Zero-trust identity access management can be implemented variously, but what solution best meets your needs? Here is one expert’s view.

Identity and Access Management (IAM) is an essential part of every organization’s efficient online operations. The question is, should you build your own IAM system, buy a ready-made solution or otherwise?

The current benchmark for IAM is a system that is seamless and secure: in today’s online business context users have high expectations. Unfortunately, getting access to large companies’ products and services still requires customers and staff to traverse any number of back-end systems built on disparate technologies.

To provide a seamless experience for customers, a solution should allow customers to log in once without the need to supply different usernames and passwords for every transaction.

SaaS options available

These IAM models address the complex access management problem. Software as a Service(SaaS) allows you to start immediately and at a low-cost point. You can sign up for a few dollars per user, follow the documentation, and you are on your way to a single sign-on experience that will delight your customers. SaaS solutions are great for greenfield development where the technology stack is modern and runs the latest standards.

SaaS caters for simple use cases, especially new technology, giving you speedy service with outsourced management. But what if the SaaS model does not fit your organization? What if you cannot use an SaaS solution because of the complexity of your systems, or if you need the ability to access data from your legacy systems via single sign-on?

Custom-building your own IAM

When SaaS is not an option, building one yourself involves multiple stages and levels of complexity. Once you have identified the software you want, you then need to configure and deploy it.

After deployment, you enter the iteration and support phase. You will need to support multiple environments for development and testing, capture events and log data that is monitored and armed to notify support personnel to intervene when needed. You will need automation to remove human error and provide repeatable and reliable no-downtime deployments. Of course, you will also inevitably have to upgrade your platform over time.

Every stage of this process demands the work and expertise of highly-skilled developers and system designers. Each aspect and stage of the process will require different specialties and skill sets, too, so you are going to end up with a big team, or need to hire a whole bunch of consultants.

Cloud and DevOps specialists are the most in-demand people in the workforce. They are difficult to hire, because there is a massive shortage, and their salary rates and fees reflect that demand. Even if you manage to assemble a team with the right skill sets, these skills are in demand and you will be in constant danger of having your team members poached.

Platform as a Service

This is a cloud-based IAM system, but unlike SaaS systems, it is custom-designed and configured to the specific needs of each client. PaaS systems do not require you to do any configuration or maintenance. The engineers supporting your system are the same engineers that built the software. This avoids the need to hire and train engineers yourself in a third party’s software.

A PaaS IAM platform does not require you to spend capital upfront for development or licensing or infrastructure. There are no hidden, maintenance and upgrade expenses so you can work to a fixed budget.

The relative costs and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of DIY systems and PaaS IAM can be broken down into three major components:

  • product licensing costs 
  • development and implementation costs 
  • operational and maintenance costs 

A Platform-as-a-Service solution combines your product licensing and operation costs into a fixed fee and also immediately eliminates development and implementation costs, because the platform is ready to work as soon as you turn it on. PaaS systems also reduce your time-to-value as you can onboard your apps straight away. 

Build, buy or subscribe?

PaaS saves your organization time and money up-front by avoiding the costly development process of DIY systems and provides a more flexible platform to accommodate complex environments. The PaaS subscription model also includes regular iterative updates, so your IAM software is always current within vendor support and always patched against the latest security threats.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, PaaS gives you a solution built on hundreds of prior implementations, so any bugs would have already been worked out before you get started. Using a PaaS platform, you can invest your IT budget and talent into projects that enhance your core product offering, and consume your IAM needs as a service.

IAM is not simple, but done the right way it bestows a competitive advantage on your business. If you are struggling to decide between buying or building, an IAM PaaS solution could provide the sophisticated IAM services you need with optimal cost-efficiency.