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Removing Friction to Accelerate Good: Okta’s First Nonprofit Collaborative

Marissa Monaco

Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) have full plates—not only do they devote their time to making the world a better place, but oftentimes their employees also have to manage complex IT processes in-house, putting additional stress on their team. With most of their budgets and resources dedicated to their central mission, it can prove challenging for NPOs to devote time to alleviating this IT burden. But as a number of Okta customers have realized, adopting cloud solutions can be key to removing operational friction and maximizing their positive impact.

That’s why at Oktane18, we sought out to discuss—and find solutions to—this very challenge during our first Okta for Good Nonprofit Collaborative. This pre-conference session explored how nonprofits can leverage Okta and other technologies to cut costs, improve processes, and help strengthen connections in their communities.

Breaking out into different focus areas led jointly by nonprofit leaders and members of Okta’s technical team, attendees participated in productive conversations on how to best streamline security, modernize their IT, and undergo their own digital transformations. The ‘Modernizing IT’ group was led by Christine Sullivan, vice president of IT at City Year, alongside Okta’s Daniel Lu, Okta’s product marketing manager. Tony McAllister, director of enterprise at Be the Match, led the digital transformation session with Jiong Liu,Okta’s senior product marketing manager - customer identity; and Mads Grandt, ICT operations manager at Norwegian Refugee Council, ran the security session with Chris Niggel, Okta’s director of security and compliance. Here are some of the key takeaways we learned from these industry experts.

Navigating a shift in company culture

Change management is a common issue — particularly when NPOs experience significant employee attachment to legacy applications. This attachment highlights an underlying truth: that moving to the cloud is more than just a technology shift — it requires a change in user behavior as well.

To successfully transition to cloud-based applications, companies must involve and educate users throughout the process, making sure that they’re equipped to use the software properly. But as Chris Niggel, pointed out, this education process is ongoing: employees must constantly communicate between departments, keeping each other informed about potential threats, and sharing best practices on how to reduce legacy authentication vulnerabilities.

Before implementing major changes, security teams, IT teams, and upper management should all be on board. This means clearly communicating the need for new solutions, as well as the roles and responsibilities involved in adopting new tech. When gaining buy-in from executives and boards, IT teams and other stakeholders should highlight the benefits to company-wide risk management, productivity, and cost-reduction, with a clear strategy of who will be involved in supporting the new model. Timing here is everything: as many NPOs shared during the session, employees don’t want to feel like technology is being pushed on them. Instead, they want to understand how and why it will be critical to their mission and success.

Centralizing application access

Too often, NPOs experience silos between departments—making it hard to keep track of the hundreds of apps scattered across their IT environments. This typically leads to a flourishing of shadow IT (systems and solutions being used without organizational approval and oversight). Without a central view on their employees’ apps and access habits, most participating NPOs admitted that they did not know which apps were in use across their organization—making it impossible to secure data and access across the enterprise.

It’s clear that many NPOs need new systems to control access. As Daniel Lu, found in his group session, NPOs generally prefer to implement multiple new technologies simultaneously. For example, adopting Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) at the same time as Single Sign-On (SSO) helped to ease the change management burden by only exposing NPOs to a single period of transition rather than several disruptive events.

Overcoming budget constraints to keep up with change

The average NPO IT budget is typically much lower than at for-profit organizations. As such, NPOs have to be selective about the tools and solutions they adopt. With technology rapidly shifting, they need to find solutions that are adaptable in the face of constant change—essentially, finding ways to do more with less.

When digitizing their processes, NPOs should focus on taking strain off of maintaining existing infrastructure. Cumbersome legacy infrastructure can be both time-consuming and costly, and put a significant dent in existing IT resources. By moving workflows to the cloud, IT teams not only save money, but they can shift their focus to more important projects.

Leveraging available tools and networks

As Jiong Liu found in her group, many NPOs are turning to vendors and partners for best practices to help to streamline the process of moving off legacy systems, and to point them in the direction of helpful new solutions. That’s why we’re continuing the conversation in two ways. First, we’re working alongside our peers in the tech community through ImpactCloud, a coalition of cloud vendors including Box, Splunk, DocuSign, Twilio, Salesfoce and others who are working to serve the nonprofit sector jointly with our technologies and resources. We also launched a new customer portal that provides NPOs with the resources they need to overcome their identity and security challenges. This dynamic, supportive community will give nonprofits a forum to share their challenges and successes and engage with Okta’s own identity and security experts. Through this, we aim to give nonprofits the tools and support they need to focus on big picture impact while modernizing their IT. Learn more about Okta's non-profit offering and join the community here.