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An identity life cycle is a term for the full life cycle of identity and access for a user on a given system. This is often used in a business context, when someone is talking about identity life cycle management, systems that handle the entire context of someone accessing data on a company's network.
One way to think about an identity life cycle is in a procedural sense – it begins when someone gets hired, makes an account and logs in for the first time. It continues as they access company information through a particular identity access system. It continues until they leave the company or otherwise have no use for their access, or until their access is downgraded by management. It ends when they are effectively crossed off the list as a functioning employee or contractor, or someone who deserves access to the information in the network.
Identity life cycle management, then, controls this entire process of access to information. Practically, there are conventional details that are built into identity life cycle management resources.
There is the design of the login, and the creation of levels of authorization for access. There is the detail of understanding how users will access information from the field, and how to provide security for that information as it travels – there is also the end of the life cycle, as discussed above, where the system has to adapt and handle the status of a terminated account. All of this is incredibly important in business identity and access management, as it provides universal and consistent protocols or rules for complex systems that might be used by hundreds or thousands of users.