Business-driven IAM

October 2013 Access Control & Identity Management

For years, security and business managers have known that identity and access management (IAM) must be driven by business requirements. After all, business managers know best “who should have access to what.”

But all too often, IAM processes don’t reflect this business context. These processes lack support for a business view of access which reflects the fine-grained entitlements that determine specifically which actions users may take within applications. In addition, traditional IAM systems have consistently been prohibitively expensive to deploy and operate, limiting their breadth of coverage and effectiveness.

This business context is the sum total of everything an organisation knows about its users, their job responsibilities, and the information, applications and entitlements they need. While some context is contained within IT-managed systems (such as directories and HR applications), additional context is also held by the managers who supervise users or by the owners of business functions, applications and data, not by the IT or security staff.

This white paper by RSA Aveksa (, explains why today’s IAM systems fail to properly reflect business context, describes why embracing business-driven identity and access management (BDIAM) reduces costs while increasing security, and describes a step-by-step methodology for implementing it.

Today’s reality: failed identity management

Today’s organisations face more security threats and regulatory challenges than ever, not to mention the potential damage to shareholder value and reputation that would result from a data breach. Yet not only are IAM systems failing to keep up, they are falling behind the need to proactively manage ever-changing risk postures. IAM architectures are fragmented, complex, and ill-equipped to deal with the pace of change in an organisation, from simple employee transfers to restructuring, new regulatory requirements and mergers and acquisitions.

Cloud computing increases complexity by creating a new application silo (and more administrators with privileged access) for every new cloud application and cloud service provider. It also increases the rate of change, as lines of business obtain new services, often without informing the central IT or security groups. Mobile computing and the “bring your own device” trend create yet more identity and access management silos to accommodate each new platform.

The result is that even as organisations need easier, faster and more consistent identity and access management, the pace of change makes their risk posture ever less certain. Relying on siloed, reactive, incomplete systems make it even harder to discover and apply the business context needed for each application or group of systems, and the lack of a single, central IAM infrastructure even more critical.

The key to solving these problems is to leverage a modern identity and access management system built around business context.

The importance of business context

Business context is the often-forgotten, but key ingredient to assure effective, enterprise-wide IAM. It is often overlooked because IAM is usually handled by the CIO, CISO, VP of security or director of security. None have the business context required for efficient, effective enterprise-wide access management. Most of this business context lies instead with the supervisors and other business managers who understand the specific responsibilities various users have, and the access each requires.

Consider, for example, a finance department with five employees, each with Analyst Level 2 job codes. The IT department might conclude each should have the same access rights and entitlements. However, their supervisor knows who is responsible for travel and entertainment spending, and who monitors telecommunications and utility expenses, and can thus make more accurate access and entitlement decisions for them. Different members of a drug testing team might have the same job titles, but require different levels of access to test data depending on their seniority, training, or project assignments.

Business application owners are also best equipped to understand how applications or data resources are used and what access and entitlement policies are appropriate for them. Application owners, along with risk, audit and compliance teams, have the best context for setting IAM policies specific to various business applications or industry domains.

To apply this context most effectively, organisations must enable business managers, business application and data owners and the audit, risk and compliance team to drive access-related policy requirements. IT must then translate those requirements into operational activities.

Achieving this business-driven identity and access management requires new processes and new technology.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Business driven IAM requirements

To bring business context into the IAM process, IT must transform the cryptic jargon of application and infrastructure entitlements into a business-friendly view of access and give business managers a simple, intuitive way to make IAM decisions throughout the identity and access lifecycle.

Business-driven IAM also requires that the lines-of-business (LOBs) take ownership of the tasks that they have the context for, and become accountable for them. Audit, risk and compliance teams must be able to create requirements, measure results and institute controls. IT security and operations teams must have visibility into and control over how IAM activities are conducted, since they are ultimately responsible for carrying out the decisions made by LOBs.

Organisations must be able to easily define policies which capture business context, assuring compliance in areas such as segregation-of-duties (SOD) or access approval. Once a policy has been instantiated, it can be applied automatically and violations dealt with automatically.

Since policy creation is familiar to LOBs, Information Security, and Operations, Audit, Risk and Compliance teams, this is an effective way to engage them in the BDIAM process. Automating the fulfilment of access changes can significantly reduce cost and effort, because organisations have struggled to achieve the required automation with IT-focused tools from traditional identity management vendors. A truly business-driven approach to IAM provides a simple access change management mechanism that keeps business logic separate from application-specific integration logic. This enables a cost-effective and rapid method for on-boarding applications from a change fulfilment perspective All of this requires an automated identity and access management platform, which gives business owners a simple view of identity and access management, enables automated, policy-based access controls, fulfils IAM change requests, and builds proactive access compliance into the fabric of the organisation. Figure 1 illustrates how such a platform enables an organisation to establish business processes to accomplish all of these activities.

A phased approach to business driven IAM

Business driven IAM is best made operational by implementing discrete, measurable business processes in a step-by-step phased approach that delivers value in each phase.

The steps are:

Visibility and certification: This repeatable, sustainable process automatically collects and cleanses identity and entitlement data to obtain a single unified and normalised view of current access rights. This technical view of access is transformed into a business view so that LOB managers, such as supervisors or business owners of resources, can become accountable for reviewing access rights. This happens via a business user-friendly access certification process (also known as an access review), where people’s entitlements are reviewed and approved (or revoked) by a supervisor or application owner.

