Federated identities enable users to access third-party SaaS apps and cloud platforms. Federation is usually offered by cloud service providers. But network managers must integrate identity federation into their IAM strategy.

IAM auditing

Governance and risk management best practices recommend regular auditing of identity and access management systems. The strategy should enable logging of access requests and user activity, with documented information about security alerts.

Strategists should link audit data to compliance plans for relevant data regulations. A robust IAM strategy should include specific sections on complying with regulations like GDPR or HIPAA. Every part of the IAM solution must meet compliance goals.

What mistakes to avoid

The IAM aspects discussed above can be combined in multiple ways. But implementation teams can run into problems when translating identity and access management plans into functional reality. Here are some mistakes that commonly make applying IAM more complex than it needs to be:

  • Not understanding business goals. IAM must match the needs of each business. But it can add needless complexity and make employees' lives much harder. Access management should support workers in their daily routines. Otherwise, employees may backslide to unsafe practices and the project will fail.
  • Poor training. Identity and access management requires participation from every user. Project teams must build training into their roadmap. Ensure everyone is aware of access policies and how to use IAM technology. And plan to upskill security teams to reflect the needs of modernized IAM architecture.
  • Low stakeholder buy-in. Implementing IAM is disruptive. Executives and departmental managers may not understand the benefits while perceiving disruption as a problem. It's crucial to build strong working relationships with all relevant stakeholders. This helps to ensure buy-in at all stages of the project.

Implementing IAM is complex but manageable. A well-produced, relevant strategy helps you plan the stages of an IAM deployment. Invest time in planning and your identity and access management system will balance security and convenience while ensuring regulatory compliance.