Sun has released its Identity Compliance Manager product as a subset of its existing Sun Role Manager product. The headline differences are that it costs half the price but lacks support for roles.
This kind of initiative is to be expected in other areas of IT in the current economic climate. However, it also needs to be assessed in relation to the long-standing barriers to deployment of identity management products.
Sun cites regulatory requirements for access rights to be certified, and the threat of insiders stealing or corrupting corporate data, as the drivers for the new product. However, neither of these factors is new or has significantly changed over the last two years. The timing of this announcement is driven by the economic climate.
Sun is offering a half-price product in an attempt to duck under corporate investment ceilings and also to win market share from its competitors. The reality with IT projects is that deployment costs including consultants, changed working practices, and IT support are usually higher than the software license costs.
High ratio of implementation to license costs
Identity management projects have a high ratio of implementation to license costs. Identifying roles and defining detailed access permissions for each role is a major part of the implementation task, and so eliminating this aspect of the product is also a cost saver in the short term. Cutting out this area of functionality reduces both license costs and deployment costs, but at the price of reducing the benefits of the overall project.
Sun estimates that customers will start to see a return on investment within 90 days of starting an Identity Compliance Manager project, with most of the gain coming from automation of aspects of the compliance process. This will not be good enough to place the project in the 'must do' category of investment proposals at the current time, but it will place it in the 'credible project' group.
Introducing an entry-level product that addresses the single most pressing business need in the identity management area is a shrewd move. However, it is likely to generate more downward price pressure on vendors across the sector. Vendors need to remain focused on ease of deployment as their number-one priority.
Automated and rapid provisioning
Identity management systems can deliver massive benefits to organisations including improving efficiency through automated and rapid provisioning, reducing risk through instant de-provisioning of leavers, automating compliance assurance and reporting, and identifying and remedying anomalies in application and data usage, and providing a view of what really happens across an organization.
Some regulations such as Sarbanes Oxley come close to mandating the use of identity management. However, the commercial history of the sector shows that vendors have been finding it hard to generate the volume of sales required, as shown by HP’s decision to leave the market earlier in the year. The barriers have been the high cost of deployment and the fear of embarking on an open-ended IT project where costs are hard to anticipate at the outset.
Compliance has been the most important single driver of the market. Sun is therefore presenting a cheaper product with a more limited scope to try to allay these fears.
Identity Compliance Manager is totally compatible with the Sun identity management suite of products and Sun is hoping that it will become the entry level step towards Sun Role Manager. The main benefit of the latter’s additional role-management capability is in the automated provisioning task, as well as some benefits in presenting the detailed access policy more clearly.
It remains to be seen how quickly Identity Compliance Manager users will upgrade to include roles. Most users are likely to stay with the Identity Compliance Manager product for several years.