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Q&A: Employees are bringing personal apps into the workplace — and it’s changing the role of IT

(Image credit: Image Credit: Pixel Fantasy / Flickr)

IT used to be managed from the top down — but tech-savvy employees are changing that. A new report from Okta, an identity management as a service company in San Francisco, with offices in London and Amsterdam, released data that gives a peek into the future of work, and IT’s expanded role in it. IT Pro Portal editor Désiré Athow dove into the report findings with Eric Berg, Okta’s chief product officer.

How did the first Businesses @ Work report come about, and how do you produce it?

We released our first Businesses @ Work report in 2015 when we realised we had a unique view into how companies and people were using cloud and mobile technologies because of the nature of our product. The Okta Identity Cloud connects people to technology, and because of that we can see trends in popular apps, multi-factor verification and more. The data has differed from year to year, but one trend has stayed the same — that employees’ tech preferences are changing the workplace.

This is the third edition of our Businesses @ Work report. In each report, we look at anonymised data from our customers across thousands of companies and identify trends on how they interact with apps in the workplace and how they are building mobile and apps for their partners and customers leveraging Okta for identity. While the data is only representative of Okta customers, we think the data pool we draw from is large and diverse enough to identify reliable trends about enterprises as a whole.

Why do you think employees are bringing the apps they use in their personal lives into the workplace? What does that mean for IT and security over the next five years?

This year, our data revealed that more than 50 per cent of apps are not provided by IT. I wasn’t necessarily shocked by this, as I also leverage Okta to securely sign into personal websites for travel, banking and shopping.  Apparently it’s not just me — we’re seeing a clear trend on blurring the line between personal and workplace app usage. It’s convenient for users, and it makes it more important for enterprise security teams to leverage a service like Okta to ensure company-wide safety for employee identities.

I noticed Zoom surpassed Slack as the fastest growing app, and just this week raised $100M in funding from Sequoia. Do you think your data helps you foresee enterprise winners like Zoom and Slack?

We think our report has been an accurate benchmark of indicating what apps are successful in the marketplace. Two years ago when we published our first Businesses @ Work report, Slack wasn’t as widely known as it is today and it landed at the top of our list of fastest growing apps. Today, Zoom is the fastest growing app in our network. Zoom’s spike — growing 67 per cent — is impressive. It wasn’t even on our top 25 list on last year’s report. 

Companies like Zoom and Slack are enterprise winners in their own right — we like to think of them as a new breed of unicorn. Right now, people think of “unicorns” as private companies valued at more than $1 billion, but we think a company’s success should depend more on adoption and usage than valuation. Data that shows where employees and companies are investing their time is always a good indication of where an enterprise service is headed.

Your data suggests that SMBs are not using AD or LDAP. Does the future of work include AD? What are the alternatives?

Roughly 16 per cent of customers in our network don’t use AD or LDAP today, a slight increase from two years ago. And more than 30 per cent of SMB customers in the Okta Identity Cloud don’t use AD or LDAP.  For those customers Okta is their core directory, and of course it runs completely in the cloud, just like their SaaS applications. For these fast growing, cloud native companies, it just makes sense to have as much of their applications and infrastructure as possible running in the cloud.

Why do you think Office 365 users are less likely than G Suite users to adopt new — and numerous — cloud apps?

The data point you’re referencing is that G Suite customers use 30 per cent more apps on average than Office 365 customers (29 apps compared to 22).  G Suite customers are more likely to be cloud native organisations and may never have had an on prem Exchange server for email.  They likely are building their broader infrastructure in the cloud and thus leveraging best-of breed IT strategy to build out their cloud ecosystem. According to our data they’re more likely to use apps like Salesforce, Slack, Amazon Web Services and GitHub than their Office 365-subscribed counterparts. Office 365 customers are more likely to have migrated from a more on prem-centric infrastructure with Exchange and other applications and therefore likely not as cloud forward and diverse in their collection of cloud apps.

Your data shows a significant increase in the number of external identities managed by Okta — who are those external users? And what does this mean for IT and its role in businesses’ digital transformation?

What the growth of external identities in our network — growing 294 per cent in 2015 and 540 per cent in 2016 — shows is that businesses everywhere are transforming digitally.  A key part of that transformation is ensuring that their partners and customers can interact with them in a more seamless and secure way — and that is where Okta comes in. Our customers use Okta to power these secure digital experiences, and developers within our customers are leveraging our APIs to power the identity needs of their new customer- and partner-facing web and mobile applications. Okta has moved beyond traditional IT to provide value to many more technology teams in enterprise.

Why have security questions flatlined as a security verification option? What does this mean for the future of security verification and MFA overall?

It’s about time the security question meets its bitter end, as it takes just five minutes to search on social media to find someone’s mother’s maiden name, hometown or name of a first pet. With consumers already comfortable using multi-factor authentication with services like Gmail, Twitter and Facebook, companies are replacing security question as a form of verification in favour of newer options. In turn, we’ll see providers get innovative, offering phones, watches, fingerprints, irises and voices as authentication options for cloud apps and services. What’s more is that among customers using MFA, 80 per cent are using more than one factor type today. Although that number hasn’t changed much over the years, there has been an increase in companies providing their user base with choices across four or five types of strong authentication. 

Eric Berg, Chief Product Officer, Okta
Image Credit: Pixel Fantasy / Flickr

Eric Berg is Okta’s Chief Product Officer. Eric has over 20 years of experience across engineering, marketing and business development for early stage SaaS companies and high growth software businesses within larger organisations.