Friday, August 07, 2009

Identity Management in .EDU land

We have a few challenges when it comes to an identity management system. As with any attempt to automate identity management, it is the exceptions that kill projects. This is an extension of the 80/20 rule, where 80% of the cases will be dead easy to manage, and it's the 20% that are special are where most of the business-rules meeting-time will be spent.

In our case, we have two major classes of users:
  • Students
  • Employees
And a few minor classes littered about like Emeritus Professors. I don't quite know enough about them to talk knowledgeably.

The biggest problem we have are how to handle the overlaps. Student workers. Staff who take classes. We have a lot of student workers, but staff who take classes are another story. The existence of these types of people make impossible having the two big classes as exclusive.

Banner handles this case pretty well from what I understand. The systems I manage, however, are another story. With eDirectory and the Novell Client, we had two big contexts named Students and Users. If your object was in one, that's the login script you ran. Active Directory was until recently Employee-only because of Exchange. We put the students in there (with no mailboxes of course) two years ago, largley because we could and it made the student-employee problem easier to manage.

One of the thorniest questions we have right now is defining, "when is a student a student with a job, and when is a student an employee taking classes." Unfortunately, we do not have a handy business rule to solve that. A rule, for example, like this one:
If a STUDENT is taking less than M credit-hours of classes, and is employed in a job-class of C1-F9, then they shall be reclassed EMPLOYEE.
That would be nice. But we don't have it, because the manual exception-handling process this kicks off is not quite annoying enough to warrant the expense of deciding on an automatable threshold. Because this is a manual process, people rarely get moved back across the Student/Employee line in a timely way. If the migration process were automated, certain individuals would probably flop over the line every other quarter.

This one nice example of the sorts of discussions you have to have when rolling out an identity management automation system. If we were given umpty thousand dollars to deploy Novell IDM in order to replace our home-built system, we'd have to start having these kinds of discussions again. Even though we've had some kind of identity provisioning system since the early 90's. Because we DO have an existing one, some of the thornier questions of data-ownership and workflow are already solved. We'd just have to work through the current manual-intervention edge cases.

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