Water firm rolls out user access system to improve IT security

Northumbrian Water is responding to demands from industry regulators to demonstrate best practice in IT security by rolling out...

Northumbrian Water is responding to demands from industry regulators to demonstrate best practice in IT security by rolling out software to control the access rights of 2,000 staff to the firm's Windows and Unix systems.

The software, called Cosuser, will ensure that employees only have access to the databases and computer systems they need in their work, and that their passwords are automatically deleted when they leave company.

Cosuser will help Northumbrian Water demonstrate it is following best practice to Ofwat, the water industry regulator.

The system will also help Northumbrian Water improve efficiency by reducing the time taken to provide new staff with access to computer systems, from over a week to a matter of hours.

"When user provisioning is handled manually, it is difficult to enforce best practice, especially for new users who need access quickly. Cosuser enables our formal processes and procedures to be defined and audited," said Malcolm Beckwith, datacentre manager.

Northumbrian Water said the system has helped it to reduce the number of IT staff involved in setting up user access from 22 to six, freeing them to work on more productive projects.

Previously IT staff had to send e-mails and negotiate with departmental "super-users" to give new staff access to the utility's systems. Cosuser allows the process to be carried out automatically through a web interface.

The system, supplied by OSM, will also allow systems administrators to drill down into user data, to produce management reports showing which users have access to certain systems.

Northumbrian Water began rolling out Cosuser to its Unix and AIX systems last year. It plans to extend the system to cover Windows desktops and Citrix terminal servers over the next 12 months.

The system controls access to applications such as customer billing, payroll, HR databases and delivery systems.

The biggest challenge in implementing the new systems have been cultural rather than technical, said Beckwith. "People are very hesitant to change to new technology, new processes. People sometimes find that a threat. It requires a buy-in from all departments and the technology groups within the IS department."

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