What is Identity and Access Management? A Guide to IAM

While the basic definition of identity and access management (IAM) may be simple, the ecosystem of technologies that fall within it can be difficult to get a handle on if you are a newcomer.
To ensure that you are not confused by what IAM involves, here is an introductory guide that will spell out the basics and give you a starting point for further research.

What is IAM?

As the name suggests, IAM is a collection of technologies, solutions, and best practices that organizations implement in order to provide secure, resilient access to mission-critical apps and data.
This is increasingly important as more business systems are digitized and it becomes necessary to monitor and manage who has access to what resources without compromising productivity or creating security risks.

Why do companies need IAM?

IAM is important for a multitude of reasons. For example, IT managers can make use of an access control audit report to implement a robust remote working policy that empowers employees to operate away from their desks, while still being able to fulfill their duties unhindered. With the rise of remote work in the past couple of years, this is all but essential in lots of industries.
Furthermore, the best IAM strategies and solutions alleviate the issue of having to monitor and manage access to cornerstone resources manually. Automation is part and parcel of top-rated platforms, and can encompass not only locally hosted hardware and software, but also setups that use hybrid or all-cloud configurations.
In addition, access rights and restrictions can be enforced as needed, either across entire groups, such as on a per-department basis, or for specific individuals. So whether you want to give some teams special permissions, or provide visitors and guests with limited access to business systems for a set period, IAM can do all this and more.
Finally, as regulations on data protection and privacy become stricter worldwide, businesses must do more to comply with them. A rigorous IAM policy, backed up by the tech and employee training it dictates, will both ensure compliance and prove to third parties that the organization takes these matters seriously.

What components are involved?

Every business can create its own IAM framework which is tailored to its needs, but there are still some components that tend to be fairly universal.
First, user identities and login details have to be stored so that they can be used to allow access to those that need it and deny it to those that lack the necessary credentials. These details can be as simple as usernames and passwords, but might also encompass two-factor authentication and even biometric information.
Next, IAM setups have to be able to provide oversight of activity within the infrastructure, tracking how systems are being accessed and by whom.
Last, managing access by allowing user identities to be adjusted and modified according to need is part and parcel of an effective IAM configuration.
As mentioned, this can all be handled in-house or can be outsourced to a third-party provider. It all depends on what makes the most sense to the business, as well as what is viable within the available budget.

What are the potential challenges?

It is not always straightforward to implement IAM in a business, and knowing what roadblocks lie ahead is helpful for those considering making a major change to their own policies and solutions.
Legacy system integration is one of the biggest bugbears for companies that have been around long enough to still use them. Compliance with regulations like GDPR is another obstacle.
Even so, these challenges are very much worth tackling when the long term benefits of IAM are so sizable.