User provisioning is the formation, preservation, updating, and disposition of a user’s digital identity and access privileges for multiple resources at the same time, whether on-premises, in the cloud, or in a hybrid environment. 

This article details the definition, processes, best practices, and benefits of user provisioning and deprovisioning, as well as the meaning and utilisation of automated user provisioning and user provisioning solutions. 

Definition of user provisioning

User provisioning, also known as user account provisioning, is an identity and access management (IAM) process that utilises key user information such as name, job title, department, attributes, entitlements, group memberships, and other associated data to create accounts and grant the appropriate rights and privileges to users across the IT infrastructure and business applications. Its purpose is to safeguard systems, applications, and data while enabling user access to perform tasks that support the enterprise’s strategies, goals, and objectives. 

User provisioning is activated when new information is added or updated in the original system database and subsequently managed throughout the user’s lifecycle within the organisation. Access to applications and data is granted based on the enterprise’s needs for that user and adjusted as roles and business needs evolve and change. 

Types of user provisioning

Types of user provisioning include: 

  • Self-service: Users manage some aspects of user provisioning on their own; for example, password updates 
  • Discretionary: Users are granted access to data and applications by an administrator 
  • Workflow: User access is granted based on workflow requirements once mandatory authorisations are obtained 
  • Automated: The user provisioning process is managed by software or a solution that conforms to rules created for accounts, generating efficiencies by enabling Administrators to focus on other tasks 

What is deprovisioning?

Deprovisioning is the act of withdrawing privileges or access from an account or deleting an account prompted by changes such as internal employee transfers or departures. Accounts may also be disabled or deleted due to internal or external threats. The user will also be removed from any groups or roles of which they are a member.  

Deprovisioning is an important step for security reasons; even if the user does not pose a threat, dormant accounts can be gateways to data breaches and other cybersecurity threats. 

An example of user provisioning

An example of user provisioning for a new employee might include the following steps: 

  • The employee joins the organisation; an IT profile is created, and birthright applications are assigned 
  • The employee is onboarded, and may be granted additional access based on required tasks 
  • Throughout the employee’s tenure, access may be withdrawn and/or granted as the employee’s role changes  
  • When the team member’s employment terminates, the user account will be appropriately deprovisioned as the employee offboards 

User provisioning policies and procedures vary based on circumstances, such as in the above example versus on-off provisioning for temporary, non-employee access, or re-provisioning for a current employee experiencing problems with an existing account.  

The user provisioning process

These steps may be followed to launch user provisioning or to restructure an inefficient or non-scalable program. User provisioning process steps include: 

  • Assessing and evaluating identity and access management (IAM) initiatives: Consider maturity level, efficacy, and security, and enable an organisation-wide language around user provisioning 
  • Developing a user provisioning business case: Detail the current IAM process, identify gaps and challenges in usability and productivity, and project the benefits, such as improved security, reduced risk, and increased efficiency, of proposed updates 
  • Inventorying of mission-critical systems and applications, directories, and users 
  • Planning resources: Typical roles required for user provisioning include a project manager, technical leads, system administrators, database administrators, and human resources analysts 
  • Introducing a trial of the proposed program: Involve people at all levels of the organisation, including executives, and request feedback to incorporate prior to the full release 
  • Launching user provisioning throughout the enterprise: Use checklists, status meetings, and the identified internal resources to keep the process on track 
  • Observing and enhancing the new process and solution: Track user provisioning requests and responses, measure key performance indicators, and iterate to improve the program and continue to scale while sunsetting the previous process 

Be sure to note areas of improvement that might not be immediately visible via metrics, such as increased availability from IT teams for larger, more complex initiatives due to spending less time on routine user provisioning requests. 

