Why Companies Need to Harness Identity Management Before It Becomes an Identity Crisis

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Digital transformation is at the top of every organization’s agenda today. But while it’s easy to make bold, forward-looking plans on paper, the reality of implementing digitization can be slow and frustrating work. Many organizations are deeply rooted in legacy infrastructure that has been the foundation of their operations for decades. Unpacking all of these processes to move them entirely to the cloud or create a hybrid setup involves a lot of moving parts.

Digital identity is one of the most essential parts of this process, but it’s an often overlooked area as companies focus on specific hardware and software issues. Most organizations have identity data scattered across multiple sites such as LDAP, AD, SQL, and web services, creating a fragmented infrastructure that is very difficult to manage.

An incomplete identity management strategy has a serious impact on the success of digital transformation, as well as increasing exposure to cyber risk. So how can organizations take control of their identity data and use it to power, rather than hinder, digital transformation efforts?

How poor identity management is holding back progress

Digital transformation is about increasing efficiency, creating new processes that can run faster and deliver better results, while using fewer resources. Identity data plays a fundamental role in this regard, and it is nearly impossible to achieve impactful results without effective identity management.

The key issue is to have a clear and accurate picture of how the company’s identities relate to its workers. Individuals in large organizations often have dozens of different identities spread across multiple applications and systems, with no system in place to easily connect all the dots. Determining if this Peter Smith on Salesforce is the same one on SharePoint is usually a manual process. Scale that up to a global organization with thousands of employees, and that’s a huge task. Add to that the complexity of digital transformation, and it’s herculean.

As a result, many companies quickly lose track of which identities belong to which users, resulting in many redundant, unmanaged, and overprovisioned accounts that create a massive attack surface for bad actors. Abandoned accounts are ripe for takeover, and users with unnecessarily high access privileges can be exploited with terrible effect.

Apart from the high cyber risk, this situation is also very inefficient and wasteful, which makes digital transformation take longer and yield less impactful results. Companies may be paying for dozens or even hundreds of accounts they no longer need, and wasting time and resources transitioning unused profiles to new digital systems.

If we take a use case as an example, these challenges are all multiplied when it comes to M&A activity. 2021 has been a banner year for mergers and acquisitions, and organizations around the world are now struggling with merging disparate computer networks and integrating tens of thousands of user identities from completely different systems. Most of these companies will also try to advance their digitization plans at the same time.

Trying to make progress in digital transformation without mastering identity is like trying to build a house on quicksand. But if managing identity data is so fundamental to progress, why aren’t more companies doing it today?

Why are companies reluctant to tackle identity?

Tackling identity takes a lot of time and resources if done manually. For large organizations, discovering, categorizing and linking existing accounts across countless identity stores can be an onerous project over many years. Companies often avoid this task indefinitely, as it seems impossible to obtain a single source of truth for identity.

Doing this in any realistic time frame means automation, but it can still be difficult to find the right tools for the job. It’s easy to fall for using a large, all-encompassing system that integrates identity management with several other features. However, these solutions often require substantial customization to meet specific business needs, which means they can still be time-consuming, costly, and ultimately incomplete solutions.

Even once all digital identities within the enterprise have been discovered, providing effective identity controls can be incredibly challenging when dealing with new and legacy hybrid infrastructure. Controls should be universal across all aspects of the IT environment and should not disrupt existing processes.

So companies often delay or avoid the problem for as long as they can. They will apply a metaphorical “band-aid” to all the pain points caused by inefficiency and frustration. Only when the problem goes from “band-aid” to “hospital trip” will they be forced to act.

This is common in most areas of IT investing. For example, I once worked with a financial company that still used a mainframe as the backbone infrastructure. Rather than risk the expense and disruption of moving to more modern technology, they remodeled it with an interface layer while keeping the legacy technology intact.

However, when it comes to identity, things can reach “hospital” pain levels very quickly. A cyberattack can turn identity issues into an identity crisis within hours. Even without the sole purpose of a breach, poor identity control will continue to hamper digital transformation efforts with increased inefficiency and cost.

How a Single Source of Identity Data Advances Digital Transformation

Mastering digital identity requires a single, unified source for all identity data, regardless of origin, a concept known as Identity Data Fabric. Businesses need a single pane of visibility for all identities to highlight redundancies, phantom accounts, and profiles with unnecessarily elevated privileges.

An Identity Data Fabric can help overcome key challenges created by fractured digital identities. Organizations can realize significant cost savings by reducing redundant accounts and licenses. Removing identity management as a digital transformation bottleneck also accelerates digital transformation and project ROI. Additionally, the risk exposure of the business is significantly reduced as thousands of potential avenues of attack are closed.

Achieving this requires a highly automated approach that can efficiently discover and harvest identities across legacy systems on-premises and in the cloud. Similar identities are mapped onto an abstraction layer and then unified to create a single profile. This ensures that each digital identity is clearly linked to an individual employee.

Basically, this process should happen at the data layer rather than the application layer. This guarantees compatibility between the various IT systems, while avoiding interference with existing processes. Working at the data layer also means that the single point of control can span multiple organizations with different IT systems, like our previous M&A use case.

With their digital identities under control, companies will be able to adapt and integrate new systems as part of their digital transformation without getting bogged down in inefficient and disjointed processes. Plus, they’ll be free to grow and explore bold new digital strategies without worrying about threat actors rushing to exploit old and neglected accounts.

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