Making the Choice
Fixed costs, customized solutions and user convenience - determining factors in buying physical identity and access management
The migration of physical security technology to a network platform
has made it easier and more convenient for organizations to
integrate the various modalities of physical security into a unified
configuration to better safeguard their employees, visitors, premises
and material/intellectual property. Open architecture further enables
central control of the various security systems on a single platform, providing
higher levels of operational efficiency across the enterprise as well as improved
standardization of policies and procedures.
Similar operational benefits have been achieved from advanced physical identity
and access management (PIAM) software solutions that allow security identities
to be managed and streamlined across disparate physical security systems
within an organization by creating a single identity for each individual across all
physical security systems. Integrating physical with logical systems, the software
can ensure synchronized and policy-based on- and off-boarding of identities and
their physical access levels across multiple security systems.
With increasing frequency, enterprise-wide physical identity and access
management software systems are playing key roles in organizational strategy.
Physical identity and access management software is a ready-made solution for
organizations looking to upgrade and enhance their physical security strategies,
remain compliant with requirements mandated by various regulations or integrate
and maintain alignment with security policies during and after a corporate
To Build or Buy
Without question, PIAM software is an effective tool
that can readily address multiple challenges where
improving efficiencies through identity management
is needed. The uncertainty arises when making the
decision as to whether a PIAM software package that
addresses compliance, operational and quality needs
should be developed internally or purchased as a
commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) solution.
The appeal of building an in-house, custom application
is often founded on the belief that company
processes, business challenges and unique needs are
better understood within an organization, rather than
by an outside vendor. The solution can be developed
more accurately and less expensively.
Conversely, many identity management issues and
requirements are similar in nature, and it will save time,
and potentially costs, to purchase a COTS package developed
by a more specialized software developer.
Understanding the differences between these two
approaches can yield significant benefits, but it’s not
an easy choice to make. There are, however, three key
areas that should be considered when making the
choice between an in-house developed solution and
a COTS package:
Cost. If considering an in-house developed solution,
costs must include the time-intensive process of
developing the outline/application, assigning personnel
and determining charge-back costs for development,
testing and support. Because of the nature and
complexity of the PIAM application, the development
must take into consideration workflow that integrates
a variety of business system processes as well
as the integration between existing hardware and/or
software systems. For example, when one set of privileges
changes, whether physical or logical, that alteration
must trigger automatic, complementary revisions
in other sets.
With regard to the development team, assignment
of personnel is dependent upon the technology resource
pool and their experience with this platform.
The team may have to be expanded to include personnel
with expertise in specific business processes.
Based on these drawbacks, recent trends indicate
that organizations are no longer looking within to create
and maintain the custom applications that address
large scale identity management needs, but rather are
turning to external, professional resources that offer
application-targeted solutions built on best practices
and with a proven track record.
Unlike an in-house developed software program,
costs for COTS solutions can be negotiated and determined
up front. Any additions or custom developments
can be quantified prior to the start of the
project, and a schedule for incremental upgrades or
changes can be identified for budgeting purposes. In
addition, COTS solutions usually provide a better
ROI over the long term based on more robust features,
greater reliability and the ability to scale at a
lower cost than an in-house solution.
Customization. In many organizations and vertical
industries, regulatory compliance is the impetus
for instituting an identity management program. For
example, corporations subject to the Sarbanes-Oxley
Act require stringent management of user identities
and access to information while ensuring system integrity.
The CFATS rule governs the petrochemical
industry, while the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Privacy Act
protects information in the finance arena. In other
areas, NERC/FERC security regulations govern the
energy sector, and HIPAA privacy rules are enforced
in healthcare. Banks need to comply with the Basel
Committee on Banking Supervision, and pharmaceutical
companies are regulated by the Drug Enforcement
Agency. Government agencies perhaps face the
greatest need for compliance, including FIPS 201/
HSPD-12 credentialing requirements and TSA regulations
Custom solutions that are in compliance with mandated
access control requirements are more readily
available from vendors who understand the requirements
from both the business/regulation side and the
technical side. The work is done, built into the application,
and in most instances, the software program will
meet the customer’s requirements out of the box.
Convenience. Operation and use of PIAM software
must easily and readily include the capability to manage
all types of identities including permanent and
temporary employees, contractors, service providers
and vendors. It should be an easy and straightforward
process to manage details of a physical identity, such
as biographic and biometric information, as well as
results of security checks and historical usage. In addition
to aggregating access level information from
various systems, PIAM software should encompass
details such as risk level, area owner, multiple approvers
and prerequisites for access, while providing audit
trails of all transactions. These features, and other
proven system amenities, make implementation and
use of COTS software more convenient than a homegrown
The ideal COTS solution will take cost, customization
and convenience into account, as Quantum
Secure did when we created our policy-driven SAFE
software suite. We believe a COTS solution should be
designed to connect disparate physical security, IT
and operational systems, automate manual security
processes around contractors and reduce both costs
The host of applications provided to automate
physical security system functions must include physical
identity management, role-based access, self-service
administration, identity/event correlation and reporting.
Control should be provided through a single,
Web-based interface that is easy to manage and use.
A properly designed and engineered COTS solution,
for physical access and identity
management, will be the more cost
effective solution every time.
This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Security Today.