A typical university’s identity and access management (IAM) requirements are very different from other similarly sized businesses. This can make them uniquely challenging IAM environments.
- Universities have a rapid turnover of users. A typical business turns over about 15% of staff annually. By contrast, a university will turnover about 25% of their users. The turnover is generally evenly distributed for a typical business, whereas it is very “lumpy” for universities, corresponding to the student intakes.
- Universities have many types of users. A typical business has two types of user: employees and contractors. Sometimes customers might form a third type. However, a university has many other user types, such as members of the general public, pre-registration students, undergraduates, postgraduates, visiting academics, and alumni.
- Universities have “users that are choosers”. A typical business provides its users with standardised productivity tools that are centrally procured, operated, and managed. Students and researchers are “digital natives” who want seamless access to digital learning and research experiences that work with the devices and the services they choose to use.
As a result, universities often face the following IAM challenges:
- Universities rarely have a “single source of truth” for identity, with user accounts spread across multiple systems. Their users’ data is frequently inconsistent across these systems, requiring regular manual intervention to correct that is costly and error-prone.
- IAM can be slow and cumbersome. This can prevent new users from getting access to their services, reducing productivity. It also allows unused or over-permissioned accounts to persist in systems, increasing security risk.
- Universities must connect scores or even hundreds of modern and legacy systems to their IAM solution. Each disconnected system incurs additional management overheads and degrades the user’s access experience.
IAM is a foundational technology that supports the delivery of all digital services: if IAM isn’t working well, nothing will. What can universities do to make sure it does?
- Identify your IAM strategic goals. What are the business outcomes that you need to deliver? Socialise these with the key stakeholders to ensure alignment across the university. Consensus is key because an IAM solution touches all parts of the university’s business.
- Document your existing IAM processes and systems. You need to know your current state before you can plan. This documentation should be as exhaustive and detailed as possible. Establish procedures to ensure that it keeps current.
- Pick the low hanging fruit. You can make improvements to your IAM without needing to make capital investments. Pay attention to your processes: bureaucracy often accumulates over time, resulting in administration that is no longer unneeded.
- Find an IAM solution that truly adds value. Review the IAM market through the prism of the challenges that remain. Shortlist the products on the basis of how they address your needs, and challenge the vendors to explain why their approach works best for your university.
In summary, universities are complex environments that make IAM a challenge. Do not rush to buy solutions; instead, identify your strategic goals and ask the vendors to explain how their solution would deliver these. Finally, an IAM project is always a partnership between a university and the vendor, and so use the opportunity to develop confidence in the vendors to understand your IAM vision and the higher education environment.
If you would like to know more about our IAM solution, Able+, and how it can support Higher Education, please get in touch with our identity and access solution experts.