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Choosing management for Active Directory user provisioning

In most major organizations, who owns Active Directory user provisioning? Is it the help desk or the information security team? What's the best way to manage user provisioning between the groups?

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Of course the answer to this question is: It depends. The decision regarding who owns provisioning revolves around the enterprise's culture, organizational structure, deployed technologies, departmental responsibilities and capabilities, and political power. Keeping in mind that any one of these parameters can overwhelm the others, know that the user provisioning process -- Active Directory (AD) or otherwise -- is generally owned by the IT department or the information security team. While the help desk may be the initial point of entry into the process, its role in provisioning is generally facilitation and tracking of requests.

As far as the best way to manage user provisioning between groups goes, I'll assume you mean Active Directory groups. This managing is generally done one of two ways: by automation or through workflow. In automated provisioning, the provisioning system has logic programmed into it to automatically create entitlements in the proper Active Directory groups based on a set of parameters entered in the request. In a workflow environment, the decision concerning which group the user will be provisioned to is made by the resource owner -- typically through an email -- and the decision is then sent back to the provisioning system -- typically through an email -- where the system provisions the user based on the resource owner's instructions.

While automated provisioning is quicker, easier and less error-prone, it's also more expensive to deploy and manage. Workflow-based methods are relatively cheap, but they take time, require coordination among stakeholders, and even the best processes are prone to errors either in communication of privileges or in implementation of intended privileges. The right choice for an enterprise depends primarily on the resources it has to invest in user provisioning management and the number of users who need provisioning on a daily or weekly basis.

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This was first published in November 2009

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