User provisioning best practices

One of the greatest challenges for the enterprise today is safeguarding applications and data while ensuring that employees and others have easy access to the resources they need to be productive. User provisioning best practices support both concerns with the following: 

  • Ensure centralised identity and access management: Minimise security risk while easing the burden on IT teams 
  • Use the principle of least privilege: Users only need access to resources that are essential to perform their jobs, and only for defined time periods 
  • Automate user provisioning and deprovisioning: Manual management of user provisioning doesn’t make sense for most organisations; it consumes valuable IT resources with little return, and is less effective when it comes to security since over- and under-provisioning are common 
  • Support IT teams: Generate guidelines for sharing and restricting access, checklists for onboarding, transitioning, and offboarding team members, and transparency around roles and their required access to organisational resources 
  • Use multi-factor authentication: This access management tool combines two or more security mechanisms for accessing IT resources, including applications and devices 
  • Utilise risk-based authentication (RBA): Determine the risk when a user performs a specific action; block the user and alert the IT team when potential issues are detected 
  • Consider compliance and implement auditing: Compliance requirements often overlap with security concerns; internal audits proactively support both security and compliance efforts 

Best practices for user provisioning solutions

Best practices for selecting user provisioning software or solutions for the enterprise include selecting a product that: 

  • Is comprehensive and scalable 
  • Offers a positive, easy user experience 
  • Provides automated capabilities with self-service where feasible 
  • Has features that support regulatory compliance requirements 
  • Mitigates the cost of the solution with internal improvements 
  • Includes robust analytics and reporting 

User provisioning benefits

To grow, scale, and enable digital transformation, the enterprise must dispense with manual, spreadsheet-based processes and enable automation, streamlining, and artificial intelligence. User provisioning is part of this change because it facilitates a shift from IT teams as support to a team that drives new initiatives.  

Benefits to the enterprise from enabling user provisioning include: 

  • Streamlining identity and access management across applications 
  • Easier employee onboarding and offboarding with better security and lower costs 
  • Improving team member, contractor, and partner efficiency and productivity 
  • Providing role-based access control 
  • Protecting sensitive data 
  • Reduced administrative complexity and fewer human errors with a centralised system 
  • Time savings for the IT security team that allows them to prioritise other tasks   
  • Simplifying password management  
  • Mitigating risks from compromised or over-provisioned accounts 
  • Improved regulatory compliance and audit preparation 
  • Facilitating efficient auditing, with automated user provisioning systems that conduct audits in hours instead of days or weeks 
  • Enhancing operational velocity 
  • Maintaining organisational security, including supporting remote work and mitigating risks associated with shadow IT 
  • Reputation enhancement based on safeguarding of information and applications 

Automated user provisioning

Automated user provisioning is the logical outcome of user provisioning and identity and access management. Joiner – mover – leaver roles make sense here. The role attributed to the user can be tied to their current organisational position, freeing IT team members to work on other priority tasks rather than spending time checking attributes and managing clearances for individual users.  

Automated provisioning mitigates the challenges and interruptions generated by manually administering user accounts.

It also enhances security and compliance initiatives by permitting just enough access without enabling too much. Attribute-based access control (ABAC) facilitates this by providing users with permissions for applications and data based on the position they hold in the organisation, and withdrawing access that is no longer needed, reducing the risk of insider threats. 

The fundamental workflow for automated user provisioning involves assigning users to applications based on their roles. When a user is given a role, they are automatically generated in the application and provided access. No matter why access is no longer needed, permissions are revoked based on the organisation’s deprovisioning policies when a role is removed from the user.   

User provisioning solutions

In an increasingly complex environment, user provisioning solutions enable the enterprise to utilise a sophisticated, centralised tool to control user privileges to applications and data and support using the information in these solutions to automate many tasks like generating, changing, and cancelling user access throughout the account’s existence. This streamlines organisational infrastructure while empowering the company to grow and scale.  

A user provisioning solution: 

  • Maintains available identity data on its infrastructure 
  • Offers appropriate tools for administrators to specify access conditions 
  • Provides a cost-effective method of securely modernising the employee lifecycle 
  • Utilises automation in activities associated with identity administration 
  • Safeguards data with enhanced enterprise security and authentication capabilities 
  • Offers an exceptional user experience that enriches employee productivity 

Securing the enterprise with user provisioning

User provisioning enables the enterprise to properly provision and deprovision access to applications and data, reducing the risk of data breaches, which are expensive and can cause long-term negative repercussions for the organisation’s reputation. It also facilitates visibility across the enterprise for leadership teams.  

User provisioning tools use automation to generate, oversee, and control user access, simplifying administration and enabling better management of the enterprise’s identity and access management program. Robust and stable user provisioning processes and procedures with a solid implementation support many areas of the enterprise as it pivots in response to an ever-changing business climate. 

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