How MSPs Can Create a Better Identity Management Experience for Everyone

The sheer number of point solutions and stop-gaps isn’t just annoying; it’s expensive, labor-intensive, and often sabotages organizations' efforts to become cloud-forward.

ID management

As tech stacks grow in complexity and security threats evolve, increasing numbers of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are turning toward managed service providers (MSPs) for IT management. One of the biggest challenges for SMEs today is identity management – ensuring the right people can access the right resources at the right time, no matter when logging on. Many tools to manage employee identity can’t handle the complexity of demands, which have grown significantly since those tools were first introduced. Layer that on top of the pandemic’s impact on remote and hybrid workplaces, SMEs need new, more efficient approaches to identity management and don’t have the bandwidth or budget to manage it internally.

That Was Then, This is Now

IT ecosystems have changed significantly since the days when it seemed everything was built around legacy systems like Microsoft Active Directory (AD). Now, increasing demands for macOS and Linux systems, web applications and Linux-based on-prem applications, Samba file servers, WiFi networks, NAS appliances, and cloud servers render AD unable to serve as the central point for user access effectively.

MSPs are evaluating how to most effectively future-proof their client’s IT, ensuring that it won’t only meet current needs but stand up to the rapid evolution of needs that are bound to come in the near future. MSPs are also working to meet the operational and security needs of their clients, while reducing the IT complexity that is often the result of too many add-on solutions that require complicated and costly integrations. The sheer number of today’s point solutions and stop-gaps isn’t just annoying; it’s expensive, it’s labor-intensive, and it often sabotages efforts to become cloud-forward because it binds organizations to on-prem IT.

MSPs have never had a greater opportunity to serve their clients than with a contemporary  approach to identity that:

  • draws a perimeter around each employee, device, and access transaction.
  • doesn’t introduce friction for employees.
  • streamlines work for the teams that manage identity and access.

Whether companies are looking to grow or maintain, an MSP can help clients adopt a centralized identity approach that enables streamlined operations, robust security, and improved user experience.

1Embrace Flexibility

As clients grow, the reality of managing user identities, devices, and applications can quickly become overwhelming. Planning for scalability—from the outset—is essential.

When selecting an identity management solution, consider its ability to accommodate increased user numbers and the expansion of your clients’ technology stack. If your clients are, like millions of businesses, unsure about what the long-term workplace looks like, you’ll need to have a tech stack flexible enough to support a distributed workforce. At minimum, a centralized identity approach should facilitate remote device management, application access, and secure authentication, and additional features like robust multi-factor authentication (MFA), password management, and remote assist can ensure that remote access remains both convenient and secure.

2Centralize User Authentication

Simplify the user experience and enhance security by centralizing identity management. For example, our client Futronix needed robust identity and device management that securely connected users to a variety of devices, cloud apps, and systems with a single set of credentials. For Futronix and other clients, we use JumpCloud’s directory platform as the identity provider, paired with Microsoft 365 for our client  Now, we can set up a single sign-on (SSO) system from cross-domain identity management (SCIM) and mobile device management to onboard an authenticate across multiple applications—and devices. This approach further centralizes identity by pairing both patch and policy management to automate updates, and sets up device templates to automatically configure devices and download/install software, especially useful for new employees or even an outside BYOD contractor.

In the not-too-distant past, when clients had a new hire/when clients were managing users/were looking to scale, etc., the process was all done manually in each app/account’s portal in reference to a manual checklist in a document file, while keeping audits in an unsecured spreadsheet file. Now, we can create a new user manually or have it pre-populate in a queue to activate from the HR software and bind to specific user groups, which will then grant access to specific apps and resources, all within a minute or less.

3Implement Role-Based Access Control

Role-based access control (RBAC) is a powerful technique that enhances security by ensuring users access only the resources necessary for their roles. Perhaps this means a human resource manager has access to payroll information that most staff can’t see; a chief security officer (CSO) may have access to sensitive security information that engineers and developers may not yet have access to.

This granular approach minimizes the risk of data breaches resulting from over-privileged accounts. When implementing RBAC, consider grouping users into roles based on job responsibilities, then grant access rights accordingly. An effective identity management solution should allow for easy configuration and management of RBAC policies.

4Simplify Mobile Device Management

In today’s mobile-first world, managing devices efficiently is crucial. This is especially critical—and challenging—due to modern device environments. Most organizations use a mix of Windows, macOS, and Linux machines; additionally, the line between work and personal devices has never been blurrier. A comprehensive identity management solution should include mobile device management (MDM) capabilities, which enable remote configuration, monitoring, and securing of mobile devices, ensuring compliance and data protection.

A few considerations for successful device management for the long haul:

  • Keep the focus on the user. While devices are central to employee access – without them, no work happens – too often, MSPs focus only on managing the devices and not the resources they’re accessing. Instead, evaluate all the resources a new user needs to do their job, including networks, applications, servers, and files.
  • Think about access as a group thing. When onboarding, automate standard operating authentication processes (SOAP) around group access, then add or remove users without changing processes every time.
  • Go with the principle of least privilege (PoLP). Establish access policies by determining which resources new clients (or technicians) need access to – but also which ones they don’t. PoLP limits access to what users need to do their jobs, nothing more. Deploying RBAC can be a critical element in pursuing PoLP.

5Ensure Compliance and Visibility

Centralized identity management also contributes to compliance efforts by providing a unified view of user access and actions. Choose a solution that offers comprehensive auditing and reporting capabilities, allowing you to track user activity, monitor access patterns, and maintain compliance with industry regulations. Continuous compliance, or ongoing compliance with requirements outlined by common industry standards can offer an improvement in outcome without disrupting IT operations, and might include access control, malware defenses, vulnerability management and other activities that, when continuously updated, reduce the burden of audits. Such visibility and control not only supports regulatory requirements but also enhances a client’s security posture.

The tech landscape is ever-evolving, and supporting clients’ successful identity management requires that MSPs be adaptable to future changes. The ability to create a long-term, scalable, secure, and cost-effective identity management program is an opportunity to create a long-term business relationship built on trust and perceived value. Centralized identity management is a cornerstone of modern business operations. By embracing these tips, MSPs can help clients navigate the complexities of user authentication, device management, and security and help them navigate today’s challenges and whatever comes tomorrow.