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Best Practices for Identity Management Projects


This document presents best practices for deploying and operating an identity management infrastructure. It builds on Hitachi ID Systems's years of experience in deploying password management and user provisioning into some of the largest and most complex organizations in the world.

The document is organized as follows:

  • Overview: Defining Identity Management:

    Some basic definitions that help clarify the subsequent material.

  • Long Term Commitment:

    Identity management is more accurately described as a change in the IT organization and business processes than a finite project. Deployment can reasonably be expected to continue indefinitely, with more features and integrations are added over time.

  • Focus on Business Drivers:

    Given the long-term investment in identity management, it makes sense to identify and focus the highest priority business drivers first.

  • Deliver Early and Often:

    To minimize project risk and to ensure a positive return on investment, it is essential to deliver tangible results early in the project, and keep delivering new benefits regularly.

  • Usability and Adoption:

    Identity management is focused on the user -- a human being represented on multiple IT systems, by a combination of identity attributes and privileges. It follows that user adoption is a prerequisite to success.

  • Critical Path and Common Interdependencies:

    Some integrations and features depend on others. This section identifies major interdependencies, which impact project timelines.

  • Project Management Methodology:

    A typical methodology for delivering a given project milestone.

  • Typical Timeline and Deliverables:

    Pulling all of the above together, a sample project timeline is developed, step-by-step.

Overview: Defining Identity Management

Identity management and access governance is defined as a shared platform and consistent processes for managing information about users: who they are, how they are authenticated and what they can access.

Enterprise Identity and Access Management (IAM) is defined as a set of processes and technologies to effectively and consistently manage modest numbers of users and entitlements across multiple systems. In this definition, there are typically significantly fewer than a million users, but users typically have access to multiple systems and applications.

Typical enterprise identity and access management scenarios include:

  • Password synchronization and self-service password reset.
  • User provisioning, including identity synchronization, auto-provisioning and automatic access deactivation, self-service security requests, approvals workflow and consolidated reporting.
  • Enterprise single sign-on -- automatically filling login prompts on client applications.
  • Web single sign-on -- consolidating authentication and authorization processes across multiple web applications.

Long Term Commitment

Identity management projects tend to be long, and indeed may never end, as deliverables are continually added over the life of the system. Organizations go through both business and infrastructure changes: reorganizations, hardware upgrades, new operating systems, new applications, etc. These changes trigger matching requirements in the identity management infrastructure and consequently lead to implementation and maintenance effort over the life of the system.

This is not to imply that individual deliverables cannot be implemented quickly and operated at low cost. Rather, it means that successful implementation of one feature or integration usually triggers interest by a wider range of stake-holders, who request further work, to deliver more features and integrate with more infrastructure.

With this in mind, it can be helpful to think of identity management implementation in terms of a process of continuous optimization, which is the responsibility of a permanent team, rather than a single, finite project.

As with any long term project, it is important to have clear buy-in from stake-holders and an up-front agreement on project scope, deliverables, duration and cost in order to sustain investment and deliver on business expectations. Without such early commitment by stake-holders, project work may be aborted before deliverables are reached.

Best Practice

Hitachi ID Systems Best PracticesEngage stake-holders early and clearly articulate project deliverables, timeline and cost.

Identity management automation can impact a wide range of stake-holders, so it is important to understand who they are and engage them early. This reduces the risk that an important decision maker learns about the project later and disrupts it because he or she was not consulted earlier.

Stake-holders who may be interested in an identity management project include:


The IdM Infrastructure owner(s)

Someone must be responsible for acquiring, deploying and maintaining infrastructure such as directories, user provisioning automation, password management, single sign-on, etc.
End user support

Impacts range from reduced password reset call volume to a need for user education, support and training for new processes.
System administrators

Identity data will be modified on their systems. They will be asked to hand out administrator-level credentials, and may be asked to install software on their systems.
IT Security

IT security will have to set policies for the new automation.

The new automation will enforce rules regarding internal controls and also enable audits of user privileges and change history.
Desktop Support

May be impacted, if client software is deployed to user workstations (e.g., GINA extensions, single sign-on components, Notes ID file delivery, smart card readers, etc.).
Network Operations

Need to know about where servers will be racked, what bandwidth will be consumed, etc.
Human Resources

May be asked to provide a data feed from systems of record. May receive updates asking them to correct errors in their system. Are likely the first point of contact for new hires and the last point of contact for terminated users.


Best Practice

Hitachi ID Systems Best PracticesEngage all stake-holders from the project's inception, rather than deferring conversations with some of them until later in the project.

