Identity and access management (IAM) automation is an undeniable game changer in higher education, with countless advantages for colleges and universities. So, when we recently worked with Pulse to survey IT leaders in higher education, we were a little surprised by the narrow scope of some of the results. When asked what automation benefits they’re most looking forward to, most of the answers centered around three categories:
- Reduced security risk
- Boosted confidence in compliance status
- A shift from reactive to proactive threat detection
All of these are certainly key benefits for higher education; however, the payoffs for colleges and universities go well beyond these three. Automation can increase efficiency, resiliency, and accuracy in a number of ways.
More Time for Strategic Initiatives
While just over a third of respondents showed interest in this benefit, the importance of time saved cannot be overstated. Institutions that no longer have to spend time manually managing IAM can instead dedicate those resources to more innovative projects. Whether it’s app development, streamlining processes across departments, or focusing on end user experience, removing the more time-consuming parts of identity and access management allows colleges and universities to devote more resources towards strategic thinking.
Improved End User Experience
With so many other priorities to manage, user experience can get left behind. Our recent survey certainly reflected that: only 13% of respondents noted it as an expected benefit. Overlooking this vital piece of the IAM roadmap may expedite processes in the short-term, but poor UX can create extra work (i.e., onboarding challenges and overall usage issues) down the road if neglected for too long.
Simplified Workflows and Streamlined, Modernized Processes
Never underestimate the power of simpler processes. These automation bonuses may have only sparked excitement in around 10% of our IT leaders, but these streamlined workflows can make all the difference for universities. This is especially true for larger institutions who are tasked with identity and access management across multiple departments and colleges where automation can save countless hours.
Hurdles That are Holding Back Critical Growth
Unfortunately, due to obstacles faced by much of higher education, that automation panacea is still a ways off. The following hurdles are holding back critical growth for identity and access management in higher education and overcoming them will be crucial for success in the future.
Pre-pandemic, higher education was already facing budget cuts. Now, Covid-19 has only further intensified financial constraints. IT departments at colleges and universities, in particular, have been faced with unforeseen challenges as they were forced to quickly adapt for remote learning and then strengthen these swift solutions as the pandemic stretched on. Of course, this increase in internal IT demand had its own financial outlays and was simultaneously coupled with schools needing to tighten their budgets even further.
In our survey, all IT leaders agreed that budget is a primary roadblock for identity and access management automation. While there’s no easy solution for these financial hurdles, clearly communicating the full value of IAM automation (long-term cost savings, more efficient processes, fewer errors, etc.) will strengthen efforts to implement these essential processes and solutions.
Existing Infrastructure Investments
Legacy systems make those budget constraints even more challenging to overcome, as many schools have put significant amounts of time and financial investment into these systems and processes. Making the switch to a new automated system is about more than the financial cost, it’s also the time needed to onboard and implement that new technology — especially training teams and getting them up to speed with the new IAM solution.
All IT leaders we surveyed selected this as an impediment on the road to automation. Understanding that the investment — both time and cost — is worth the increase in efficiency, security, and so much more will allow colleges and universities to expedite their automation journey.
Ultimately, automating identity and access management in higher education requires that IT leaders achieve buy-in from all decisions makers. While those in the trenches of the IT department may have a clear understanding of the benefits of automation, communicating that with the C-suite can present its own challenges.
While three-quarters of respondents identified executive buy-in as an automation hindrance, for schools struggling to convince decision makers of the value, it can be the sole roadblock to automation. As is the case with budget constraints, presenting the ROI of automation (time saved, decrease in human error, and as a result, reduced long-term costs) will be key in convincing leadership to commit to this essential evolution.
All of these challenges certainly present stumbling blocks on the path to IAM automation for colleges and universities. Clear communication of the return on this investment will be critical as higher education IAM moves forward.
Reputation Is Everything
Most end users may not be a decision maker at any colleges and universities, but they’re still certainly stakeholders when it comes to identity and access management. Whether it’s a student needing to reset their password from home or a new research project that requires specific entitlements, the process needs to be seamless, simple, and secure.
Clunky processes can create frustration for the end user (at best) and serious system vulnerabilities (at worst). It’s also worth noting that ultimately, when it comes to IAM processes, the opinions of end users can and do influence those who make the decisions.
End User Experience Also Has Pull
For many of these questions, the results matched the trends we’re witnessing in IAM for higher education. However, a few categories had some surprises, among them, end user experience (UX).
While only 13% of higher education IT executives cited the improvement of end user experience as a main benefit of IAM automation, two-thirds rated the influence of UX over the IAM roadmap as at least a 4 (on a scale of 1-5). End user experience isn’t driving IAM automation, but it still has plenty of pull when it comes to automation. Understanding its influence can help higher education better incorporate UX into automation plans moving forward.
Amplified by Remote Access
While remote access has always played a role in UX, the pandemic has made it a priority. Our survey reflected that 98% of those surveyed said UX improvement has risen in importance following the mass work-from-home migration and the broad swath of resources being accessed remotely. Remote access has also added another dimension to UX with IT teams needing to account for how remote students and faculty can reach support (for password problems or more serious issues) when the need arises.
Lighten the Load
While the end user is the focus of UX, higher education IT teams will also reap some of the benefits. Seamless, simple, secure IAM that’s easy to use and incorporates support solutions that users can access remotely, will ultimately remove many of those tasks (password resets, permission updates, etc.) from the IT team’s to-do list. Fewer user issues means less problem solving for your IT team, freeing them to focus on more strategic initiatives — further improving processes, application development, or whatever innovation is next.
User Experience Smart From the Start
UX may not be the driving force for higher education IAM automation, but IT leaders still need to keep its impact and influence in mind when plotting out their identity and access management roadmaps. When higher education IT leaders incorporate UX into IAM automation strategies from the start, they can stay ahead of any complications and ensure IAM automation benefits all stakeholders.
Get our one minute whitepaper to read the full results of our survey and learn more about IAM automation challenges and benefits for higher education in our resource:
Join Hitachi ID and Pulse for an upcoming webinar to learn more about how higher education is using automation to complement identity and access management governance in their zero trust strategies to protect data against cyber security attacks.