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Automating access

Enhance student productivity and university security with smooth onboarding and offboarding By Andy Baldin, VP EMEA, Ivanti

Universities are under constant pressure throughout the year to adopt appropriate strategies and technologies which ensure their students can work efficiently and productively while enjoying a positive student experience. However, the pressures of key processes such as onboarding and offboarding can be magnified in certain circumstances, for example, in September at the beginning of each academic year when institutions experience an influx of new IT users to set up and initiate, and of course in July, when graduates move on to pastures new.

While onboarding and offboarding procedures exist to improve student engagement, experience and productivity, they also have a huge impact on the security of an institution. Therefore, IT departments must work efficiently to ensure students can focus on their studies with no interruption or difficulties.

With more students attending university than ever before – a total of 236,350 UK school leavers made an application this year, not counting those who chose to apply via clearing – these processes have never been a more pertinent issue for IT teams. When assessed in combination with the unique nature of university campuses as places that must cope with endless amounts of unregulated and potentially unprotected devices and constant data sharing, this means that universities must find innovative ways to cope with the deluge of new digital identities at the beginning of each New Year – and the answer lies in automation.

Ready from the get-go

Getting new students day-one ready means quickly granting them access to ePortals, email accounts and libraries, so that they have all the resources necessary to work efficiently from the get-go. IT teams must be responsible for the entire digital footprint of each student, an incredibly difficult task in an organisation which suffers from massive internal siloes between the school of each different subject area and other resources such as libraries and admin.

Unfortunately, IT professionals just don’t have the time to get involved in the daily queries, access requests and other tedious tasks for every student enrolled, let alone when you add professors and support staff onto this figure. It is these types of time-consuming activities that lead to a lack of digital transformation within IT, as they are strained under the weight of repetitive and simple issues.

As students progress through their education, IT professionals should continue a rigorous access management audit to ensure the assets they have visibility and use of, mirror the new modules and courses they choose to take up and those they drop. The digital identities of students can change as frequently as every semester as different courses start and end – the onboarding process isn’t just a task for September.

There is no question surrounding the importance of efficient and timely onboarding processes within the education sector, without it, students would struggle to work productively as they will be cut off from many of the resources required to study effectively.

Automating access

Onboarding and offboarding can be a very time-intensive manual process, as students on different courses, and even those within the same course, require different access requirements, permissions and applications – identity management is a minefield. With the rise of digital transformation, IT teams are opening their eyes to the benefit that automation can have for the completion of these processes. 

An automated tool can assist with the workload of IT teams by helping to streamline these processes and create a single-source of truth within a complicated environment. Automated onboarding software can be utilised to ensure that each new student or member of staff has access to all the resources they need to work productively from day-one. This can be achieved by assigning different permissions to each course or module chosen and automatically applying them to every student who fits under that bracket – therefore leaving just the extraneous requests for IT teams to deal with manually. Even some of the additional requests and issues can be dealt with using an automated service desk or self-service portal.

Thus, when pupils enrol in their courses, the resources required for compulsory modules can be automatically assigned to their individual accounts, revoked when the module finishes, and any other changes can automatically be dealt with. Meaning, students don’t have to suffer wasted time or missed lectures because of a slow IT service desk or missed change request. There are also benefits to IT and the university itself, namely that when not bogged down by small requests, IT teams can focus on innovating and digitally transforming the university as a whole, increasingly efficiency throughout.

Campus protection

As well as aiding students’ learning, identity management processes can work towards securing the university and preventing damaging cyber-attacks or inappropriate usage of resources. When students graduate, a thorough offboarding is an absolute necessity to prevent them leaving the university while still retaining access to applications, thereby opening the door to compliance violations and security risks. This open door is often taken advantage of, with a study showing that students instead of criminal groups, are often responsible for the attacks that hit universities and colleges. 

Securing university campus’ is critical because of the number of people that are connected to their networks each day, with their own devices that could be infected or insecure. Much like employees who connect their devices to insecure WiFi connections and allow their businesses network to become infiltrated, students can infect the network via their laptops, phones and connected games consoles. Additionally, with the number of people that pass through a university each year, it must also be a priority of IT teams to revoke access to student accounts, portals, libraries and other resources as soon as they’re no longer needed in order to prevent ex-students from wreaking havoc post-graduation. Therefore, it is essential that pupils only have access to what is directly relevant to them and nothing else.

Accountable onboarding and offboarding processes are also a must when considering compliance and data protection regulations, such as the GDPR. To comply with certain regulations universities must be able to accurately report on who has access to what resources and when – a daunting task without some automated management process in place. 

By automating onboarding and offboarding processes and rolling the entire digital lifecycle of each student and member of staff into one central platform, IT teams can save themselves a headache. Enhancing learning, reducing the chance of data breaches and allowing more time for innovative IT work, are just a few of the benefits that will arise as a direct result of this migration. As institutions with an ever-evolving profile of staff and students with constantly shifting identities, it has never been more important for universities to streamline identity processes.