Since there may be a large number of stake-holders, they are likely to disagree on many issues. To resolve such disagreements and keep the project moving smoothly, it is important to have strong sponsorship that can motivate this diverse group of stake-holders to cooperate, even when decisions are made that contradict their opinions.

Best Practice

Hitachi ID Systems Best PracticesEngage executive-level sponsorship, to resolve conflicts between stake-holders.


It is important to garner business ownership of the solution. A good sponsorship and governance approach will facilitate this, and help to insure that the project is seen favorably by the non-IT side of the organization.

-- Kevin Kampman
Senior Analyst
The Burton Group

Technology used to automate identity management can be quite complex and vendor services to implement and maintain it can be expensive. It therefore makes sense to assign a full-time, technical resource to assist in system deployment and to take responsibility for ongoing technical work, including adding new integrations, adjusting business logic, customizing the user interface, performing upgrades and troubleshooting problems. This reduces project cost, shortens timelines and improves SLA.

Best Practice

Hitachi ID Systems Best PracticesEmploy a full-time, technical resource from the start of implementation. This resource will assist in deployment and to manage the system in production.

The technical resource tasked with implementation and maintenance of the identity management infrastructure should have expertise with operating systems, directories, HTML markup and at least one scripting or programming language (e.g., Perl, JavaScript, C++, C#, Java, etc.).

Inevitably, this technical resource will have somewhat different priorities than security officers and architects, such as a strong interest in ease of maintenance and deployment effort. It makes sense for the business owner of the identity management infrastructure to be a part of any product selection and evaluation process, rather than dropping a pre-determined choice of product and architecture on a technical resource and hoping that he or she can subsequently resolve any issues that may come up.

Best Practice

Hitachi ID Systems Best PracticesEngage a technical resource who will become the permanent system administrator of the identity management infrastructure in product selection.

Focus on Business Drivers

There are several business drivers for deploying an enterprise identity management and access governance system, including:

  • Security and regulatory compliance:
    • Reliable access deactivation when users leave the organization.
    • Secure access to privileged passwords.
    • Enforce segregation of duties policies.
    • Periodically review security entitlements and eliminate unneeded ones.
    • Ensure that new access is provisioned in compliance with standards.

  • IT support cost:
    • Lower IT support call volume and head count.
    • Reduce the amount of manual security administration required.

  • User service:
    • Simplify change request processes.
    • Provision required access more quickly.
    • Reduce the number of passwords users must manage.
    • Reduce the number of login prompts users must complete.

Since it can take a long time to deliver on each and every one of these drivers, it is important to prioritize. As much as possible, high priority deliverables should be completed before work begins on lower priority ones.

For example, if reducing help desk call volume is a primary motivation, then password synchronization and self-service password reset should come first. If security risks associated with orphan and dormant accounts are important, then automated access termination and access certification should come first. If rapid onboarding of new employees is important, than automated provisioning of new users or self-service onboarding requests should be implemented first.

Best Practice

Hitachi ID Systems Best PracticesPrioritize business drivers at the start of the project and focus on only the most urgent deliverables.

Along with prioritization of work by business drivers, it is important to be able to measure success. This is done by establishing metrics for measuring success in delivering on any given business driver and by measuring these metrics both before and after deployment.


When communicating the benefits of the solution, it is critical to focus on business value. The emphasis may seem subtle and unimportant, but making users more productive faster, improving the user experience, providing more efficient access, and so on have more meaning to your executives than better security and a lower cost of administration.

-- Kevin Kampman
Senior Analyst
The Burton Group

Best Practice

Hitachi ID Systems Best PracticesEstablish metrics to support each business driver and measure results both before and after deployment.

Some sample metrics include:



Measured as

HD password reset call volume

Password reset help desk calls per month (average and peak).


Number of FTEs required to support peak password reset call volumes.

AD group admin workload

Group membership changes that hit the human service desk, monthly.

Admin FTEs

Number of FTEs required to support management of AD group membership.

Employee setup authorization

Days from HR trigger to setup a new employee.

Contractor setup authorization

Days from manager call to setup a new contractor.

Setup time

Number of IT work hours required to setup a new user.

Deactivation time

Days from HR/manager trigger to deactivate a departed user.

Deactivation effort

Number of IT work hours required to terminate access for a departed user.

Termination delay

On average, days from actual termination to when HR notifies IT.

Weak passwords

Number of systems that do not enforce length, character set, history and dictionary rules.

Standard caller authentication

Number of standardized questions asked to authenticate HD callers.

