What IAM Can Learn From Bill Gates

In identity and access management, it pays to be long-term aggressive and short-term conservative
There is a saying that you should never write a project plan that is longer than six months. Why? Because by then there will be a reorg, and you won't finish the project. Unfortunately, this is a truism in many companies, and so it has forced people to think about what they can deliver in the short term. (The Agile people hedged their bets even more -- they use two weeks!)

This kind of short-term thinking has its limitations, especially when it comes to identity and access management (IAM). To paraphrase Bill Gates: Most people overestimate what they can do in the short run and underestimate what they can do in the long run.

IAM is a domain where it's critical to have a top-down strategic view and a bottom-up tactical view. The top-down strategy is important because no one IAM product can do it all. The problem set, brought on by managing a decentralized system, mixtures of technologies, acquisitions, and outsourcing, is too vast. This has led to a sea of IAM products -- SSO, role management, role mining, entitlements, provisioning, federation, strong auth, and on and on. All of these products solve a piece of the overall IAM puzzle; however, trying to execute on too many of them in the short term is a recipe to fail.

Instead, it's better to think top-down and execute bottom-up. Think through a top-down strategic road map for your IAM architecture. Drill down on the scope and priorities for the next three years or so. Any longer is a stretch -- I do not think it's possible to predict too much in this business beyond three years.

Meanwhile, be careful not to overpromise what can be done in the short run. Select projects that help you both evolve your IAM implementation near term and fits into your longer-term road map.

It's OK to be aggressive in planning what can be done in longer-term period. Companies have pulled off some impressive IAM achievements through automation, improving security, and integration. But ensure the tactical iterations to deliver this are based on conservative assumptions.

Generally speaking, companies do the tactical pieces by outsourcing to a consulting shop. This is fine as far as it goes, but it's important to not completely outsource the strategic road map planning. Someone needs to hold the longer term view and see it through across multiple iterations -- that's where the larger scale benefits will be realized.

Recommended Reading:
Editors' Choice
Kirsten Powell, Senior Manager for Security & Risk Management at Adobe
Joshua Goldfarb, Director of Product Management at F5