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Setting up email addresses for new hires, creating logins for software, and monitoring who has access to what are all essential functions of identity lifecycle management. Without a process for managing these responsibilities, it’s easy to overlook an important step.

Identity lifecycle management standardizes onboarding, offboarding, and all of the ongoing tasks for overseeing access. In this post, we’ll talk about the stages of identity lifecycle management, challenges for IT teams, and how businesses can simplify this time-consuming process.

What Is an Identity and Access Management Lifecycle?

A lifecycle is the duration of a user’s interaction with your technology. Employees and outside parties each have lifecycles that businesses must manage and monitor.

What Is Identity Lifecycle Management (ILM)?

Identity lifecycle management is the process of managing digital identities, and the technology companies use to manage them. ILM encompasses:


User-based access is a big part of ILM. That means controlling who has access to business data, systems, applications, or permissions within an application.

ILM for employees is an ongoing — and often complicated — process, especially in large organizations when employees change roles or departments. An identity and lifecycle management process defines how those changes are communicated, what triggers a change in access, and how to document changes to digital identities.

External Entities

External entities may include contractors, clients, IOT devices, and service providers. These parties may need access to specific functions or features for a limited time, but when their engagement ends, their access should also end. ILM ensures that external entities don’t retain access beyond a specific time.


The ILM process can also ensure that an application has access to only one cloud database for a year. For example, SaaS companies with annual subscribers can use ILM to end database access at the end of a client’s contract unless the client renews.

Identity Management vs. Access Management

Identity management involves accounts, whereas access management involves permissions and privileges. For example:

A company hires a junior marketer and a marketing manager. The IT administrator assigns each of them an email address and a login for the project management platform. That’s identity management.

The junior marketer can see only their tasks and projects, but the IT administrator gives the marketing manager access to everyone’s tasks. That’s access management.

Why Is Identity Lifecycle Management Important?

ILM ensures that new hires have access to the accounts they need for their roles, and it prevents unauthorized access. When an employee leaves the company or a client discontinues their partnership, an automated ILM process can immediately ensure those accounts are disabled.

Audit readiness is another reason ILM is important. With a process in place and the detailed records to prove it, businesses can avoid compliance missteps.

What Are the Stages of Identity Lifecycle Management?

ILM covers four distinct stages:

1. Onboarding

In the onboarding stage, admins set up accounts for employees or outside entities. To do this, admins must first create a “digital identity” for the user. In this stage, admins can set rules for new identities, such as requiring a complex password and/or two-factor authentication. It is also a best practice to conduct a risk analysis at the onboarding stage to ensure that there are no conflicts in permissions (separation of duties conflict) that could cause compliance violations.

2. Access maintenance

Access maintenance — or role management — is the ongoing configuration of user access, usually triggered by an event like a job change or the adoption of new software. 

3. Monitoring and reporting

ILM requires a periodic review of accounts and user access. In compliance-heavy sectors like healthcare, monitoring and reporting may happen frequently.

4. Offboarding

Offboarding — also called deprovisioning — is removing an account and/or access for a specific user or group of users.

What Are the Challenges of Identity Lifecycle Management?

Let’s take a look at some of the common challenges administrators encounter with ILM:

Efficiency in Onboarding

In small companies where new hires arrive one at a time and not frequently, manual onboarding may be manageable. But the larger the company, the more difficult it is to create digital identities for every new hire, especially if a company has locations across multiple time zones or continents.

Managing External Users

With external users, admins may not know when an individual’s status has changed. For example, if a client appoints two contacts who are responsible for reviewing and approving deliverables, and one of them leaves the company, an admin might not know immediately. That means an unauthorized user could still access critical systems or data.

Updating Permissions for Users Who Change Roles

When users switch departments, projects, or roles, they may need new access privileges. That’s when having a process in place is important. Otherwise, IT teams may be fielding unexpected one-off requests for new credentials without knowing whether those requests are authorized.

Monitoring Elevated Access

Occasionally, users may need elevated access — a temporary expansion of their access permissions. The challenge for IT teams is monitoring cases of elevated access and determining when to revert to previous permissions.

IT Resource Allocation

IT teams have a lot of other responsibilities in addition to overseeing user access. When a big change happens — like a business acquiring another company and adding 1,000 employees — IT teams might be unable to quickly create digital identities that the new users need.

Secure Offboarding

Businesses may use a lot of different applications and platforms, and when an employee leaves, IT teams need to remove all access. They may also need to securely transfer that employee’s files to a new owner to ensure no valuable information is lost.

A Better Way to Manage Access

Provisioning users and managing their access during the entire user lifecycle is a challenge for even mature organizations. Pathlock offers various modules under the Application Access Governance product to address this challenge.

Provisioning Users: Pathlock’s Compliant Provisioning module automates single-system, multi-system, and cross-system user access provisioning to eliminate manual and error-prone processes that typically involve countless layers of approvals across multiple systems. It enables requestors to find the right role, tracks each request, and archives approvals and supporting documents. The module offers customizable and email-enabled workflows to create, maintain, and remove access across business applications, saving time, effort, and costs.

Managing Access Risk: Pathlock’s Access Risk Analysis module automates the analysis and reporting of SOD and sensitive access risks across all business applications, including ERP, HCM, and CRM platforms. With pre-defined, easily customizable rulesets for all the leading ERP systems as well as critical business applications such as SAP, Ariba, Coupa, SuccessFactors, PeopleSoft, and more, Pathlock ensures quick time-to-value for your organization by reducing risk and costs using an automated, cross-application approach to risk analysis.

Monitoring Elevated Access: Pathlock’s Elevated Access Management module allows organizations to streamline their emergency access processes across multiple applications and satisfy audit and security requirements. Configurable workflows deliver automation to manual processes such as reviewing requests, granting temporary access, and revoking access after the task has been completed. Additionally, the module reduces the burden on IT resources and provides a well-documented audit trail to meet compliance.

See how Pathlock enhances security, improves efficiency, and seamlessly manages onboarding and offboarding. Schedule your demo today.

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