Personalized caller authentication

Number of user-defined questions asked to authenticate HD callers.

Standard caller auth (2)

Number of available standardized questions from which authentication process draws random questions.

Personalized caller auth (2)

Number of available user-defined questions from which authentication process draws random questions.

Non-expiring systems

Number of systems that currently do not enforce a password expiry policy.

User password age

Enforceable maximum age of user passwords.

Admin password age

Enforceable maximum age of administrator passwords.

Orphan accounts

Per enterprise-wide system: number of user objects divided by the number of employees and contractors.

Dormant accounts

Per system: number of accounts inactive for at least N days.

Unassociated systems

Number of systems whose unique user identifiers are not mapped to a corporate-wide identifier.

Admin password change interval

Per system: frequency of change of admin passwords (days).

Password replication scope

Per system: number of other systems that share credentials with this one.

Password sharing scope

Per system: number of IT users that know the admin credentials at any given time.

New user request complexity

Number of different forms used to request new login IDs, on different systems, or for different locations, or for different classes of users.

New access request complexity

Number of different forms used to request new security rights for an existing user.

Identity change request complexity

Number of different forms used to request changes to user identity data (name, phone, address, department, location, etc.).

Passwords per user

Average number of passwords a user must remember for corporation-owned systems.

Login prompts per user per day

Average number of times per day that a user must sign into some corporate system.


In the table above, a "C" in the business driver column means cost reduction, "P" means user productivity and "S" means security.


Your metrics should also be expressed in terms that are meaningful to the organization. Removing hours and days from the on- or off-boarding cycle is a more compelling success story than consolidating Active Directory groups. Always speak to the business issue that is specific and relevant, even when there is a tremendous amount of technical effort that makes it happen.

-- Kevin Kampman
Senior Analyst
The Burton Group

Deliver Early and Often

The time required to implement a featureful and well integrated identity management system can span into years. Over such a long span of time, stake-holders may lose interest and withdraw support and/or funding.

Also, requirements change over time, as both business processes and infrastructure evolve. This means that a lengthy project to implement a fixed set of deliverables is likely to fail, simply because by when the work is complete, the original requirements will have changed.

To avoid both of these problems, it is imperative to deliver results in the implementation project early and to deliver new results regularly.

Best Practice

Hitachi ID Systems Best PracticesDeliver functionality that is relevant to the business every 3--6 months.

Since both requirements and priorities will change over time, it makes sense to kick off a long-term identity management project with only a rough outline of project milestones. The sequence of priorities, and which task to undertake next, should be re-evaluated after every one or two milestones.

Best Practice

Hitachi ID Systems Best PracticesStart long identity management projects with a rough outline of business priorities and milestones.

Best Practice

Hitachi ID Systems Best PracticesRe-evaluate priorities after every one or two milestones.

To address the fact that both business processes and technical infrastructure change constantly, it makes sense to capture detailed requirements and construct a solution design for any given function only when the implementation team is ready to start work on that function.

Deferring detailed design until just before a given work phase can commence eliminates situations where a feature is designed, in great detail and at great cost, long before implementation can commence. Such early planning is actually very risky, since requirements are likely to change in the interval between solution design and implementation, which leads to one of two undesirable outcomes: redoing the detailed (but premature) discovery and solution design or implementing a system to meet outdated specifications.

Best Practice

Hitachi ID Systems Best PracticesDefer detailed discovery and solution design for each phase until the team is ready to start implementing that phase.

Finally, it makes sense to build up expertise in the implementation team. Start with small, simple functions and work up to more complex deliverables in later phases. This reduces overall project risk and ensures early return on investment.

Best Practice

Hitachi ID Systems Best PracticesStart with small, simple deliverables. Work up to more complex functions and integrations.

Usability and Adoption

The function of an identity management system is to manage data about users: their identity attributes, authentication factors and security privileges. As might be expected, most identity management systems, sooner or later, interact with these users. Such interaction is required to manage passwords, confirm and update identity attributes, request and approve privilege changes, audit user data, etc.

In many scenarios, the business value of the identity management system depends on user adoption. For example, a self-service password reset system only generates user support cost savings if users choose to use it, rather than calling the help desk. Similarly, a user provisioning system can only reduce security administrator workload if users make security change requests through its workflow user interface, and not by calling a security administrator.

To ensure user adoption, the identity management deployment team must incorporate activities designed to engage the user community in the deployment plan:

Best Practice

Hitachi ID Systems Best PracticesPlan for user acceptance testing, pilot tests, user awareness programs and user education.

