Identity Management – ensuring that designated users have the appropriate access to appropriate technology resources – has been around, in some shape or form, since the dawn of digital systems, driven almost solely by enterprises limiting access to a strictly controlled universe of users.
With consumerization, however, the command-and-control model of traditional Identity Management approaches is quickly being marginalized. Despite all the press that commercial enterprises have generated in the area of BYOD, this is an area where higher education has led the way. Unlike most commercial companies which supply computing equipment, while increasingly forced to support employee-provided devices, higher education institutions essentially require their attending populations to supply their own technology.
Spurred on by a youthful, internationally distributed, and increasingly online student population, the diversity of devices and applications accessing college and university systems today dwarf all but the largest commercial enterprises. Cloud, mobility, and smartphones with hundreds of apps are business as usual in higher ed. And as education entities increasingly look to augment – or even substitute – online programs for their on-campus classes, and IT departments look for potential XaaS-based savings, the march to off-premise computing is increasingly institutionalized.
Kim Tracy, CIO of Northeastern Illinois University, refers to this phenomenon as “Cloud Sprawl” in his article on CIO Review. In this article he also strongly encourages use of “authentication systems, in order to maintain identities and accounts across these systems in a better way.” Fortunately, there is a new generation of Identity Management technology that has evolved specifically for the brave, new world of widely distributed access. These include full-featured, industry-proven IDaaS solutions such as OneLogin, as well as “freeware” and open software solutions such as Microsoft ADFS and Shibboleth.
Educational institutions have unique challenges in Identity Management. Beyond the diversity of student populations and the multiple access devices they carry, colleges and universities typically have to manage within stricter IT budget guidelines; protect highly sensitive and personal financial, research, and academic data; comply with multiple government and educational regulations; and address the inherent security concerns with new freshmen onboarding and graduating seniors off-boarding.
So, here are some truisms to consider in Identity Management for higher education: Mobile and Cloud access will continue to accelerate. Cloud-based applications such as Google Apps and Microsoft 365 will proliferate. Hackers will hack. Spammers will spam. Data breaches will have ugly consequences.
If security isn’t easy, and security-oriented features are not easy to use, it will be hard to gain adoption for them. (Students have high expectations for ease of use, and less tech-savvy users depend on high usability to be successful.) Band-Aids should be used for scraped knees. Home-grown Identity Management solutions will not be able to keep pace. Free isn’t really free. Yup. You’ll need a spreadsheet for this. Total cost of ownership, including infrastructure resources and licenses, and cost/effort to: 1) build and maintain the solution, 2) build and maintain incremental integration, 3) train and support users …
Lost academic research or student data will cost you more. You will need vendor support … preferably in your lifetime. And perhaps most important, higher education should lead the way in Identity Management.