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Higher Education Cloud User Provisioning: Frameworks & Solutions

5 min read

Last updated on May 17th, 2023 at 1:38pm

Cloud user provisioning is increasingly important for higher education institutions. School IT teams must eliminate the manual work of account creation, modification, and deletion to enable individual departments and users to manage cost and ensure compliance and security.

Key Considerations When Planning Cloud User Provisioning in Higher Education

Higher education cloud user provisioning must support a complex cloud environment, including public, hybrid, and multi-cloud, in support of research, academic departments, and administration. Each of these departments has its own requirements too. Further complicating cloud operations is that higher education encounters high user turnover adding to the work of their IT departments.

Higher Education User Provisioning Best Practices

Here are some best practices for managing cloud user provisioning in your higher education institution.

Implement a Formalized User Provisioning Process

Higher education institutions should implement a formalized cloud user provisioning process to ensure that IT teams can create and manage all cloud user accounts consistently and accurately. Such a process is critically important in an IT environment where users and support staff may on and off board from their institution's systems on a relatively frequent basis.

The provisioning process should include documented procedures for the following:

  • Requesting accounts
  • Approving accounts
  • Creating user accounts
  • Modifying accounts
  • Deactivating accounts

Integrate Cloud User Provisioning with Identity Access Management (IAM)

Integrating cloud user provisioning with an identity access management solution helps automate the provisioning process and reduces user onboarding errors. This integration also helps ensure that the user accounts a higher education IT team creates and manages are in compliance with institutional policies.

Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) -- a technical foundation of cloud user provisioning -- enables secure and seamless authentication and authorization for your university’s cloud-based applications and services. SAML enables the exchange of identity and access information between your identity provider (IdP) and your cloud services provider, allowing your users to access multiple applications and services with a single set of credentials.

Use Role-based Access Control

Implementing Role-based Access Control (RBAC) as an access control mechanism to assign user permissions based on their role in your higher education institution helps simplify user provisioning by enabling your institution's administrators to set permissions to users based on their role versus creating individual accounts. For example, your institution's medical school uses cloud computing to conduct critical research. Your IT department could assign accounts to staff just based on their roles in this research project.

Conduct Regular Audits of User Accounts

When your IT team conducts regular audits of user accounts to ensure the accounts comply with your institution’s policies and regulations they can address any security vulnerabilities or unauthorized access to your cloud services before a breach happens. Internal audits also help your institution best prepare for outside audits, which come with big penalties and expensive remediation if your institution fails.

Provide Cloud User and Security Awareness Training

University IT should provide specialized cloud user training for staff and students working on cloud projects. Any such training should include the following topics:

  • Creating strong passwords (best practices)
  • Avoiding phishing scams
  • Reporting suspicious activities

Providing ongoing user and security awareness training, starting at user onboarding, helps reduce the risk of security breaches caused by user error, negligence, or insider threat.

Automating User Provisioning

Automating cloud user provisioning is a best practice for every higher education institution because it offers a range of benefits, including:

  • Improving efficiency by reducing manual intervention in everyday user provisioning tasks so your IT team can focus on more critical operational tasks that can improve the overall efficiency of university IT and let them go beyond "just keeping the lights on."
  • Creating, delivering, and managing user accounts consistently and accurately in accordance with your institution's operational, regulatory, security, and compliance policies.
  • Improving the scalability of the institution's cloud services more efficiently during peak usage periods such as enrollment and class registration.
  • Reducing the risk of unauthorized access to university cloud services is especially important because of the personally identifiable information (PII) and other sensitive data found in a school's cloud storage.

Get Started with Higher Education User Provisioning

Once you have a user provisioning strategy in place, it's time to put it into action. A cloud user provisioning pilot is a natural first step, especially if your organization is implementing a cloud management platform (CMP) for the first time. Kion offers a robust cloud management platform with automation and orchestration tools that provide you with the automation, reporting, and other features to scale up your cloud user provisioning activities from pilot to production.

  1. Assess your institutional requirements based on your institution's security and compliance requirements. Your institution's cloud and cybersecurity teams should collaborate on this assessment because they'll need to identify the cloud services that require user provisioning.
  2. Choose a cloud management platform with user provisioning to integrate with your current IAM platform.
  3. Develop a cloud user provisioning process that includes steps for requesting, approving, and creating user accounts. It's critically important to document and communicate this process to all stakeholders.
  4. Configure your institution's IAM solution and CMP to work together, including defining roles and permissions, configuring user provisioning workflows, and integrating with other backend IT systems.
  5. Iterate on and refine your cloud user provisioning process once your institution's CMP and IAM integration is live and in production. Your institution should regularly test and refine the process, not just when satisfying a compliance audit, because improving efficiency and accuracy can help save costs and improve customer experience.
  6. Train your cloud team and end users to ensure they understand your institution's cloud user provisioning process grants them the access they need to do their jobs or complete their classwork.

Conclusion

Higher education cloud teams face cloud user provisioning tasks on a quarterly or semester basis that their commercial counterparts may never face except during a rare peak period. Such activity requires that a school’s cloud team bring together a formalized user provisioning process with a CMP's automation and integration options to ensure that user provisioning is a seamless part of their operations throughout the academic year.

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