Identity management software: Securing user access in the modern enterprise


Jun 10, 2024

Key Takeaways 

  • Identity management (IdM) defines, manages, and secures digital identities and their access to an organization's resources throughout their lifecycle.
  • When choosing an identity management solution, consider its ability to scale, integrate with other systems, provide a good user experience, and meet security and compliance needs.
  • IdM plays an important role in enabling zero trust which assumes that no user, device, or network should be inherently trusted, and every access attempt must be verified and authenticated before granting access to resources.

Identity management (IdM) is the process of identifying, authenticating, and authorizing individuals or groups to access an organization's technology resources. These resources can include physical assets like computers and equipment, as well as digital assets such as applications, databases, and information.

The modern workplace can bring unique challenges to identity management. People are working from anywhere, on multiple devices while they're on the go or with clients. It's a lot harder to rely on traditional perimeter security or the outdated notion that securing only the local network is sufficient. This is where identity management software comes into play, acting as a gatekeeper to ensure that only authorized users can access the resources they need to do their jobs.

In this article, we'll explore the ins and outs of identity management software. We'll dive into how it works, its role in securing modern enterprise environments, and how to choose the right one.

How does identity management work?

Identity management is all about defining and managing the roles and access privileges of individual users and the circumstances in which users are granted or denied those privileges. The identity management process includes creating unique digital identities for each user, securely storing those identities, and then controlling access to resources based on those identities.

Most identity management systems rely on a centralized directory, like Active Directory or LDAP, to store user identities and manage authentication. When a user attempts to access a resource, they first authenticate against this directory to verify their identity. The identity management system then checks what permissions that user has and either grants or denies access to the requested resource based on those permissions.

How identity management differs from access management

While identity management and access management are closely related, they are distinct processes. Identity management involves defining and managing user identities while access management is more about what users can do once their identity has been established. 

In other words, access management involves creating rules and policies that dictate which resources users are allowed to access, under which circumstances, and what actions they can take with those resources. If identity management is about managing the keys, secure access management is about controlling which locks those keys can open.

Picture this: Consider a company that uses ID badges to control physical access to their office. The process of creating those ID badges, verifying employee identities, and distributing the badges is identity management. But deciding which specific rooms and areas of the building each badge can open is access management.

In the digital world, the same principles apply. An identity management system is used to create and manage user accounts and authentication methods like passwords, certificates, multi-factor authentication (MFA), or biometrics. Then, an access management system takes over, using features like single sign-on (SSO), role-based access control (RBAC), and user lifecycle management to determine which applications, data, and resources each user can access and what they can do with them.

Together, identity management and access management form the foundation of identity and access management (IAM) which is a framework that ensures that the proper people in an enterprise have the appropriate access to technology resources. 

Identity management and zero trust security

Identity management plays a crucial role in enabling zero trust security, a model that assumes every attempt to access a system is a potential threat until proven otherwise. With zero trust, you treat every attempt to access the system as if it's a potential breach. You always ensure explicit verification that a user is logging into something they're supposed to have access to.

The key principles of zero trust security include:

  1. Verify explicitly: Always authenticate and authorize based on all available data points, including user identity, location, device health, service or workload, data classification, and anomalies.
  2. Use least privileged access: Limit user access with just-in-time and just-enough-access (JIT/JEA), risk-based adaptive policies, and data protection to protect both data and productivity.
  3. Assume breach: Minimize blast radius for breaches and prevent lateral movement by segmenting access by network, user, devices, and application awareness. Verify all sessions are encrypted end to end.

By incorporating these principles, identity management systems can help organizations implement a more secure and resilient zero trust environment.

Choosing the right identity management software

With numerous identity management providers available, selecting the right one for your organization can be daunting. Here are some key factors to consider:


As your organization grows and evolves, your identity management system must be able to scale accordingly. Look for a solution that can handle an increasing number of users, devices, and applications without compromising performance or security. The system should also be able to adapt to changes in your IT infrastructure, such as the adoption of cloud-based services or the integration of new systems.

