Why Most Identity Management Software Can’t Handle Transient Users at Scale



While every business faces some level of transience in its operations—namely employee or customer churn—community colleges, by the nature of their business, face the issue on a massive scale. For example, At Lone Star College, the nation’s third-largest higher-education system, up to 40 percent of the schools’ 100,000 students are transient users.

Students and adjunct teachers flow in and out of the system, often taking multiple semesters off before returning to the school system or never returning at all. And although this kind of flexibility in higher education is a benefit to students and educators alike, the revolving door of user identities can create some major challenges for IT teams trying to manage complex transient user lifecycles. Keeping up with the onboarding and offboarding of 40,000 students is no easy task. Transfer students become full-time students, then online students, then take a semester off—you get the picture. Add adjunct professors to the mix, and you have an extremely complex identity management environment on your hands.

And, unfortunately, the legacy or homegrown identity and access management (IAM) systems in place at most community colleges aren’t up to the task.

Why Legacy Systems Can’t Keep Up

In the worst cases, IT teams are stuck with homegrown IAM systems, a hodgepodge of manual processes and scripts that can cause massive delays in onboarding as IT teams must pick and choose where to apply their limited bandwidth.Manual Processes & Custom Workarounds? Get the Guide to Evaluate Whether It's  Time to Upgrade Your IAM »

Schools with legacy IAM systems in place fare better, but not by much. Most legacy IAM products were designed to manage static systems—long-term employee accounts, not transient and external users. Tailoring these programs to such a use case is a difficult process that often requires the development of complex workarounds, such as custom scripts, or even expensive external consulting engagements.

The end result of such solutions is a very busy help desk, which is a drag on business processes and a negative for students. An average 15-minute help desk call resolving an identity administration case costs $31, according to Forrester Research. For a community college with 100,000 students, those costs can add up pretty quickly. Not to mention the effect on unhappy students who have to wait for access to critical and time-sensitive resources, such as online class materials and homework.

Modern IAM for Modern Education

To address these issues, the modern community college needs a modern IAM platform. One that can automate the complex lifecycle management of a large and unpredictable user base, without the need for ad hoc scripting or external resources.

With modern IAM solutions, schools can easily automate most IAM tasks, like creating accounts, providing user IDs and passwords, and granting access to resources. 

Features like self-service password resets and delegated user management relieve the strain on the IT help desk and let staff tackle more important issues, while students are easily able to access the resources they need, even when they’ve lost their credentials. Take Lone Star College, for example: After implementing their new IAM solution, IT staff saw help desk calls related to passwords drop from 90,000 per year to just 45,000—a soft cost savings of more than $400,000 per year. 

Likewise, modern IAM solutions automate the account provisioning process for students, staff, adjunct professors, and even library and computer lab guests. This gives students full, immediate access to resources as soon as they register. At Lone Star College, when a student’s status changes in the Student Information System, say, from enrolled to unenrolled, he or she is automatically moved into new groups with the correct permissions.

The reality of the modern higher education environment is that transient users aren't going anywhere. Flexibility for students and professors is the new normal for community colleges, and it’s up to you whether you want to be ready for that future or not. By equipping yourself with the right tools, you can prepare yourself and your organization and make this flexibility a win-win for both you and your users.

To learn more about how identity management software helped solve the challenges facing Lone Star College and other community colleges, read these case studies:



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