Like many people I suspect, I have struggled to get my head round identity management. This is less to do, I suspect, with the nature of the thing itself (great intro here, and I’d recommend Neil M’s reports on the subject), and more with the fact that there’s so much going on, in so many domains. The concept of identity itself is a nebulous beast, stretching from personal identity (yup, me, got that one) to corporate identity (aka managing and provisioning roles and access rights) and even more broadly, to that bar conversation – “every person, thing, asset etc can have an identity” – which can very quickly unravel into a flight of fancy.
Identity is a hot topic these days of course, what with incidents like the loss of all those records from the HMRC punting identity fraud into the public eye. Examples are legion, of identities being stolen, misused or otherwise abused – its perhaps surprising that incidents such as Goo-do-no-evil-gle and the Scoble Facebook hack have taken so long to materialise. While none of these examples are particularly relevant to the concepts being espoused by corporate identity management, one nonetheless stimulates interest in the other. There are overlaps of course – the hapless employee who lost the HMRC disks could have been deemed too dim to warrant access to the disks in the first place, but this thought process is in a different compartment to thinking about the risks caused by offering up our kids and (indeed) our bank details to all and sundry.
The issue for corporate technology sellers and buyers alike, is that while the subject of identity may no longer leave people glazing over at the slightest mention, conversations can munge all of the above issues into a convoluted glob, incorporating on one hand worries about the protection of personal information, and on the other practicalities around ensuring corporate information and systems are only accessed by those who have been granted access. Given that this industry thrives on three letter acronyms, perhaps we need a couple of new ones – “Personal Information Protection” for the former and “Enterprise Identity Management” for the latter. Thus, EIM could have been used to support PIP, in the HMCE case.
Taking just the corporate, “EIM” side of things. this looks to be an interesting year. The last couple of years have seen a number of acquisitions and product announcements in this space from the larger management vendors, notably CA and Oracle, IBM, BMC, Sun and Novell: the most recent step has been to bring in roles-based management and directory integration. There have been a number of challenges along the way, some of which remain – for example the architectural decision of whether a database or a directory is sufficiently scalable to serve up identity-related information at the required level of granularity; meanwhile a variety of standards are being put in place. Catalysed by the more general, populist buzz, all of these things put together should yield more general acceptance, and resulting deployment of identity management solutions.
I should admit to a level of personal interest here, in what amounts to “the greater good”. While I view the HMCE incident with disappointment, I don’t subscribe to the headline-grabbing faux-abhorrence that some press have expressed, and I certainly don’t believe any one person should carry the can. Given the problem is indeed systemic (I believe so too), and if we can also agree that such a thing could have happened in most organisations, then we require a systemic approach to solving it. Taken in the round, identity management can offer such an approach, underpinned by the appropriate use of technology – this is most definitely a place where technology alone cannot provide the answer, but neither can the problem be solved without it. Indeed, if the HMCE incident serves to raise awareness and adoption to the extent that other organisations do not suffer the same fate, then it will not have been without value.