Integration capabilities

Integration is critical for ensuring a consistent and secure user experience across all the different tools and platforms your organization uses. Look for solutions that provide a wide range of pre-built integrations and open APIs to simplify the integration process. Some key capabilities to look for include:

  • Single sign-on across cloud services, SaaS, and on-premises applications
  • Synchronization with on-premises directories like Active Directory
  • Provisioning and deprovisioning of user accounts across multiple systems
  • Integration with third-party security tools like SIEM and UEBA
  • Support for standards like SAML, OAuth, and OpenID Connect

User experience

The success of an identity management system depends on user adoption and engagement. Prioritize solutions that offer ease of use, self-service capabilities, and mobile accessibility to ensure a positive user experience.

Security and compliance

One of the primary purposes of identity management software is to enhance cybersecurity and ensure compliance with industry regulations. Look for solutions that provide security and compliance features which include:

  • Strong multi-factor authentication options, such as biometrics, hardware tokens, and mobile push notifications
  • Risk-based adaptive authentication that adjusts based on user behavior and context
  • Granular access controls and policies that enforce least privilege access
  • Detailed auditing and reporting capabilities to support regulatory requirements
  • Certifications and attestations relevant to your industry, such as ISO 27001, SOC 2, and HIPAA

The best identity solutions will provide comprehensive capabilities across all these areas. They should also offer straightforward pricing and packaging that aligns with your business needs, whether you're looking for cloud identity services, customer identity management, or a full-featured identity and access management solution.

The benefits of identity management in action

Implementing identity management software can provide multiple benefits for organizations, both in terms of security and productivity.

Streamlined user provisioning and deprovisioning

Identity management software can automate the process of creating and managing user accounts across multiple systems and applications. When a new employee joins the organization, their identity can be automatically provisioned with the appropriate access rights and entitlements based on their role and responsibilities.

This automation not only saves time and reduces manual effort for IT administrators but also ensures that new users have access to the resources they need from day one. It also helps to enforce consistent security policies and prevent unauthorized access by ensuring that users only receive the permissions they require.

Similarly, when an employee leaves the organization or changes roles, identity management software can automatically revoke or modify their access rights across all connected systems. This helps to prevent "orphaned" accounts and ensures that former employees can no longer access sensitive data or resources.

Secure external collaboration

In today's interconnected business environment, organizations often need to collaborate with external partners, vendors, and customers. However, granting access to external users can introduce new security risks if not managed properly.

Identity management solutions enable organizations to securely collaborate with external parties by providing granular access controls and auditing capabilities. This allows organizations to share resources and information with confidence, knowing that access is limited to authorized users and that all activity is monitored and logged.

Self-service and productivity

One of the key benefits of identity management software is the ability to empower end users with self-service capabilities. Self-service features allow end users to manage their own accounts and access rights without relying on IT support, reducing the workload on IT teams and improving overall productivity.

Some common self-service features include:

  • Password management and account unlock
  • Access request and approval workflows
  • User profile management
  • Mobile app for on-the-go access and authentication

Centralized visibility and control

Another major benefit of identity management software is the ability to provide centralized visibility and control over user identities and access rights. With a unified identity platform, IT teams can gain a comprehensive view of who has access to what resources across the entire organization.

This centralized visibility enables IT teams to:

  • Quickly identify and remediate identity security risks, such as orphaned accounts or excessive permissions
  • Ensure consistent application of security policies and access controls
  • Streamline compliance reporting and auditing processes
  • Make informed decisions about access control based on real-time data and analytics

Reducing IT costs and complexity

Implementing identity management software can also help organizations reduce IT costs and complexity over time. Some ways in which this can be done include:

  • Eliminating the need for manual provisioning and deprovisioning of user accounts
  • Reducing the volume of help desk tickets related to password resets and access requests
  • Consolidating multiple identity management systems into a single, unified platform
  • Automating compliance reporting and auditing processes

Implementing identity management: A practical guide

Implementing an identity management solution may seem overwhelming, but with proper planning and execution, organizations can realize the benefits quickly. 

