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B2B Startup Okta Makes Managing Cloud Access Easy

As cloud adoption continues to accelerate, enterprise IT specialists face a number of new challenges. One of these challenges is managing the various clouds their company may be running, and in particular controlling which people have access to which cloud.

As cloud adoption continues to accelerate, enterprise IT specialists face a number of new challenges. One of these challenges is managing the various clouds their company may be running, and in particular controlling which people have access to which cloud.

For example, it does not make sense for a company’s sales team to have access to the cloud the software engineering team may use to develop apps. Likewise, the engineering team probably does need access to the cloud that the supply chain group uses to manage vendors. 

How can IT departments control access to the cloud when there are hundreds or even thousands of people? One startup that provides an easy to use central cloud management system for enterprise IT specialists is the startup Okta. Joining us today is Okta’s VP of Product Management Eric Berg.

IT Specialist: Thank you for joining us today Eric. To start with, can you provide some brief background on Okta, such as what year you were started, who are your founders and how many total employees and office locations do you have?

Eric: Okta was co-founded in 2009 by Todd McKinnon and Frederic Kerrest to help businesses secure and manage a new IT stack that included a proliferation of cloud and mobile adoption. We had a bunch of ideas of how we could help solve some of these challenges, and spoke with a lot of CIOs, IT managers and directors of mid-sized businesses who were rapidly adopting cloud applications to see which we should build first. We consistently heard two things: first, users were struggling to keep track of their many usernames, passwords and URLs. Second, IT departments needed a way to centrally manage access to all of these applications. So we built an identity and access management service to solve these issues – and we keep this focus on what our customers need at the center of what we do.

Adoption of the Okta service is growing rapidly with more than 550 enterprise customers of all sizes including Allergan, LinkedIn, MGM Resorts International, Western Union and SAP. We have grown to over 250 employees and are headquartered in San Francisco, and also recently opened our first EMEA office in London with plans to continue growing internationally.

IT Specialist: At a high level, can you provide an overview of what is "Identity Management" and why is it important for enterprises to have this?

Eric:Let me provide some background first. Enterprise IT has been changing aggressively over the past few years: IT departments are adopting cloud apps and services to either replace or integrate with on-premises systems, and their users are accessing those services increasingly from mobile devices. As a result, IT departments need the ability to grant (and deny) access to the right applications from any device at any time.

Over time that need has expanded – very large Fortune 500 companies are now more aggressively adopting cloud applications and have some of these same identity challenges for their employees. Our IT buyers are also increasingly responsible for managing access to applications for not just employees but also customers and partners, so the number of users Okta is being used for in our customers has grown dramatically.

A cloud based identity and access management (IAM) solution like Okta’s is the critical underlying layer that enables IT to provide seamless access to any application, from any device and for any user.

IT Specialist: Can you provide an overview of the problem Okta is trying to solve for enterprise IT departments - as I understand, it ultimately boils down to fears of security in the cloud and controlling access to a company's applications which reside there, is that correct?

Eric: That’s definitely part of it. A complete IAM solution like Okta’s ensures that a business can securely connect any number of users, applications and devices. As companies adopt cloud services and users access their applications from a variety of devices, including personal phones, tablets, etc., IT departments need to make sure that companies’ information is secure. And it’s not just for cloud services – Okta’s solution works with both cloud and on-premises applications as well as for both internal employees and external identities for vendors, partners and customers.

IAM is the ‘glue’ that holds an enterprise’s IT together, making it possible to for users to get to the applications and information they need from any device they choose without compromising the business’ security.

IT Specialist: Following up from the previous question, can you go into more detail on some of the specific challenges Okta's solution helps solve?

Eric: As the underlying layer to this new enterprise environment, we address several IT challenges:

  • Secure Single Sign-On Across Any Device: With the continued adoption of cloud applications, users become overwhelmed by usernames, URLs and passwords for every app – and that they have to remember them for each device they access those applications from. At the same time, IT is also tasked with making sure that access to these applications is secured. Okta gives users one access point across any device they use, minimizing the password fatigue and eliminating the needs for password sticky notes. In addition, Okta integrates policy-driven multifactor authentication that can be used by IT to better secure access to these application in a way that is simple for users.
  • Automated Provisioning and Deprovisioning: Okta provides comprehensive, automated provisioning and deprovisioning for web applications both in the cloud and on premises, such as automating employee onboarding that starts with an HR system like Workday or ensuring that employees are deprovisioned when they leave a company. Okta can also be used to automate the user registration, onboarding, and off-boarding processes for external-facing portals for customers and partners.
  • Increased Visibility and Improved Compliance: Okta also includes a full reporting experience that spans all integrated applications. The pre-canned seat utilization report in the Okta service helps you manage the ROI of your SaaS applications, and suspicious activity and deprovisioning reports help increase security and ensure compliance.
  • Deep Integrations with More Than 3,000 Applications: The Okta Application Network (OAN) comes pre-integrated with more than 3,000 applications and is continuously growing. The community-supported network enables customers and partners to integrate any public or custom cloud application into the OAN, which is verified and maintained by Okta. With millions of users accessing applications through Okta, we leverage the power of the multi-tenant cloud to monitor the network so that application integrations just work.
  • All Delivered as a Secure, Reliable Cloud Service: With Okta, there is no software to install, nothing to manage. Okta takes a comprehensive approach to building and operating a secure, zero-downtime architecture that underpins a service built for high availability and scale.

