Transformation-Ready in Higher Education: Lessons on Identity Modernization With Okta

Amidst COVID-19, higher education institutions must constantly be attentive to the latest solutions and defenses in cybersecurity. To protect and accommodate the needs of their students, staff, and larger campus ecosystem, Identity and access management must be amongst their highest priorities. In today’s market, digital transformation—improvement, standardization, and overall modernization of technology—is a key component to driving successful infrastructure and agility—across campuses. 

The challenges stalling the progress of identity

The challenge, however, is that most institutions don’t have the core components necessary to achieve modernization, namely an integration platform or data governance. And yet, because they house valuable information across a wide array of networks, education organizations are attractive targets for malicious activity. Therefore, many organizations are moving to more modern solutions, like the cloud, from both an application and infrastructure perspective.

Here are just a few examples of common problems students and institutions face:

  • Too many accounts, IDs and passwords: Students can have multiple accounts of verification points for various areas of their education. Having more than a handful can be daunting and lead to a struggle with organization and accessibility.
  • A lack of friendly user experience: A common scenario is that of students having to call their IT departments because they’re locked out. These lockouts may be from various, important accounts, yet IT teams don’t have an easy way to simply and efficiently grant access back to students.
  • Technology obstructing learning: Institutions want to be able to provide the highest level of education and enrichment for their students—without technology being the cause of setbacks. They want to improve the student experience, but the tools at their disposal make this harder to achieve.
  • Using more products than necessary: Some institutions can become overwhelmed with the number of solutions they’re sold and asked to implement. Without a full understanding of how these various solutions are interacting overall, efficiency is lost.

Solutions for continued improvement

Higher education needs solutions that allow students to securely and aptly access information from anywhere, especially during times of remote learning. Some institutions have begun the process of simplifying their tool stack to allow for more targeted areas of need across campuses. They are also implementing self-service tools, giving students and faculty the ability to make quick account changes and gain easier access to their own information. This improves usability for all consumers, no matter their age or technological level.

“We face people at different ends of the spectrum at a community college, and their ability to manage their identities and technology in general,” says Brad Yoder, Chief Information Officer at Aims Community College in Greeley, Colorado. “So from the high school student, maybe even to some of our employees … they all struggle with it. So having tools that can cross that spectrum in terms of usability, but still giving us the confidence that we're providing that security, is paramount. I would also add that, yes, a standardized tool like Okta, that does not require a whole team of people to manage, is important to us as well.”

Additionally, having fewer tools conclusively allows for fewer passwords for people to remember, fewer unsuccessful log-in attempts, etc. So achieving comprehensive identity can enhance both student and faculty experience. It provides essential security to students while ensuring they have access to the information they need, while simultaneously providing peace of mind to institutions and education technologists. 

“Within the technology landscape, I think higher education has been really good at creating bespoke tools or processes because we view ourselves as such a unique entity. In fact, we're all unique, but we're not very different,” says Fred Rocha, Chief Information Technology Officer for Coast Colleges in Southern California. “We all have to register students, we all have to provide transcripts, we all have to be able to pay staff, we all have to be able to distribute financial aid. Having tools and solutions that are truly industry standard, widely supported, widely understood, allows us to take giant steps forward in that direction.”

What Okta can do for your institution

Okta works with institutions of all sizes and infrastructures to successfully transform their entire business process, ensuring robust security and efficiency on and off-campus. The Okta Platform simplifies campus complexity, automates on/off-boarding, streamlines access and enhances cybersecurity for all campus user groups, including students, staff, parents, partners, applicants, and alumni. 

Okta supports learning environments by mitigating cybersecurity risks with:

  • Single Sign-On (SSO): Reduces the number of sign-in pages to 1, requiring a single username and password so that  students, staff and faculty can access their cloud and on-premesis applications with ease.
  • Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Improves user experiences by allowing individuals to confirm their identity for multiple devices through one approach.
  • ThreatInsight: Prepares for various risk levels from billions of logins, so that when suspicious activity is detected, institutions can take immediate action.
  • Key integration partners: Through the Okta Integration Network, organizations can easily integrate over 6,000 applications within cybersecurity solutions and education-specific applications.

Okta connects educators and students with Okta’s Identity Cloud:

  • Modernize education IT: Modernize your school’s IT from old, legacy technology to decreased costs and increased security, with greater efficiency.
  • Protect and enable students and staff: No matter their location, device, or network, Okta can assist with securely enabling access for your institution's users while lessening identity attacks.
  • Automate the student lifecycle: Automate access across your organization’s highly complex user base to manage multiple applications.
  • Build secure, seamless student experiences: Whether building a new portal or consolidating existing services, for a compliant and smooth transition, secure web and mobile access with Okta. 

So, for professionals ready to embark on similar identity projects, there are 3 pieces of advice that can kickstart the process and make for a smoother execution. Starting with, arguably, the most imperative factor: Communication.

“There are 3 quick rules to it,” says Steven Ferguson, Chief Information Officer for the Technical College System of Georgia. “What do I know? Who needs to know? Did I tell them? So communicate. Communicate to everybody and do it often. Don't expect anyone else to communicate it for you. 

The 3 key rules of identity success are to

  • Be inclusive: Similarly to being communicative, it’s important to remember that not all previous challenges have been duly reported. Involving as many functional teams of an identity project as possible can ultimately lead to better preparedness and prioritizing problems that arise.
  • Remain agile: During transformational periods for any organization, flexibility is a must. Find ways to position yourself and your institution to be agile so that, where necessary, transitions and pivots can be made.
  • Create a sense of urgency: Tell interested parties why your project is important right now, what benefits will occur and what positive change will come from it. If you build a sense of urgency, you’ll receive the support you need.

Fred Rocha adds, “I think that's really where our hearts and minds lead us. To ensure that student experience is not only positive, but enriching, and that technology is never an obstacle to them achieving their educational goals, but a facilitator for it,”

To learn more about Okta’s initiatives for growing identity modernization in higher education, view our recorded webinar. You’ll also hear about the experiences of professionals navigating similar projects today.