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Identity Management For The Modern World: Enabling Every Company to be a Technology Company

By Phil Heyneker

Bio-pharma companies are increasingly facing challenges in managing online identities (e.g., usernames and passwords) for their employees and clients as mobile and cloud applications proliferate. Okta has been providing identity management solutions to companies in this sector.

A couple weeks ago, we held a panel discussion with our customers at Okta HQ in San Francisco. It included CIO’s from a 100-year old large consumer packaged goods company, a global distributor of agricultural products that has been around for almost as long, a franchisor of music schools that is growing rapidly with more than 100 schools in the US and Latin America and a leader in debt management and recovery solutions. These are not, by any means, technology companies… or are they?

One theme that emerged from the discussion was that technology is no longer just a business utility; nor is it simply a business enabler. Regardless of industry, size, product or business model, technology has become a business differentiator and is at the heart of just about any major business initiative. Today, essentially every company is a technology company, or should at least be starting to think of itself as one. For technology professionals, this probably doesn’t come as a huge surprise. But the pace at which it’s happening – and the impact it’s having on IT – is most certainly surprising. We see three shifts happening, each of which are driving massive change, new challenges and, if managed effectively, new opportunities for IT leaders:

  • Applications. The days of managing a handful of on-premises-based applications behind the firewall are no longer. A new class of more agile, affordable and user-friendly alternatives is emerging in the cloud and on mobile devices and, whether you “allow” it or not, employees, partners and customers are using them. The barrier to entry (and exit) is so much lower than it used to be, allowing companies to adopt a much higher volume of applications to accommodate the diverse needs of their workforce. In fact, many of the customers we work with envision a future where employees will self-select the applications that they want to use, and IT turns into more of a service provider.
  • Devices. Mobile is leading the charge in the consumerization of enterprise IT. Companies are more efficient and agile when they allow their employees to use the tools and devices that they feel make them most productive. And people are more most productive using devices that are as simple and flexible as what they use in their day to day lives – iPhones, Androids, tablets, etc. As such, most IT organizations today are adopting a “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) policy.
  • People. Your employees are no longer tightly nestled, controlled and monitored behind the firewall anymore. Now, employees work remotely, often off-network, forcing companies to look for faster, more effective ways to engage with their external constituencies of customers, partners and contractors. The notion of enabling the “extended enterprise” is a top priority for many business leaders – and the ones who are doing it effectively are quickly gaining a competitive edge.

These are exciting changes; especially for the pharmaceutical industry. With increasingly mobile and distributed sales organizations, and with the need to provide secure access to external portals for doctors, patients, and other third parties – to manage trial data, for example – the opportunity to accommodate these evolutions can indeed translate into new levels of productivity, growth and (as our panelists suggested) differentiation.

But there’s a right way and a wrong way to accommodate. Simply agreeing to adopt a bunch of new cloud applications can cause major issues for end-users who are forced to keep track of separate usernames and passwords for every application. When an employees loses a password, he or she will either pester IT with password reset requests or they will stop using the application altogether. The same is true for external users trying to access portals: Force them to have more than one username or password handy, and their inclination to use the portal goes down exponentially. Require more than two or three, and the portal is rendered useless.

From an IT perspective, provisioning and de-provisioning users to applications can also be painful. What was once manageable with a handful of on-premises applications is quickly becoming unmanageable with more than 50 cloud apps (our music franchisor panelist uses closer to 60!). So, while most IT leaders recognize the need to get there, they don’t want to make the transition without a way to easily and securely manage it all.

Identity management lies at the intersection of applications, devices, and people – it’s the glue that connects them. Traditionally, companies would make huge investments in on-premises identity management software to manage the old world – a handful of big applications, a set of devices provisioned by IT (usually just a PC) and internal users. But these solutions aren’t equipped to support the proliferation of applications and devices we will continue to see in the coming years, nor are they able to help organizations manage external users. It’s possible, of course, but not without huge integration and implementation costs for each application.

Okta is addressing these challenges head on with a modern, cloud-based approach to enterprise identity management. Our vision is to connect all of your people (internal and external), all of your applications (on-prem, cloud, and mobile) and all devices. The result is that users get seamless and secure access to everything they need, wherever they are, with the tools that they determine are most productive. And IT leaders get the best of both worlds – the ability to finally meet the rapidly evolving needs of end-users and a centralized and more secure way to manage and provision users, drive compliance and replace legacy investments. As one of our panelists stated, Okta helps IT make the necessary transition from application administration to platform administration; a transition that will be crucial in enabling you to easily and securely adopt the right technologies to differentiate your business.

To learn more about Okta and how we’re helping several organizations in the bio-pharma space, including companies like AMAG, Genomic Health, and others, contact us at:


Phil Heyneker is Director of Solutions Marketing at Okta, with an extensive background in bringing SaaS solutions to market, and in helping enterprises adopt new technologies and products. Read more…

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April 2013 Contributors

Nitish V. ThakorNitish V. Thakor is a Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA, as well as the Director of the newly formed institute for neurotechnology, SiNAPSE, at the National University of Singapore. Read more

Ian LumbFor about eight years, Ian Lumb had the good fortune to engage with customers and partners at the forefront of HPC plus Grid and Cloud computing. For all but one of those eight years, Ian was employed by Platform Computing Inc... Read more

Dan HousmanDan Housman is a software veteran with a demonstrated track record of providing valuable and innovative decision support systems to large, complex organizations... Read more

Phil Heyneker is Director of Solutions Marketing at Okta, with an extensive background in bringing SaaS solutions to market, and in helping enterprises adopt new technologies and products. Read more