In addition to engaging users to validate usability, ensure awareness and verify that users understand how to use the system, it is helpful to organize a program to drive high user adoption. This includes usability testing and awareness programs and adds incentives for users to adopt the system and disincentives to users who do not. Example incentives include synchronized passwords, reduced signon and offline items such as prize draws, gift certificates, etc. Example dis-incentives include reduced help desk service for human (as opposed to automated) service, charge-backs, etc.

Best Practice

Hitachi ID Systems Best PracticesOrganize a formal program to drive high user adoption for every user-facing component of the identity management system.

An important concept to consider when designing a usable system is that of "one stop shop." In short, this means that when a user wishes to perform a function -- for example, to request that a new login ID be provisioned -- the user should not have to first consider which request input system to visit, based on which one happens to be in-scope for the identity management infrastructure, as opposed to managed by a legacy business process.

Since it is impractical to deploy hundreds of integrations at a time and since some infrastructure may not be cost effective to manage with automation (example: an application with 20 users does not merit 5 days of integration effort), partial or "manual" integrations are desirable. It makes sense to provide users with a single change request user interface, to automate whatever actions possible, and to forward the remaining types of changes to human system administrators.

Best Practice

Hitachi ID Systems Best PracticesProvide a consolidated change request user interface and identify "implementers" to fulfill change types for which automation is not available.

Another side effect of engaging users is that they must be informed whenever the system changes. If a system changes often, this creates a flurry of e-mails in user in-boxes, which users learn to ignore. Too-frequent user notifications can act to defeat a user adoption program.

The need to keep users informed means that integrations with target systems should be grouped, so that users can be informed of new integrations less often, in a more meaningful way. For example, a quarterly e-mail about five more systems that have been brought into scope is more helpful than a weekly e-mail about another directory OU.

Best Practice

Hitachi ID Systems Best PracticesTo reduce user impact, implement multiple integrations at a time, rather than defining a project milestone around every target system.

The benefits of minimizing user announcements also acts as a counter-weight to the strategy of multiple, short deliverables. While it makes sense to define milestones every 3 to 6 months, it does not make sense to subdivide a project into weekly or monthly deliverables.

Critical Path and Common Interdependencies

When deploying an identity management system, some tasks cannot be started until others are completed. Such interdependencies may delay high priority deliverables until items which appear to be less important, but which are pre-requisite, are completed.

Following are some common implementation tasks that must be performed early in a project, to support later deliverables:

  1. Integrate with a source of profile IDs:

    Every user must have a unique, global identifier. These identifiers are normally drawn from one or more existing systems, and these existing systems are referred to as sources of profile IDs. Integration with sources of profile IDs, such as Active Directory, e-mail systems or HR data feeds, generally precede all other integrations.

  2. Reconcile login IDs:

    Users normally have records and login accounts on multiple systems and one of the core functions of an identity management system is to consolidate management of these user objects. It is impossible to manage multiple user objects coherently until they are connected to one another -- in other words, until login IDs on different systems are reconciled with one another and attached to global profile IDs.

    Login ID reconciliation necessarily precedes password synchronization, password reset, user deprovisioning and access certification, at a minimum.

  3. E-mail integration:

    An identity management system may, from time to time, have to contact users -- either to notify them of an event or to request some action. Examples of this are asking users to complete a personal challenge/response profile, notifying users of failed login attempts relating to their profile, asking authorizers to approve security change requests, etc.

    Communication initiated by the identity management system is usually implemented using e-mail. One of the first integrations in a typical deployment is therefore with the e-mail system, to deliver messages to users.

  4. Construct an org-chart:

    Several functions in an identity management system typically depend on data mapping every user to their direct manager/supervisor:

    1. Authorization: managers are typically asked to approve security change requests relating to their subordinates.

    2. Escalation: when a given change authorizer repeatedly fails to respond to a given change request, the simplest choice of an alternate, escalation authorizer is the first authorizer's direct manager.

    3. Certification: managers are often asked to periodically review a list of their direct subordinates and their security rights, in order to identify and remove inappropriate access rights.

    Delivering a process to construct and maintain reliable org-chart data, that covers all users is often an early deliverable in an identity management project.

  5. Authorization workflow:

    Many changes initiated by or passed through an identity management system require authorization before they can be applied to target systems. This includes creating new user objects, deactivating existing users, modifying user membership in security groups and updating identity attributes.

    The authentication process itself is often the same regardless of the change type -- all that varies is the identity of the users asked to approve or reject a change.

    Since many business processes depend on authorization -- user onboarding, user deactivation, access certification, privilege management, identity updates, etc. -- it makes sense to implement authorization early and to subsequently link processes to an existing change approval framework.

