What Is User Management?
User management is a system to handle activities related to individuals’ access to devices, software, and services. It focuses on managing permissions for access and actions as well as monitoring usage. Functions of user management include:
- Providing users with authenticated access
- Supporting set up, reissuing, and decommissioning of users’ access credentials
- Establishing access privileges based on permissions
User management also can keep track of accounts related to software licenses throughout their lifecycle. This ensures that all users have licenses for the software that they are using and that these can be reclaimed and reissued when they are no longer in use.
User Management and the Cloud
Cloud applications and resources require extra vigilance when it comes to user management. IT departments need to create and manage more complex policies to address the proliferation of accounts and the distribution of users.
To add to this complicated function, IT teams must track what type of user management system the various cloud service providers use. This is because user management in the cloud is handled differently depending on the type of deployment and the service provider. Two common methods of handling user management in the cloud are as follows:
1. Identity and Access Management (IAM)
This collection of technology, policies and processes is used to manage accounts and related access for users (i.e., humans) and roles (i.e., services or scripts). IAM is tied to users or roles. Role-Based Access Control, or RBAC, is used to define permissions based on a user’s job.
2. Resource Access Management (RAM)
Policies specify who can access a resource and what actions can be performed. RAM is tied to the resource rather than to a user or role.
Benefits of User Management
User management software can help organizations gain productivity, security, and cost savings.
- Productivity benefits with user management software
Automating user management with software saves time and increases efficiency by replicating changes made (e.g., creating, updating, removing users) across systems. It also expedites the process of setting up users, roles, and groups, reducing workloads for admin teams.
- Cost-savings benefits with user management software
User management software facilitates tracking of software usage to ensure optimal licensing. Licenses that are no longer needed can be reassigned. Agreements for software that is no longer needed can be terminated. Visibility into how many devices a user has activated under their license helps organizations optimize license distributions. It also helps with planning for future software budgeting.
- Software license compliance benefits with user management software
With user management software, organizations can ensure compliance with licensing agreements by tracking users and their usage. This also simplifies reporting in the case of an audit.
- Security benefits with user management software
User management software provides significant security benefits. By supporting strict access controls, unauthorized access can be prevented. In addition, the ability to quickly lockdown or remove users helps mitigate risks from insiders. User management software also supports forensic audits for proactive security efforts, root cause analysis, and remediation in the event of a data breach.
User Management Software
User management software supports the authentication of users and storage of their data based on permissions and roles. APIs for user management software facilitate integration and streamline users’ access to applications. The user registration process, user authentication, and password management can all be handled through APIs. IT can also use consoles to manage all aspects of users’ accounts, including:
- Setting up user accounts
- Managing identities and application access
- Changing user properties
- Resetting passwords
- Disabling and decommissioning users
- Implementing multi-factor passwordless authentication
User management software can also be used to manage third-party accounts. For instance, partner accounts can be created or temporary access granted to vendors.
For SaaS, user management plays a critical role. Users, roles, and permissions must be tracked and carefully managed so that access is granted according to the terms of engagement.
User Management Requirements
Many features and functions are available with different user management systems. The following are a few of the baseline features for user management:
Cloud application support
Centralized user management in the cloud and for hybrid deployments
Create new users
Control over how users are created and levels of access in applications
Ability to limit the number of logins with the same credentials
System to allow users to change or retrieve passwords without engaging IT
Regulatory compliance support
Integrated compliance reporting tools to validate user authorization, authentication, and permission levels
Ability to set session timeout criteria to keep users from staying logged in indefinitely
User access management
Tools to onboard and decommission users as well as to manage access
A table that holds all user data and the ability to add, edit, and delete users
User property management
Descriptions of each user in applications and the ability to add additional properties
Automating User Management
There are three technologies are commonly used when automating user management, either standalone or in combination:
1. Active Directory
Active Directory, or AD, is Microsoft’s proprietary directory service. It is run on Microsoft Windows Servers, providing administrators with a tool to manage permissions and facilitate access to network resources. In Active Directory, users, groups, applications, and devices are stored as data as objects, with each categorized based on its name and attributes.
2. Single Sign-On
Single sign-on, or SSO, is an authentication method for managing access. It enables users to securely authenticate with a single set of credentials. Using single sign-on, users can quickly access multiple applications and websites. In addition, users do not have the hassle of managing multiple usernames and passwords.
3. Lightweight Directory Access Protocol
The Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, commonly referred to as LDAP, is a standards-based, vendor-neutral application mechanism that supports connections to and interactions with distributed directory servers. It is used to support authentication as well as to store information about users, groups, and applications.
With each of these tools, user management can be automated, eliminating the need for cumbersome, error-prone manual systems. Some of the functionality that automated user management provides is:
- Access control based on role, department, location, title, and other attributes
- Access level changes based on minimum requirements to perform job functions
- Audit trail of account activity for internal governance and compliance requirements
- Directory synchronization with applications, systems, and devices
- Onboarding and offboarding users and roles
User Management—Benefits from Security and Beyond
Software has always been a bit elusive when it comes to tracking and management. The proliferation of cloud applications has only added to this complexity and, arguably, increased the importance of user management. With perimeters becoming increasingly porous and users more challenging to track, organizations are at greater risk of potential data breaches.
User management offers a solution that helps IT keep control of users’ activities and bolster other security measures to protect files, applications, systems, and devices on-premises and in the cloud from unauthorized access by internal and external users.
An upside to user management is that, unlike other security solutions, user management benefits extend beyond IT defense. It impacts finance by cutting costs with optimized license usage. Finally, it supports human resources (HR) and IT operations by facilitating the onboarding and decommissioning of employees’ and contractors’ corporate identities.
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Last Updated: 7th July, 2022