Considering Identity Management in Higher Education…During a Pandemic

At the 2018 Identiverse® conference, IDPro member Dedra Chamberlin, founder and CEO of Cirrus Identity, gave a presentation exploring the differences between identity management in the higher education environment and a typical enterprise scenario. Given the current pandemic challenges facing identity managers at this time, we thought it would be good to revisit these differences and consider what additional challenges might be coming into play.

In her original presentation, Dedra identified 5 key areas in which identity management in higher education is different than in enterprise:

  1. Collaboration is as important as competition. Colleague and learner collaboration – often globally – is essential to the success of the university. Conversely, enterprises usually restrict users to only those within the company…outsiders “shall not pass.” This is especially true during a pandemic lockdown. Most university campuses are closed for the remainder of the school year, forcing students, educators, collaborators, and even  executives to navigate working from home. This creates new identity management challenges for IT professionals in higher-ed settings.
  1. Federation means much more than bilateral SAML integration. Rather than simple, bi-lateral federation between two enterprises, higher Ed. Federation are typically multilateral, allowing for global collaborator participation across multiple entities. Enterprises are not traditionally comfortable with this type of authentication and information sharing as it moves beyond their walls and those they’ve partnered with to engage multiple participants . With staff  working and teaching remotely, and students needing virtual access, IT teams are experiencing a new type of challenge as video comms tools are more frequently deployed – often with a serious potential for a security breach.
  1. Collaboration extends to building and supporting open-source software solutions. The higher education need for collaboration on projects and research efforts prompted the development of unique technology frameworks that allow global participation. Enterprises could benefit from deploying similar technologies to better serve and integrate with these communities during these unprecedented times of remote work.  
  1. “External” users are core to the business. Traditional businesses typically have two identity groups to manage: employees and customers. In higher education, there are similarly two groups – “internal” and “external” – with a slight difference. These groups have several participant levels (e.g. internal = staff, faculty, students, etc. and external = parents, continuing ed students, research teams, etc.) resulting in the need for a unique and flexible authentication system that still provides necessary security. Due to COVID-19, the majority of the workforce is forced to work remotely. Enterprises are being challenged to “flex” while still maintaining their required security standards. 
  1. Account life cycle management. Most companies hire an employee and create a corporate account that will track, record, and manage their career information within the organization. Higher education is incredibly different – encompassing phases from application through graduation, departure and return, alumni status, donor, and so on. Individuals need access to certain information throughout the entire life cycle and limiting this could result in complete disconnection – especially challenging for higher education donors. Recently, enterprises are also struggling with this multi-layered experience – employee promotion, role shifting, and in recent cases, adjusting to working from home. The Corporate world could benefit from this nimble management of identity, recognizing phases of a career can be equally as varied as the phases of higher education.

Read Dedra’s full article and share your thoughts with us on this topic. How do you see identity management affecting your enterprise or higher education institution during the COVID-19 pandemic? What expected – or unexpected – challenges have arisen as a result? Share your experience with us on Twitter  and on LinkedIn.

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