What’s the Difference Between Identity Management and Access Management?

The terms access management and identity management are closely related and often used as synonyms. In reality, these are two separate concepts. Read on to learn more about the differences between access and identity management!

Identity Management vs. Access Management

The difference between identity management and access management is that identity management deals with user accounts while access management deals with permissions and privileges. The distinction is similar to the difference between the terms authentication and authorization: First, a user logs into the system, then they can access resources their account is cleared for.

From an IT adminstration perspective, this means that organizations both have to create accounts for their staff to sign into (identity management) and assign the correct permissions to them (access management). Both tasks play a fundamental role for maintaining a productive IT environment where users can access all the information and applications they need in order to do their jobs. Likewise, both are critical to IT security, since excess permissions and orphaned accounts greatly increase the risk of cyberattacks.

But while access management and identity management are equally important, they do cover different tasks and responsibilities.

Identity Management encompasses:

Access Management encompasses:

IAM: Combining Identity and Access Management

The close relationship between these disciplines is why many solutions, including tenfold, combine both by helping organizations automate their identity and access management. A single platform for managing digital identities and IT privileges has a lot of advantages in terms of efficiency and security.

For example, this unified approach makes it possible to assign permissions on the basis of user attributes through models like role-based access control. It also provides a central hub allowing you to manage identities accross your own network, cloud services and third-party applications.

However, since there is no official definition for what identity and access management (IAM) must include, it is important for companies to do their own research and compare different IAM solutions to make sure they find one that matches their needs and budget. To get a better view of the IAM market, you can read our free white paper examining different products.

White paper

Identity & Access Management Solutions Compared

Our white paper will help you navigate the IAM market, familiarize you with available products and explain key questions to ask yourself when evaluating IAM solutions.

Identity Management vs. Access Management: Comparison

Despite the growing demand for identity & access management, many applications out there still focus on one or the other: either identity management or access management. To figure out what you can expect from these types of software, we have compiled a short overview.

How Does Identity Management Work?

While some identity management providers use the term synonymously with identity & access management, these are two different categories. Pure identity management solutions are primarily concerned with providing secure and convenient authentication for large groups of users. This could be for a company’s workforce, their customer base, or both.

Identity management tools generally offer single sign-on (SSO) capabilities and strong identity verification (i.e. login security) through one-time passwords. They save time by providing a central platform for user authentication or (automated) account creation and deletion, but are less focused on granular access control and permission reporting.

How Does Access Management Work?

Software for access management typically consists of tools that facilitate permission reporting for systems like Active Directory (Microsoft), file servers (Windows, Linux, SAN/NAS systems) and Exchange or SharePoint. Given how limited the official audit features of these services are, a clear overview of permissions can certainly benefit companies that want to clean up their chaotic permissions.

However, you will likely have to implement the required changes manually: The lack of automation features and third-party support is the biggest downside of most access management tools. While some platforms may include basic options for grouping permissions, bulk changes or automating small tasks, access management solutions are simply not equipped to handle complex workflows or integrate widely-used business applications.

Choosing Between Identity Management and Access Management

What kind of software and features your organization needs ultimately depends on the specific requirements and challenges that come with your specific IT setup. Are you a small company with few accounts to manage, but a lot of data and a very complex access structure? An access management solution or data governance tool could be the right choice in your case. Similarly, if you’re dealing with a lot of accounts, but don’t need to fine-tune the permissions for different groups among them, a simple user management platform might do the trick.

Most businesses, however, need both identity and access management. By bringing together both disciplines, an IAM platform helps you safeguard business-critical information through granular access control, while ensuring compliance with detailed logs and reports and saving valuable time thanks to automated user and permission management.

The tricky part is picking an identity and access management provider that matches the needs and scope of your business. Choosing the right-size solution helps you get started quickly, instead of wasting months preparing custom-built interfaces and complex integrations. That’s why tenfold specializes in IAM for mid-market companies, offering a platform that is both quick to set up an easy to use. Learn more by watching our product overview, signing up for a free trial or contacting us directly.

Free Trial

Our No-Code Solution Makes IAM Easy.
Start Your Free Trial Today!

About the Author: Joe Köller

Joe Köller is tenfold’s Content Manager and responsible for the IAM Blog, where he dives deep into topics like compliance, cybersecurity and digital identities. From security regulations to IT best practices, his goal is to make challenging subjects approachable for the average reader. Before joining tenfold, Joe covered games and digital media for many years.