One important step, which is also a good example of establishing business context, is identifying the business owners of data resources (such as file shares, or SharePoint sites), as well as any metadata that defines its business purpose and risk classification.

Policy management: Capturing decision-making context and business logic in a set of policies defined as rules is an excellent way to automate security and compliance controls. Having rules trigger workflows provides process and policy automation, and reduces costs.

For example, the identification of a new employee can trigger a multi-step process that includes creating accounts for the employee, providing him with appropriate group memberships, assigning the appropriate entitlements to applications and data and obtaining the necessary approvals.

Role management: Roles enable business managers to more easily manage entitlement changes. Consider the role of Bond Trader Level 2. A user in this role might be entitled to 35 different fine-grained entitlements (such as the ability to make trades up to a certain limit) across several applications. Rather than requiring a manager to review and evaluate each of the 35 entitlements, the manager can simply verify that the role is correct for the person. This is an easier and more natural way for the manager to apply the needed business context because they are thinking about the role played by a specific person, not about a detailed list of application entitlements.

Roles simplify Joiner, Mover and Leaver processes and makes it easier to assign users additional access. They also make it more efficient to review, validate or test user access to simplify compliance and risk management. This phase also produces processes for lifecycle management of groups, which are often used to govern access (especially to data resources) in much the same way as roles.

Request management: Once a business view of access and the abstractions to simplify and automate access management are in place, an organisation is in a good position to establish a self-service access request front-end for business users, and an auditable and policy-compliant change management engine for IT on the backend. This process empowers LOBs to invoke access requests without any knowledge of the infrastructure and details involved in servicing the requests. It also provides proactive compliance by enforcing policies before access is granted.

Change fulfilment: Business-driven changes to identity and access result in actual modifications to user accounts, group memberships and user-entitlement bindings in systems, directories, applications and access control solutions. Change fulfilment is a process that usually exists in some form before an organisation embarks on any of the phases mentioned here. The challenge is typically about evolving the process so that it is consistent, policy-driven and as much as possible, automated.

There are several mechanisms for fulfilling access changes. A simple task notification, such as an email to a system administrator, is often the easiest and most straightforward approach to change fulfilment. Creating a ticket in a service desk is a more consistent way to track requests, responses and confirmations, and can leverage an existing enterprise change management system. However, the associated time lag, cost and error rate often drive organisations to automation. An automated fulfilment solution delivers operational efficiency and timely changes, and ideally supports the rapid on-boarding of new applications.

Traditional provisioning engines make it difficult to onboard (connect to) more than a few applications because these older systems combine the business logic that defines IAM policies with the logic required to integrate with each application. This requires expensive custom coding for each new connection, and whenever IAM policies change. Modern business-driven IAM systems maintain the policy-related business logic at a higher level, making this “last-step” integration much easier and less expensive.


Organisations cannot afford to spend any more than they must on identity and access management. Nor can they afford the regulatory, legal or intellectual property risks of not properly managing identity and access management. The road to the most efficient and effective identity and access management runs right through the owners of the business processes, applications and data. It uses the detailed “business context” about which users require what access and entitlements as the foundation for automated, business driven identity and access management that delivers the maximum business value at the lowest cost.

EMC acquires Aveksa

EMC Corporation has acquired Aveksa, a leader in business-driven Identity and Access Management (IAM). Aveksa will operate within the RSA security division as part of RSA’s Identity Trust Management product group, bringing leading technology and expertise that will help RSA bring innovative new solutions to identity and access management challenges across enterprise, cloud and mobile access use cases.

In today’s increasingly cloud-based and application-centric world, authentication, authorisation and identity management have become even more intertwined, complex and critical. The model for each user has shifted from a single authentication to an enterprise network, to dozens of authentications to applications and related data, from multiple user devices, across cloud and on-premise infrastructures. The task of ensuring that the right users get access to appropriate company resources has traditionally been IT-driven, using legacy IAM solutions to enforce all the policies, processes, procedures and applications that help organisations manage access to information. The lack of intelligence and business context has led to increased risk of data breaches, non-compliance and excessive privilege.

RSA and Aveksa together will help give organisations the ability to automate the complete identity lifecycle of users from a business-driven perspective, helping turn traditional IAM systems into more agile, intelligent and scalable ‘situational perimeters.’ With Aveksa, customers have a unified dashboard to manage, control, and deliver access, while consistently enforcing identity and access policies across the enterprise and cloud, at a granular level.

Aveksa solutions help define rich user profiles and increase the convenience of managing user identities, allowing customers to continue building ‘situational perimeters’ that can flexibly enforce security whenever and wherever users interact with corporate data and resources. The line of business is given easy and secure access to applications, while enabling them to take accountability and responsibility for making access decisions, within the controls, processes, and policies defined by the information security organisation.

The acquisition is a positive development for Puleng Technologies, reseller and service provider for Aveksa in South Africa and a certified partner of RSA.

Muhammed Mayet, IT security director of Puleng Technologies, says the acquisition will enable Puleng to provide a more holistic solution to customers on a single platform. “In addition to positively impacting how we build solutions for the market, this development also means that all our support will be sourced from one vendor, RSA.”


For more information, contact Stephan Le Roux, RSA Southern Africa, +27 (0)11 581 0000,, Muhammed Mayet, Puleng Technologies, +27 (0)11 205 4300,

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