Identity

American Family Group builds identity warehouse to unify disparate companies under one roof

For organizations with multiple acquired companies in their portfolio, having one identity management platform for the whole enterprise can carry multiple benefits — streamlined services for customers, improved business efficiency, and better visibility and asset protection overall.

This was the opportunity American Family Group (also called AmFam) saw back in 2021. As a nearly 100-year old Fortune 500 mutual company offering insurance, investment and retirement planning services, AmFam has spent close to twenty years acquiring a loose network of insurance companies, each of which has been allowed to retain their independent brands and operating norms. 

Two years ago, however, a decision was made to unify this consortium of previously- independent companies into one digitally progressive organization, and moreover to grant every user a single identity through which they could access any information pertinent to performing their job. 

There was just one hitch.

With every company operating entirely on their own, AmFam found that many of its businesses had picked up and were employing the same tools many times over. 

The redundancy and inefficiency was shocking, explained Reggie Owens, AmFam’s Director of Enterprise IAM, during a breakout session and one-on-one interview with SC Media at the 2023 Identiverse conference in Las Vegas. 

“Just in IM [identity management] alone, we have 40 different applications and many of them are the same applications multiple times over. That has been our reality. But to be competitive in this industry, we had to start operating at speed and scale.” 

The risk of multiple identities

Risk was another major driver of this transformation, says Owens. The more accounts and credentials an organization administers to its workforce, the more opportunities there are for that access to be abused or misused — especially if there are business units that work across the different companies on a daily basis. 

In AmFam’s case, for example, someone in the Claims department might need to log into 14 separate laptops – with different usernames and passwords – just to do one job, all because there’s 14 different networks among the different companies and none of them talk to each other. 

“Everybody has their own brand, their own flavor of computer, their own login credentials,” says Owens. “That creates an immensely large amount of risk for an organization because you’re only using one account at a time. What happens to the other 12 or 13 accounts? They’re sitting around dormant, still active and with access to the organization, and still getting personal data – but you yourself can’t monitor it.” 

That leaves security operations centers overwhelmed by requests as they try to keep tabs on which person is accessing which account on which system at any particular moment. 

“Risk becomes enormous when you’re dealing with the same identity multiple times over,” says Owens.   

AmFam believes that by consolidating these disparate accounts under one identity network, they’ll not only see greater efficiency out of their employees but also reduced risk resulting from fewer accounts having access to the network. 

Maintaining identity and independent branding

To consolidate users and simplify accounts to one single enterprise identity, AmFam set about building an identity warehouse — effectively, a storage space for housing all accounts under one system. Now that the warehouse is built, Owens says AmFam is just weeks away from achieving a major milestone — connecting all applications and all users across all of its insurance businesses back to the same central location.

That doesn’t mean AmFam’s companies lose their independence or brand identities. Those are still intact, says Owens. 

“There’ll still be separation of branding and different ways of working because our insurance companies serve different markets and different demographics. But the back-end underlying technology doesn’t have to be different. It can be the same set of capabilities provided to all our customers, which in turn means cheaper costs for them, better premiums, better insurance services, as well as better experience with our agents and our claims. They can take advantage of the fact that we are making these movements.”

Daniel Thomas

Daniel Thomas is a technology writer, researcher, and content producer for CyberRisk Alliance. He has over a decade of experience writing on the most critical topics of interest for the cybersecurity community, including cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, data analytics, threat hunting, automation, IAM, and digital security policies. He previously served as a senior editor for Defense News, and as the director of research for GovExec News in Washington, D.C.. 

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