Okta has recently held their 2018 annual conference in Las Vegas. With around 4000 participants and former president Barack Obama as the keynote speaker, the identity management company pulled off an impressive conference full of educational sessions, inspiring talks, and several major announcements. As recently quoted by Amalgam Insights, “Oktane has become the most important SaaS event of the year”.
This was an incredible opportunity to get insights directly from Okta employees and top companies (i.e. Splunk, 21st Century Fox, American Express, etc.)
After listening to the keynotes presented by Todd McKinnon, Frederic Kerrest (Okta CEO and COO), and others, here are my 5 major key takeaways from Oktane18.
1. Okta’s customers love Okta ❤️
The first takeaway from Oktane18 is something that wasn’t directly communicated in the keynotes, but you could certainly feel while strolling the big conference hallways at the Aria Convention Center.
I find it very impressive that a company like Okta, with an identity platform as its core product, receives so much love and respect from its customers. As someone who has been in this industry for quite a long time, I know this is far from trivial, and is therefore incredibly admirable of their leadership team and employees.
Their secret to success is really no secret at all. . . It’s a good mixture of phenomenal customer support, great user experience and a leading technology. This should all sound familiar to you, and it’s nothing to be surprised about. Outstanding execution is the key here, and it’s certainly not easy to achieve. Okta has strong leadership that not only drives the Okta product to the right direction, but also manages to keep their customers and employees engaged and thrilled.
“The CIO role is about complex integration of the entire eco system. Internal and external. System and people”
- Okta’s Co-Founder and COO, Frederic Kerrest
2. Passwords are still around, but not for long
No one likes passwords, but due to the lack of a better alternative, we have no choice but to use them. In theory, passwords are a good security mechanism, but realistically, they are one of the application’s weak points as they heavily relies on the user’s practices. The strength of the password, the way the user stores it and its exposure to phishing attacks distances passwords from being the ideal solution of protecting our most critical data. This explains why Microsoft recently introduced its multi-tiered approach to Azure AD Password Protection, as they know that the weakest link when using passwords is the user, rather than the technology.
Eliminating passwords is becoming the ideal standard for users as well as for security experts. Google Chrome has already adapted FIDO Alliance Web Authentication (WebAuthn) for password-less authentication. Mobile devices and laptops vendors ship their products with biometric authentication built-in. The utopian password-less web is quickly becoming a reality.
“Companies need to operate in Zero-trust environments”
- Okta’s Co-Founder and COO, Frederic Kerrest
Okta is advancing us closer to this reality. Their CEO, Todd McKinnon, announced on stage that Okta’s policy engine can now be set to provide password-less authentication. This capability is achieved due to Okta’s
Todd gave an excellent use-case for Okta’s password-less capability. You can now define a policy that allows you to login to a corporate application like Box without a password, assuming you are logging in from your enterprise-issued laptop and on the company network. Needless to say, this is just one example and the possibilities here are endless. Okta will allow you to define policies based on device information, use behavior, location, biometric data and more. Eventually, the process of logging in to corporate applications will be seamlessly straight-forward, while staying secure.
Okta’s unique power is its network effect
Beyond being an identity management company, Okta is in many ways a data company. As a SaaS company with thousands of customers and hundreds of partners, Okta managed to create a great tech network around its product. Massive amounts of data including logins, usage, and fraud detection constantly passes through Okta’s servers. This puts Okta in a great position of power to leverage their data for the better good of their customers and partners.
An nice example of what insights Okta can dig up from their data is around vendor recommendations. By knowing which SaaS tools other companies are using, knowing their industry and size, Okta can come up with good recommendations regarding which SaaS application you should use next. No biased or paid review, just pure data, making these recommendations highly valuable to customers.
Other companies in the market claim their product is on the same level as Okta’s, but unless they reach Okta’s scale, I believe these companies are simply making empty promises. Okta has reached the optimal point where they can actually deliver such a promise.
4. Staying vendor agnostic
Okta's vision is to “enable any company to adopt any technology”. One of the underlining means of achieving that is staying vendor agnostic. Throughout the years, Okta has kept their promise and managed to create a solution that has no bias to a specific vendor or technology. This is proven by the vast amount of partners and integrations they have over a broad spectrum of products. Many of those partners compete with each other on the same space, but are partnered with Okta’s solutions. From security tools to HR tools, and from cloud services to IT management tools, the Okta echo system is incredibly diverse.
“Our vision is to enable any organization to use any technology”
-Okta CEO, Todd McKinnon
Customers know that they can keep their own strategic vision on technology adaption, and Okta will not stand in their way. Whether you’ve decided to fully adopt Microsoft’s technologies, you are running your IT on Azure and Office-365, you can find Okta as the perfect missing link to manage your user’s identify across all platforms. Are you a G-suite shop? No problem, Okta is your best match. Sharing files on Dropbox or Box? Securing your network using Checkpoint or Palo Alto Networks? Using Workday or Namely? It doesn’t really matter. Okta got you covered.
5. Developer-friendly approach
Okta knows the power of its network and ecosystem doesn’t only come from their partners and customers, but also from the developers who work directly with Okta’s APIs.
With over 33,000 developers building apps on its platform, Okta is now taking another friendly step towards their developers. Developers can now use Okta’s sign-in widget for free if they include the Okta branding. The value for developers is clear: it allows them to create a robust, enterprise-grade-ready sign in experience for their applications. You usually wouldn’t invest in a scaleable solution with many security features like Multi Factor Authentication when starting up a new product.
Developers love open standard. Therefore the adaption of the open protocol OpenID just strengthen the credit Okta already has among its developer community.
“You need to remove those barriers, whether its price, different features or capabilities to make the developers successful.”
-Okta CEO, Todd McKinnon
6. A grand finale with Obama
Yes, I know…I said 5 key takeaways. But I couldn’t let myself neglect the fact that Barack Obama paid a visit to the conference.
First of all, Okta’s achievement of featuring him in Oktane18 says a lot about how Okta successfully runs as a company. He doesn't accept very many corporate speaking events, and the fact that he showed up gives Okta the right to tick off a giant checkmark on the “playing with the pros” checkbox.
It goes without saying that the crowd gave Obama a standing ovation when he walked on stage. It feels like Obama fits into the tech scene as if he was a CIO veteran himself 🙂
“If a problem had an obvious solution to it, then someone else would have solved it before you got to look at it.”
-Barack Obama at Oktane18
Conferences are usually either a hit or a miss, but I can confidently say that this 3-day-long conference was not only informative, but it was also engaging, as well as an amazing chance to meet IT leaders. It was absolutely refreshing and inspiring to be amongst passionate professionals and powerful speakers (once again, Obama was there!). From beginning to end, Okta completely impressed me in their methods of running the conference, and the company itself.
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