Project Management Methodology

For any given milestone in an IDM project, it makes sense to have a structured sequence of steps, that takes that particular feature or integration from conception through end user adoption.

An effective methodology for delivering IDM functions follows:

  1. Project startup:
    1. Identify the business driver and required integrations.
    2. Engage the stake-holders.

  2. Business Analysis, Technical Discovery, Solution Design and Planning:
    1. Business Analysis:
      1. Identify core business drivers and project priorities.
      2. Analyze existing business processes and policies, capturing at least their inputs, purpose and outputs.
      3. Capture requirements for new / desired business processes.
    2. Technical discovery:
      1. Identify all systems, applications and security databases that contain identities that will be managed.
      2. Capture details for every system that will be integrated.
      3. Map the flow of data attributes from source systems and stake-holders to a consolidated meta directory and from there back to target systems and other human participants.
    3. Solution Design:
      1. Identify key metrics and record pre-implementation values.
      2. Design a logical and physical architecture for the new system.
      3. Map policies, such as login ID assignment and authorizer routing, to decision logic.
      4. Develop a user adoption strategy and plan.
      5. Finalize all integration details.
      6. Get sign-off from all stake-holders.
    4. Project planning
      1. Document and get sign off on a project plan.

  3. Solution Delivery:
    1. Implement the solution design on development servers.
    2. Unit test each function / component.
    3. Stress test as required.
    4. Carry out user acceptance testing.
    5. Apply feedback from unit, stress and usability testing to the implementation. Repeat until results are acceptable.

  4. Deployment:
    1. Migrate the solution from development to production.
    2. Carry out pilot tests with early adopter user communities.
    3. Apply feedback from pilot tests to the implementation. Repeat until results are acceptable.
    4. Update deployment and user adoption plans.
    5. Roll out to remaining users.

  5. Training and User Adoption:
    1. Advertise the solution.
    2. Develop and publish CBT materials.
    3. Implement user awareness communication, education programs, incentives and disincentives to drive user adoption.
    4. Carry out an impact analysis to gauge results on cost, security and user service.

  6. Post Deployment:
    1. Monitor and report on system usage and user adoption.
    2. Report on post-deployment metrics to project sponsors.
    3. Periodically produce an impact report illustrating the change in metrics created by the system and estimating the business impact of this change.

Typical Timeline and Deliverables

A typical identity management implementation may proceed as follows. This schedule is intended to illustrate what is possible, rather than to suggest that this exact sequence is appropriate to a particular organization.





Business analysis, planning, prioritization

  • Functional priority list.
  • Integrations priority list.
  • Rough project plan.
  • Milestones.

Deploy password management

  • Password synchronization.
  • Self-service password reset.
  • 5 major target integrations.
  • E-mail integration.

User adoption

  • Enroll users for password management.
  • Reconcile login IDs across major systems.

Manage AD security groups

  • Delegate management of Windows security rights to end users.

Construct and update org-chart

  • Org-chart data for all users.
  • A process to keep this data current.
  • Feedback to HR about errors and omissions.

Localization / language translations

  • Password management for global user communities.
  • Extend self-service AD security management globally.
  • Extend orgchart data globally.


  • Refresh business priorities.
  • Design and plan for the next set of milestones.

Automated access termination

  • Implement technical access termination processes on core systems.
  • Automate mapping from authoritative data feeds to access termination on target systems.

Automated onboarding

  • Implement default access setup for new users on core systems.
  • Automate mapping from authoritative data feeds to new user setup on target systems.


  • Refresh business priorities.
  • Design and plan for the next set of milestones.

Self-service identity update workflow

  • Push updates to personal identity data to end users.
  • Advertise and educate users about this infrastructure.

Access certification

  • Engage managers to periodically review their subordinates and identify inappropriate security rights.
  • Clean up orphan, dormant accounts and stale privileges.

Secure administrator credentials

  • Randomize local administrator passwords on workstations.
  • Randomize local service and administrator passwords on servers.
  • Force IT users to sign into a credential vault to access sensitive passwords.


  • Refresh business priorities.
  • Design and plan for the next set of milestones.

Enterprise single sign-on

  • Deploy SSO software to user workstations.
  • Reduce frequency with which users are presented with login prompts.

Mobile user support

  • Enable self-service password reset for mobile, disconnected users.

New target systems

  • Add 10 non-core target systems.
  • Add 100 implementer-style target systems.

Application-centric certification

  • Engage application and group owners to periodically certify user privileges within their scope of authority.


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