Provisioning is the job of ensuring that, at all times during their career with an employer, staff have all of the necessary access privileges, equipment and other IT resources that they need in order to do their job. Managing this accurately and efficiently within budget and on time can be extremely difficult, but software solutions are available which can help greatly.

Identity Management
Provisioning systems often include identity management capabilities. This allows control and organisation of what can be a major problem area for a lot of companies, namely the management of access rights and passwords across multiple systems. When security auditors ask a company's IT management for a list of all key computing resources and details of which staff have access to which resources, it is often impossible to produce a definitive list because the information is spread across the internal access control lists of many different servers running a multitude of operating systems. A corporate inability to accurately list the components of someone's electronic identity makes auditing difficult and will hinder investigations if a system is hacked.

Identity Management software allows companies to define roles which correspond to job functions, and then by assigning staff to one or more roles their access rights to multiple systems can be easily granted, revoked or changed with ease. By providing the ability to report on users' access rights, and to cross-reference these via customised reports, identity management software can alert companies to potentially dangerous or even illegal situations before they arise.

For example, an employee who has access to the procurement system for placing orders should be prevented from subsequently being granted access to the system which issues payments to suppliers, in order to prevent fraud caused by an employee setting up a bogus company. Identity Management software can warn against such cases, even if access to the second system is granted many years after the first.

Identity Management solutions also generally have facilities to allow users to automatically request password resets, thus freeing the help desk staff from the expensive and time-consuming tasks of dealing with users who have forgotten their passwords.

Top Tips for managing Joiners, Leavers and Movers
1. Some joiners request access to internal systems before their official start date, in order that they can start introducing themselves by email. This is inadvisable, as the employee probably won't have signed all his contracts yet and thus will not be governed by the company's IT Conditions of Use or Acceptable Use Policies.

2. If key clients and external partners are given access to your company's network, ensure that each registered user has a unique username so that their actions can be tracked and logged. If such a user changes employer or job function, consider whether their access is still relevant. For example, their new employer might be a competitor of one of your company's external divisions.

3. If an employee changes roles within the company, examine the systems to which they have access and consider how this needs changing. Promoting an employee doesn't necessarily mean that they still require access to all of the systems they were previously entitled to use.

4. Always ensure that access to key systems is closed as soon as an employee leaves at the end of their notice period. Use of identity management tool will help ensure that all access privileges assigned to the employee have been revoked.

5. When an employee leaves, make sure that all company assets have been returned. Use of automated provisioning software can make this onerous task far less painful than it otherwise might be.

6. Check that former staff are no longer on any internal email lists. This is especially important if their mail was forwarded to an external account, as they may be able to continue reading it even if their access to the corporate email system has been revoked.

7. If dismissing an employee, withdraw their access to key systems immediately before, or during, the dismissal.

8. Don't destroy usage records when staff leave. Their abuses of the system might not come to light until some months after they have departed so it's important to hang onto the evidence.

9. Audit your systems to ensure that no accounts belonging to former staff are still active. If you find any, check the last login date and investigate any which raise concerns.

10. Change intruder alarm and numeric-pad lock combinations regularly, and especially when someone who knows the numbers leaves or is dismissed.

Summary
Provisioning is one of the latest enterprise IT buzzwords, although it describes a process which has been going on for decades. The multitude of systems, applications and information now required by employees, and the need to offer a range of perks to staff in order to attract or retain them, means that provisioning is now more complex than it ever has been. And with staff now requiring access to so many internal and external computer systems, all of which might require separate usernames, passwords and access privileges, identity management (ie. keeping track of who has access to what) is far from straightforward. The provisioning and identity management burden placed upon IT managers and personnel departments can, thankfully, be eased considerably through the use of automated software systems.

Michael Burling is European director for Thor Technologies, a supplier of identity management systems such as its Xellerate Identity Manager.