I was talking recently with Joerg Mauz, the CIO of a small German company called Ansmann AG that makes batteries and chargers for laptops and mobile phones. They may be tiny by some standards, but they have a big global footprint, and their  300 people are distributed around the globe from Shanghai to Macau to Stockholm and soon the U.S. as well. I asked him whether he thought Identity Management was a big issue for small companies like his, and he laughed. "They don't know what it is", he said, and then added: "Even though they may be doing it themselves already."

Ansmann is a good case in point: They had been using software provided by Sun Microsystems for years, and their license included the Identity Manager product - but they neither knew nor cared. "We sort of started doing IdM by accident", he told me.

But when Joerg Mauz decided he needed to start doing e-provisioning to handle the influx of new people in his fast-growing company, and seeing as how his boss wasn’t going to give him any additional budget anytime soon, he took another look at Identity Manager and decided he could get what he wanted more or less for free. All he had to do was ask his system house, Kogit in Darmstadt, to write a few lines of additional code (it eventually paid them for 35 man days), and suddenly he had a neat little workflow that could handle logical and physical assets, anything from mail accounts to company badges, laptops and company cars.

He still doesn’t see himself as doing Identity Management. And if his story is any proof, then IdM vendors and providers would do good to stop trying to sell them something they don’t really understand and doesn’t terribly interested them in the first place.

Instead, they should focus on solving the problems people really have. And they may go under completely different monikers. That applies especially to the German “Mittelstand”, the thousands of small and medium-sized companies that make up the backbone of the German economy.