IT Specialist: One of the problems you solve that was particularly intriguing was that you can handle “external identity management”. As I understand, this means Okta’s solution allows for the management of identities and access to applications for an enterprise's customers, partners and vendors as well as employees, is that correct? Could you go into a bit more detail on this – for example, why is this an important problem for enterprises to solve and what has been the response (or level of acceptance) from the external partners of enterprise customers with whom Okta has worked?

Eric: Yes – as we mentioned above, Okta is also used by our customers to manage access for external users. Many businesses today build portals to manage access to web applications for their customers, partners and vendors. Behind the portal, administrators assemble multiple web applications to form a complete solution, for example to access account information and support. In order for a customer or partner to access these different applications behind the portal, they need to register separately and manage different login credentials for each section, presenting a challenge for the end user. And like managing identity profile information across a variety of internal applications, it becomes difficult for IT departments to manage multiple user stores for external identities.

We act as the underlying layer to solve these problems. By connecting these apps through Okta, companies can manage one profile across all apps and create a single-sign on experience that simplifies this process for the end user as well. Plus, companies can create new public-facing apps, extend existing desktop logins or create a unique, branded portal for their end users.

IT Specialist: Turning now to Okta's solutions, could you provide an overview of your product suite? As I understand, you can address applications anywhere - i.e. the Cloud, mobile and on-premises, is that correct?

Eric: Yes – our mission is to connect every user, application and device in the enterprise, which means we address applications in the cloud, mobile and on-premises. Our solution comes pre-integrated with more than 3,000 applications in our Okta Application Network, allowing IT departments to find and integrate the applications that work best for their company, from wherever they choose. We also recently announced a new set of features that enhance the depth and breadth of our solution, opening our network to further enable our customers to integrate any application to any person and any device.

IT Specialist: Are there unique challenges for addressing each of those three? For example, how does managing mobile or cloud challenges differ from on-premises?

Eric: The biggest challenge among those three was managing the cloud versus on-premises identities because of how they information is stored. With on-premises applications, identity profiles are stored locally in the company’s a data center, which means that they cannot be accessed outside of the company network. In order to integrate and synchronize the identity profiles of on-premises applications like Microsoft Active Directory with cloud applications like Jive or Workday, we made major enhancements to our cloud based directory and provisioning services to connect fully with on premises directories and systems, and we are now able to serve as a single source of truth for this user information within any business.

IT Specialist: At the corporate level, could you provide an overview of how much money Okta has raised and who are your core investors? Okta recently raised a large Series D round, can you provide a sense of how you would put that money to use?

Since Todd and Frederic co-founded Okta in 2009, we have raised $79.3 million in funding and are backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners, Khosla Ventures and Sequoia Capital. (We were also Andreessen Horowitz’s first cloud investment.) Last September we announced our latest $27 million Series D funding round, led by returning investor Sequoia Capital. With this round, we will continue our growth both in North America (we now have over 550 enterprise customers) and internationally. We recently opened our first European office in London, with Philip Turner as our first European general manager.

IT Specialist: Who does Okta see as its main competitors? 

Eric: Our main focus is on legacy vendors, who are currently struggling to figure out the best way to address identity management challenges when it comes to cloud and mobile. On-premises vendors like Oracle are now trying to move to the cloud, encountering the same challenges we’ve worked on for years. Because our solution was designed from the ground-up in the cloud, we were able to overcome those challenges and build a service that is more scalable and flexible, and we can help companies create a complete application solution that utilizes identity management at its core.

The truth is these legacy solutions were not designed with customer success in mind – when we started building Okta five years ago, we focused on the end user’s experience, and it is because of our ‘people-first’ approach to technology we have been able to be on the forefront of transformative forces like cloud and mobile IT.

IT Specialist: Finally, for those prospects who may be interested in working with Okta or trialing your technology, what is the best way for them to interface with you?

Eric: If you’re interested in learning more about Okta, you can check out our website or contact info@okta.com, and you can also follow us on Twitter @Okta or check out or LinkedIn page for more information.

IT Specialist:

Thank you for joining us today Eric, and best of luck going forward.

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