Changes to security exposure, driven by shifting organisational network boundaries, have driven a resurgence in identity and access management (IAM) that has the government committing to significant IAM frameworks and private companies retrofitting IAM to legacy systems. Yet for fast-growing digital business REA Group, a flexible IAM environment has rapidly evolved from being a nice-to-have into a fundamental element of the company's IT strategy.
That transformation came over time, as REA – the 1100-strong global parent company of sites including RealEstate.com.au and RealCommercial.com.au – rapidly shifted away from on-premises to cloud-based applications for helpdesk, asset management, information storage, HR, and other functions. Some 98 percent of its core applications are now cloud-hosted.
Early successes – the shift years ago from an inhouse helpdesk system to the ZenDesk cloud-hosted support system saved what head of technology Damian Fasciani said was “six figures a year in licensing” – stoked enthusiasm for cloud-delivered applications and set the company on the fast track to cloud-ify most of its business functions. This process also drove a formalisation of the company's cloud processes as part of its overall quality-control and compliance efforts.
As the investment in cloud-based solutions grew, however, it became clear that REA Group's new operating environment was going to present other problems. “By 2013 we had a plethora of cloud systems,” Fasciani recalls.
“People had problems remembering the URLs to access applications, were forgetting passwords, and even letting their passwords expire so they couldn't get back onto certain systems. We were talking about building a user experience for staff through a central portal where people would have all their systems with a mobility flavour, which would let them access systems from anywhere in a secure way.”
Discussions led REA Group to Okta, a San Francisco-based startup that had developed an IAM platform capable of enabling single sign-on (SSO) to a broad range of cloud systems.
It was immediately clear that Okta Identity Management was a natural fit for REA Group's growing cloud environment: “being security conscious, particularly with user authentication for accessing systems like CRM and so forth, we've got to have that security later there,” Fasciani explains. “Okta is really helping us in that regard.”
Managing access credentials centrally has helped REA Group employees and contractors maintain access to the systems they need without having to struggle with various passwords. It also allows new employees to be automatically granted access to systems appropriate for their job role, and to revoke that access when employees are terminated.
For a company that is adding hundreds of employees annually, the time savings alone from this proceduralisation of access add up. But convenience is only one part of the value of the new platform: by allowing the company to enforce the access-control mechanisms of its formal cloud policies, the IAM environment has become a key business enabler.
Ongoing training and internal advocacy has both raised and maintained employee awareness of the Okta solution, with a recent campaign extending the system to employees' iOS and Android mobile devices – which will be secured through the Okta environment using two-factor authentication.
The platform has become so intrinsic to REA Group's cloud strategy that any new proposed cloud applications are tested for their ability to be integrated with the Okta environment; if they can't be integrated using SAML (Security Assertions Markup Language), they will not be permitted to be used within REA Group.
“Okta is ingrained in our culture and has become part of our due diligence process,” Fasciani says. “It has become quite central to how we think and execute around cloud-based systems. It's quite powerful because it gives staff members choice in how they want to work – and we can still do that in a secure way.”
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