Identity lifecycle management refers to managing user identities and changing employee and contractor access privileges throughout their stay with an organization.

It is a critical component of a complete identity security offering. In particular, an identity lifecycle management solution automates and simplifies all processes related to onboarding and offboarding users, assigning and managing access rights, and monitoring and tracking access activities.


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Before diving deeper into identity lifecycle management, let’s tackle some related concepts first.

What Is a Digital Identity?

Identity lifecycle management deals with so-called “digital identities.”

A digital identity refers to data on an entity used by one or more computing resources like operating systems (OSs) or applications. An entity can represent a person, an organization, an application, or a device.

The entity’s digital identity is typically defined by related attributes like names, identifiers, and other properties, such as roles used for access management. These attributes aid systems in determining who has access to what and who is allowed to use a specific resource.

An example of a digital identity would be a CEO, and its digital identity can have the following attributes:

  • The CEO’s full name
  • The CEO’s username and password combination
  • The CEO can access all of the company’s systems and applications to oversee how they are used and who uses them

Why Is Identity Lifecycle Management Important?

Even today, several corporate IT and security organizations may rely on time-consuming manual processes to give new employees access to systems and applications and manage their privileges. As such, some take days or even weeks to onboard new hires and provide them secure access to the software and hardware they need to do their work effectively.

Worse, each time someone gets promoted or changes roles, his or her access privileges will also change. IT and system administrators must go through the manual access privilege assignment process again. Employees’ digital identities must be purged when they leave the company, so they can no longer access the corporate network. If not, disgruntled former employees or rogue contractors may be able to launch attacks against the organization or steal sensitive data.

Imagine doing that for tens or even hundreds or thousands of employees from various parts of the world. Enter identity lifecycle management solutions to address these challenges.

What Are the Steps in Establishing an Identity Lifecycle Management Process?

Here are the steps to establish an identity lifecycle management process:

  1. See if the company already has authoritative records or data sources in place. An example would be a human resource (HR) system that lists all its current employees and related properties like their names, departments, email addresses, etc.
  2. Connect the records to existing application directories and databases and resolve inconsistencies. Some directories may have obsolete data, like a former employee’s account, that requires deletion.
  3. Complete and correct erroneous records. Make digital identities for visitors, contractors, suppliers, and other third parties. Their access privileges need to be limited to systems and applications that don’t hold sensitive data—not meant for outsiders’ eyes.
  4. Replicate all changes made to the authoritative records across all existing directories or databases.
Identity Lifecycle Management process

After all the steps are done, the company can purchase an identity lifecycle management solution to automate the process.

What Is an Identity Lifecycle Management Solution?

An identity lifecycle management solution automates manually intensive and error-prone user provisioning and identity governance processes. It allows new hires to hit the ground running. It also helps businesses reduce security risks by preventing unauthorized access and deleting out-of-date user accounts. In a nutshell, it helps IT and security teams free up staff time to focus on more critical tasks.

What Organizational Relationships Should the Ideal Identity Lifecycle Management Solution Handle?

An identity lifecycle management solution should manage these three fundamental relationships an employee can have with the company:

  • Join: Occurs when an employee joins the company. He or she would need access to the systems and applications necessary for his or her job. He or she needs a digital identity that IT or system administrators will create.
  • Move: Happens when an employee moves from one department to another or gets promoted. In the first case, he or she needs access to a different set of hardware and software—those his or her new department uses. His or her access to the systems and applications that he or she will no longer use should also be revoked. In the second case, he or she will need access to more software and hardware to perform his or her new job.
  • Leave: Occurs when a person leaves the company. His or her access must be removed or transferred to his or her replacement. In some cases, his or her digital identity may be kept for auditing or forensics purposes.

Identity lifecycle management is critical to keep corporate data safe from the prying eyes of unauthorized users. If companies don’t keep digital identities updated, data breaches can occur.

Key Takeaways

  • Identity lifecycle management refers to managing user identities and changing employee and contractor access privileges throughout their stay with an organization.
  • Identity lifecycle management secures corporate secrets and internal processes from theft and compromise.
  • Identity lifecycle management manages three primary relationships—join, move, and leave.