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Identity and Access Management Commoditization: a Tale of Two Cities

By Gunnar

Identity and access management are generally 1) staffed out of the same IT department, 2) sold in vendor suites, and 3) covered by the same analysts. So this naturally lumps them together in people’s minds. However, their capabilities are quite different. Even though identity and access management capabilities are frequently bought as a package, what identity management and access management offer an enterprise are quite distinct. More importantly, successfully implementing and operating these tools requires different organizational models.

Yesterday, Adrian discussed commoditization vs. innovation, where commoditization means more features, lower prices, and wider availability. Today I would like to explore where we are seeing commoditization and innovation play out in the identity management and access management spaces.

Identity Management: Give Me Commoditization, but Not Yet

Identity management tools have been widely deployed for the last 5 years and that are characterized in many respects as business process workflow tools with integration into somewhat arcane enterprise user repositories such as LDAP, HR, ERP, and CRM systems. So it is reasonable to expect that over time we will see commoditization (more features and lower prices), but so far this has not happened. Many IDM systems still charge per user account, which can appear cheap – especially if the initial deployment is a small pilot project – grow to a large line item over time.

In IDM we have most of the necessary conditions to drive features up and prices down, but there are three reasons this has not happened yet. First, there is a small vendor community – it is not quite a duopoly, but the IDM vendors can be counted on one hand – and the area has not attracted open source on any large scale. Next there is a suite effect, where the IDM products that offer features such as provisioning are also tied to other products like entitlements, role management, and so on. Last and most important, the main customers which drove initial investment in IDM systems were not feature-hungry IT but compliance-craving auditors. Compliance reports around provisioning and user account management drove initial large-scale investments – especially in large regulated enterprises. Those initial projects are both costly and complex to replace, and more importantly their customers are not banging down vendor doors for new features.

Access Management – Identity Innovation

The access management story is quite different. The space’s recent history is characterized by web application Single Sign On products like SiteMinder and Tivoli Webseal. But unlike IDM the story did not end there. Thanks to widespread innovation in the identity field, as well as standards like SAML, OpenID, oauth, information cards, XACML and WS-Security, we see considerable innovation and many sophisticated implementations. These can be seen in access management efforts that extend the enterprise – such as federated identity products enabling B2B attribute exchange, Single Sign On, and other use cases; as well as web facing access management products that scale up to millions of users and support web applications, web APIs, web services, and cloud services.

Access management exhibits some of the same “suite effect” as identity management, where incumbent vendors are less motivated to innovate, but at the same time the access management tools are tied to systems that are often direct revenue generators such as ecommerce. This is critical for large enterprise and the mid-market, and companies have shown no qualms about “doing whatever it takes” when moving away from incumbent suite vendors and to best of breed, in order to enable their particular usage models.

Summary

We have not seen commoditization in either identity management or access management. For the former, large enterprises and compliance concerns combine to make it a lower priority. In the case of access management, identity standards that enable new ways of doing business for critical applications like ecommerce have been the primary driver, but as the mid-market adopts these categories beyond basic Active Directory installs – if and when they do – we should see some price pressure.

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