Challenge Accepted: IAM and PAM Conquer Higher Education’s Unique Problems

Bruce Macdonald

October 12, 2021

For higher education institutions to remain competitive, it’s more important than ever to identify the essential elements of your modernization strategy. But digital transformation is not a one size fits all approach. Colleges and universities face unique challenges compared to their enterprise counterparts, including legacy systems, blended roles, non-hierarchical structures, dynamic populations, affiliations, and more. 

It may seem daunting, but your institution can handle many of these challenges by creating the right access management processes and pairing them with a higher-ed designed solution that includes IAM and PAM. The best part is the power of automation from these solutions will free up your IT teams and resources to focus on long-term vision and strategic projects.

Getting Started

Building support for technology upgrades among decision-makers is complex for most colleges and universities, which can make it challenging to move forward with IAM, IGA, and identity administration projects. It can be an intimidating task, but schools can get their IAM programs up and running with the right approach.

Starting small with introductory projects (i.e., beginning automation to clean up credentials and identities) can help build momentum. It will also give your IT team some use cases to put in front of leadership to illustrate ROI achieved and hopefully inspire confidence to further invest in these initiatives. 

Update Aging Homegrown and Legacy Systems

Many colleges and universities are stuck with legacy and homegrown solutions they have been using for years because of constrained budgets (along with siloed structures and processes). While these systems may have met the institution's needs at one time, they have grown inefficient over time and prone to increasing human error. The mastery of these systems is also often concentrated among a few people, and generally a declining population, creating further vulnerability.

To combat risk and reclaim lost hours, schools need to prioritize updating legacy access management systems and processes. With a digital transformation strategy focused on a singular approach to bring all of the critical actions of access, identity, and privilege together, higher education institutions can better equip themselves to manage access and reduce the risk of unauthorized entry.

Support Blended Roles 

It's not uncommon for someone in higher education to simultaneously take on several different roles (e.g., a student who is also a teacher's assistant or a staff member enrolled in classes). When you include external access, it is common for many users to maintain many more than two roles (e.g., staff, student, parent, volunteer, and donor).  This is termed affiliations and is one of the biggest challenges faced by higher ed IAM programs.

Privileged access systems are versatile enough to support these multi-role requirements, preventing potential exposure of confidential information while simultaneously protecting the institution's cybersecurity.

Simplify Non-Hierarchical Structures

Decentralized architecture with frequently disparate systems is also a hurdle. Each department within a college or university may have a unique structure, creating obstacles when aligning individual departments with the overarching networks. Identities may not match up, or appropriate access may be granted incorrectly or blocked. 

A robust IAM and identity governance solution (paired with access management best practices) can organize and automate these contrasting frameworks. This implementation will minimize misappropriation and maximize interdepartmental access alignment.

Automate Dynamic User, Faculty, and Student Populations Management

In a typical four-year structure, colleges and universities turn over thousands of graduates each spring — revoking entitlements, changing identities, and reorganizing credentials. In the fall, new entitlements must be assigned to thousands more recently enrolled students. Graduate students introduce higher risk since these individuals are often also employees or pseudo-employees with access levels beyond the typical undergraduate population, and automatic off-boarding is crucial to maintaining the security and integrity of your system.

This active, overlapping, and manual process is rife with human error and misappropriated accounts and profiles. It can also be time-consuming and cause delays in onboarding, sapping valuable time and limited bandwidth from IT staff and leadership. When the process breaks down, it creates orphaned, dormant, and stray accounts that increase risk and vulnerability to bad actors if left unchecked.

Access management (including IAM, identity governance, and PAM) automates and augments this process by strengthening governance and reducing vulnerability. The implementation reduces inappropriate access rights and lost accounts by introducing automatic access deactivation and control processes. 

By automating these time-consuming tasks, schools can make IAM and identity administration processes more efficient, optimizing their team, improving the users' connection with the institution, and, ultimately, freeing them up for more innovative projects.

The Power of a Step by Step Strategy

Many higher education institutions may not have the budget, ability, or time to tackle a large-scale access management implementation all at once. Your organization may need to start small with high-impact projects that will get you the best ROI such as self-service password management to relieve the burden on the help desk.

Get actionable steps on how to prepare a practical approach to modernize your access management solution at our online workshop and panel at the Educause Annual Conference 2021.

Determine your modernization strategy, discover how to get there with actionable steps, and more with our eBook: Choosing a Modern Access Management and Governance Solution for Higher Education.


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