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The Stages of Identity

How people relate to their Identity data on a number of different levels

Recently I've been thinking about what happens to an identity through its life cycle and how the identity data is treated during this process.  I think you will also see that the Enterprise itself has differing methods of dealing with it as well. I am considering this to be the beginning of a framework and nomenclature that one can use for expressing how people relate to their Identity data on a number of different levels. I think we can pretty much consider this to be a "work in progress," and I would greatly appreciate feedback.

So why do we need this, anyway? I have observed that organizations, consulting groups, and other industry experts relate to Identity based information. It seems that we all have our own set of assumptions about what is supposed to happen to this information based on our roles and responsibilities and that such a framework will help to organize our thinking a little better.

First off we have what I refer to as the Pre-Identity. During this time the data that will become the identity is in its most undefined form. Data in this stage might sit in a number of different silos or systems before moving on but is mostly used by Employment and HCM systems. Typically this data has some form in that it can identify and maybe even describe an individual in terms of the Enterprise, but it does not say anything about what it can actually do.  At this stage there are no entitlements that are associated with the user. The primary relationships held by this data are mostly legal ones as this data is used to connect with government and other systems to prove data on a legal / governmental level, such as the IRS, Department of Motor Vehicles, etc.

Once we have connected the data and accepted it into the Enterprise, the Identity information moves out of Pre-Identity systems into what I refer to as Dynamic Identity. This is the phase of Identity Management that most of us work with full time.  We will analyze this data, transform, populate (and de-populate) it in our Enterprise systems. This is also the time that we will grant, modify and revoke entitlements and apply that extra "dimension" that did not exist in the Pre-Identity stage. As the relationship between people, their Enterprise Identity and their organization(s) change, so will the Dynamic Identity. Systems and Processes will constantly be changing based on the need for access based on geography, roles, titles, responsibilities and other enterprise requirements.

Happening mostly at the same time as Dynamic Identity is that of InterrogativeIdentity. This stage of Identity encompasses some of the latest trends in the field of Identity Management. As there is an increasing need to clarify, document and ultimately define what an Identity has access to and ensure that the Identity is compliant with internal enterprise rules (governance) and governmental rules (compliance) it is essential that there is a defined set of processes that enable this to occur. There are now several sets of guidance on these practices established by governments and standards bodies and a growing set of application vendors to help navigate their processes.

As another dimension of Interrogative Identity, there is the constant need by the Enterprise to understand its own data. Access to data through Enterprise Systems and linking the elements of Pre-, Dynamic and even Interrogative Identities is increasingly being managed by Business Intelligence (BI) systems.  Our understanding of how the Identity and Enterprise are connected is being enhanced as BI is extended into Identity models. This trend will only continue to grow; however its management through will need to be maintained and monitored by Dynamic and Interrogative systems to ensure that Identity and Access data is properly protected.

Finally, we must define what happens when an Identity is no longer associated with the Enterprise. The Post Identity phase is one that is often overlooked, and is the cause of many exploits and Identity Management related crises. Ensuring that there are ways to properly separate the user from the Enterprise systems while maintaining their existence for ongoing Interrogative Identity practices is required properly complete Dynamic Identity operations.

Throughout this article I have made references to "the Identity" without going into much detail.  This is done this on purpose so that there are no preconceptions as to what can be managed by this model. Any type of Enterprise object could be managed in this framework, whether it is people, groups, roles, privileges or other objects such as systems, phones and other hardware, and the relationships therein.

I have also been somewhat vague about what constitutes the Enterprise.  For far too long, the field of Identity Management has been confined to the Corporate Enterprise. However with ongoing initiatives to "Cloud" and "Service" based systems, there is a greater need to manage and monitor these relationships as one would in a Corporation or Government system. Our increasing reliance on systems such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo!, etc. to store our data and provide next generation service such as Federated access makes this all the more essential.

This does not mean that non-cloud methods and repositories do not benefit from this type of organization. These relationships are just as important when considering ERP, LDAP and other "classic" Enterprise systems as I have referenced earlier in this article.  The organization of this data is still among the leading determinants in the choice of both ERP and Identity Management systems. It is my hope that in defining and expanding this framework in terms of Pre-, Dynamic, Interrogative and Post Identity stages (PDIP) that we can find a way to address all types of Identities in all possible systems.

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More Stories By Matthew Pollicove

Matt Pollicove is an Identity Management architect, engineer, trainer, project manager, author and blogger with experience in user account provisioning, data synchronization, virtual directory and password management solutions. As a MaXware Technical Consultant and later as a System Engineer, he worked extensively with MaXware (now SAP) software products in large customer environments. In the past Matt has worked with several leading national and international consulting firms and is currently a Sr. Principal Consultant for Commercium Technologies. He is currently the Practice Lead for SAP NetWeaver Identity Management and SailPoint IIQ.