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Are you harnessing the power of SCIM Provisioning? Find out how the System for Cross-Domain Identity Management works and its benefits.

SCIM & SCIM provisioning: A guide to the System for Cross-Domain Identity Management

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As your company grows, the number of users you need to manage will likely increase. This can become harder to manage, especially when you have employees entering and exiting your business on a regular basis.

This is where SCIM (system for cross-domain identity management) and SCIM provisioning comes in handy.

Before SCIM, managing large numbers of user identities was complex and time-consuming. Once cloud-based systems became a clear front-runner for the future of tech, outdated protocols were replaced with the SCIM open standard for automating user provisioning.

SCIM has transformed the face of authorization and was designed with simplicity in mind, making it easy for both the organization to implement and the user to become familiar with the protocol.

In a nutshell, SCIM allows companies to efficiently manage user identities in the cloud, being able to easily add or remove users.

System for Cross-domain Identity Management (a.k.a SCIM) is an open standard designed to manage user identity information.

When implemented, SCIM allows multiple user accounts to be created, updated and even deactivated with very minimal effort. SCIM transfers the right amount of information from the identity provider (IdP), directly to the app (SPs), so that the app can easily identify users and grant access where required without any intervention from IT teams.

SCIM and SCIM provisioning works with cloud-based apps to ensure IdPs can easily share and automatically synchronize user data with apps like Salesforce, Hubspot and Zoom. The real value of SCIM is its ability to simplify the user lifecycle management process.

How SCIM works

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SCIM automates the process of provisioning and de-provisioning users within a company.

Provisioning is what allows organizations to ensure that users can access only the resources that they’re authorized to see and use. This protects systems and applications from unauthorized users being able to access any sensitive or private information.

De-provisioning works in a similar way but at the other end of an employee’s journey. When a user is offboarded, de-provisioning is removes their access to company software, apps and resources.

SCIM applies a standard model that transfers data automatically, lowers the chance of errors, and simplifies the process of managing user permissions and groups.

There are several different functions within SCIM that allow this process to take place. By learning the core components of SCIM you can understand how it can add value to your company:

  • It is a Rest and JSON-based protocol: This means that it specifies and declines the client and server roles. The ‘client’ is normally an identity provider, which contains a large number of user IDs and credentials.
  • The Service provider: Normally, the service provider is a SaaS application that requires a specific subset of information for those identities.
  • Recognizes when changes occur in the IdP: SCIM integration will then take place as these changes automatically sync to the service provider in line with the SCIM protocol.
  • Allows end users to have smooth and continuous access: Users will be able to easily access apps that have been assigned to them, along with up-to-date profiles and permissions. This becomes particularly important when managing multiple apps simultaneously in the cloud.

The process of SCIM provisioning

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SCIM harnesses existing web standards to allow identity providers and service providers to communicate seamlessly.

What makes the SCIM provisioning process is a REST API (which stands for representational state transfer) and JSON (a.k.a. JavaScript Object Notation, which is a lightweight format for storing and sharing user data). Both of these protocol works together to define client and server roles.

Here’s how the process usually works:

  • A service provider (such as an app) needs some information about users.
  • These details are stored in a robust directory of user identities by an identity provider (IdP).
  • If changes are made to these user identities (such as if their details are created, updated or deleted), these changes are automatically synced to the app following the SCIM protocol.

What’s really interesting is that IdPs can actually review identities from the SP to add to their own directory. Plus, it can detect if there are inaccuracies in the values from the SP that could open up potential security vulnerabilities, too.

For end users, SCIM provisioning makes it simple and straightforward to access the apps they need to do their job, with their permissions and profiles kept accurate and up-to-date.

SCIM offers three endpoints that support specific attribute details:

  • GET/Service provider configuration: Specification compliance, authentication schemes and data models.
  • GET /ResourceTypes: An endpoint used to discover the types of resources available.
  • GET /Schemas: Introspect resources and attribute extensions.

The benefits of SCIM

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SCIM provides a wide range of benefits that make cross-domain identity management a lot easier to implement. Some of the benefits include:

  • Automating IT tasks: SCMI will automate the IT task of provisioning accounts for each system and its unique connection. This means every account, group, and permission or entitlement is automatically synchronized to every system straight from the organization’s database and is ready to be used by employees.
  • Easily manage identities in cloud-based apps: As organizations continue to leverage cloud-based apps, SCIMI offers a way of streamlining different identities and different credentials across multiple sites and platforms.
  • Simple to deploy: The deployment of SCIM is easy, you won’t need to undergo a major system shake-up in order to implement it. In short, it’s a system that’s easy to get off the ground.
  • Automated onboarding and offboarding: SCIM simplifies the process of employee onboarding and offboarding and will keep track of various employee accounts and details. It can easily revoke employee access to company information, helping to protect your systems from unauthorized users.
  • Comprehensive single sign-on (SSO) management:  By automating individual users’ access, this significantly reduces any room for manual error and will pick any zombie accounts (these are almost like forgotten doors that could become a path for any data breaches and malicious practice).

SCIM makes user data more secure, as well as simplifies the user experience by automating the user identity lifecycle management process. As a company expands, the number of user accounts increases.

Requests to add and delete users, change permissions and add new types of accounts all take up valuable IT department time when everything could otherwise become automated through SCIM.

With SCIM, these types of changes can become automated. Since it is a standard protocol, user data will always be stored in a consistent way and can be communicated across a multitude of different apps.

Automating the provisioning and de-provisioning process while also having a single system to manage permissions and groups completely bypasses the need for manual tasks and saves your company money and time by doing so. Many security risks that companies face are also dramatically reduced by using SCIM, making this protocol an invaluable asset to every organization in terms of efficiency and security.

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