Here's a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

  1. Assess your current environment: Identify the systems, applications, and data that require access control and determine the current state of your identity management processes.
  2. Define your requirements: Establish the key features and capabilities needed in an identity management solution, considering factors such as scalability, integration, user experience, and security.
  3. Evaluate solutions: Research and compare different identity management software options, considering factors such as cost, ease of implementation, and vendor support.
  4. Plan your implementation: Develop a comprehensive plan for implementing the chosen solution, including timelines, resources, and communication strategies.
  5. Deploy and test: Roll out the identity management system in phases, starting with a pilot group and gradually expanding to the entire organization. Conduct thorough testing to ensure the system is functioning as expected.
  6. Train users: Provide training and support to help users understand and adopt the new identity management processes and tools.
  7. Monitor and optimize: Continuously monitor the performance and effectiveness of your identity management system, making adjustments as needed to optimize security and user experience.

Best practices for identity management

To ensure the success of your identity management implementation, consider the following best practices:

  1. Adopt a risk-based approach: Prioritize your identity management efforts based on the level of risk associated with each system, application, and data set. Focus on securing your most critical assets first, then expand your efforts over time.
  2. Enforce strong authentication: Implement multi-factor authentication whenever possible, especially for high-risk systems and privileged accounts. Consider using a combination of factors, such as something you know (password), something you have (security token), and something you are (biometrics).
  3. Follow the principle of least privilege: Grant users the minimum level of access required to perform their job functions, and regularly review and adjust permissions as needed. This helps to minimize the risk of unauthorized access and data breaches.
  4. Implement segregation of duties: Ensure that no single user has excessive permissions or the ability to perform conflicting functions. For example, the same user should not be able to both request and approve access to sensitive resources.
  5. Enable self-service and delegation: Empower users to manage their own access requests and password resets, and enable managers to delegate access approval responsibilities. This helps to reduce the burden on IT staff and improve overall efficiency.
  6. Regularly review and audit access: Conduct periodic access reviews to ensure that user permissions remain appropriate and up to date. Use automated tools to identify and remediate excessive or unused permissions.
  7. Integrate with other security tools: Connect your identity management system with other security tools, such as SIEM and UEBA, to gain a more comprehensive view of user activity and detect potential security threats.
  8. Plan for emergencies: Develop a comprehensive incident response plan that includes procedures for quickly revoking access in the event of a security breach or other emergency.

Manage identities and access with Rippling’s IAM solution

Rippling makes identity and access management effortless by combining HR and IT data into a single source of truth. With employee data synced in real time, you can automate user provisioning, deprovisioning, and permission changes across your entire app ecosystem with just a few clicks. Rippling's robust security features like role-based access control and automatic offboarding ensure your company's data stays secure.

From onboarding to offboarding and everything in between, Rippling streamlines IAM processes throughout the employee lifecycle. Customize granular access policies based on any combination of employee attributes, like department, role, or location. And with an infrastructure that's certified across multiple standards including SOC 2 and ISO 27001, along with easy-to-pull audit logs, you can trust Rippling to help keep your business secure and compliant.

Frequently asked questions

What is identity governance and administration?

Identity governance and administration (IGA) is the set of processes and technologies used to manage digital identities, their permissions, and ensure compliance with policies and regulations throughout the identity lifecycle.

What is the difference between AD and IAM?

AD (Active Directory) is Microsoft's system for managing user identities and access within a network, while IAM (Identity and Access Management) is the broader discipline of defining and managing the roles and access privileges of individual users across an entire enterprise.

What is the difference between MFA and PAM?

MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication) verifies a user's identity by requiring additional credentials beyond just a password, while PAM (Privileged Access Management) is a system for securely managing and monitoring access to sensitive admin or "privileged" accounts to prevent unauthorized use.

last edited: June 10, 2024

The Author

Marisa Krystian

Senior Content Marketing Manager, IT

Marisa is a content marketer with over ten years of experience, specializing in security and workplace technology—all with a love of black coffee and the Oxford comma.