Since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, the use of language in public life, in the press, and in everyday life has changed. Terms that were formerly confined to the circles directly affected by them are now much more common. For example, every informed and responsible citizen is now familiar with specific terms from epidemiology and immunology such as “reproduction number” and “herd immunity”.

Another term that has risen to prominence since the beginning of the crisis is “first-line worker”. These workers literally work on the front line. They are often found in retail and hospitality. But this way of working is also prevalent in the manufacturing industry and in customer service. And the current health crisis is rightly drawing attention to the many different types of first-line workers in the healthcare sector.

Whether a doctor or nurse, restaurant server or supermarket employee, whether a specialist in multi-shift operation at the robotized production line of an industrial enterprise or a short-term employee in a promotional campaign in a consumer electronics store, first-line workers all have one thing in common: They all need technical access to corporate resources and most of them use shared devices. In other words, devices that are used by several users one after another or in rotation.

Balancing efficiency and user experience with security and compliance

Fast logon and fast user switching (using authentication mechanisms such as RFID chip or biometrics), secure access to all data and systems needed in the current context, compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, and secure, reliable logoff are essential for first-line workers. The example of a nurse working in shifts who needs immediate yet secure access to patient data in a medical emergency shows how important this can be.

First-line workers were around before the pandemic and there are a lot more than expected. Managing them properly is essential. But while traditional enterprise IAM (Identity and Access Management) is often largely mature in many companies for conventional working models, the specific requirements of these ways of working are sometimes insufficiently covered. The consequences are obvious: lack of efficiency, inadequate security, violation of compliance, but also dissatisfaction and frustration among those affected. The current crisis is putting a spotlight on these issues, highlighting the scale of the challenge and the need for appropriate solutions.

Addressing the topic of first-line workers properly entails a variety of technologies, concepts, and products. These need to be combined to aggregate all the necessary information to enable workers to access whatever resources they need quickly and efficiently. This includes the management of employee identities and authorizations, management of devices, Single Sign-On and Single Sign Off, adaptive and risk-oriented authentication, and proper and fast access to all necessary, often critical resources. If the concept of Zero Trust Infrastructures comes to mind, you are on the right track.

Connecting and enabling first line workers

Appropriate IAM concepts are necessary and essential, but without a comprehensive overall architecture model they cannot solve this problem on their own. The KuppingerCole Identity Fabric, however, is designed as an overarching paradigm for the design of service-oriented architectures to enable efficient and secure access by all users to all relevant resources. And it integrates identity and access into company-wide infrastructures both for the respective core business and for security, governance, and compliance.

On this basis, the required functionalities can be identified and defined with regard to usability, efficiency, and applicable policies. These well-defined services, which reflect the individual requirements of an organization and its specific first-line workers, enable the right software components to be selected. This includes end-point management, dynamic authorization management, and access management along with multi-factor authentication and others depending on the individual challenges. These building blocks can then be deployed and orchestrated wherever they are needed.

However, it must also be pointed out that technology is not the only obstacle. A common cause of problems in deploying such solutions are the highly unattractive licensing schemes used by many IAM system vendors when it comes to technical offerings for first-line workers. This is what makes it difficult to quickly extend IAM to this user group.

First-line workers deserve better (including user experience and security)

The current crisis, new and changing requirements in different industries, but also the preparation for upcoming crises and challenges, require us to provide both stable and agile architectures that support all work models in our organizations. The KuppingerCole Identity Fabric as a concept for key cybersecurity infrastructures in modern, hybrid IT environments allows us to meet today's requirements and the demands of the future. This applies especially to the continually changing way in which our employees, partners and customers communicate with each other and interact with company resources.

If you have any questions regarding specific requirements for access by first-line workers or generally regarding the management and monitoring of access in our fragmented work environments, please do not hesitate to contact me or us. First-line workers deserve good and efficient tools, and their organization should provide them with the appropriate level of security and compliance.