FREE NOW: Making remote work simple and secure for 1,300 employees with Okta

Can you think of a moment before 2020 when the words “in these unprecedented times” have been more widely used? Organisations all over the world are pushing their creativity to the limit to keep “business as usual” under very unusual circumstances. The coronavirus situation has impacted companies of every size, including FREE NOW, the multiservice mobility joint venture from Daimler and BMW.

The FREE NOW Group in Europe consists of the ride-hailing services FREE NOW (formerly mytaxi), hive (micromobility) and Beat. Combined, these services attract 26 million users in 11 markets and more than 100 cities, from Warsaw to Paris. In 2020, when the coronavirus forced FREE NOWs 1,300 employees to work from home, the organisation turned to Okta to make work as simple and secure remotely as it was on-premises.

We ask Jan Ramm, CTO at FREE NOW, about the transition:

Q: Jan, please tell us about the FREE NOW approach to technology. As CTO, how would you say technology supports the company’s business goals?

We are a technology oriented company, which means we’re always looking for technical means to drive value to our business. In fact, every team is translating our business needs into innovative and value-driven solutions by examining things like artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotic process automation, edge computing, and many other innovative technologies to assess their potential for bringing value to us.

Q: Has technology’s role in bringing value to the business changed amidst the coronavirus pandemic?

Yes, to some extent, because in the current situation we are very much looking at technology to answer the question: “How do we make sure our development teams can cooperate easier, faster, and more efficiently while working remotely?”

With the shift to remote working due to coronavirus, identity and access management has become even more important for us. It’s imperative that we make sure only authorised people can get access to the resources they need to work from home, so that we can abide by GDPR regulations and secure our data and the data of our customers. To do this, every architectural decision we make has identity and access management, as well as information security, at its core.

Q: Is that where Okta comes in? What role does Okta play in your approach to information security?

We emphasise the importance of security in all aspects of the organisation, in every decision we make. Okta has been a part of FREE NOW since June 2017, and the reason for that is because the Okta Identity Cloud helps us to strengthen our security protocols without putting any extra burden on our users. We use Universal Directory and Lifecycle Management to automate access rights for around 1,950 identities, and our colleagues use Multi-Factor Authentication to access the work tools they need, such as Slack and Workday, on a single portal using Single Sign-On. With coronavirus requiring us to work outside of the relative safety of our office, where we have strict security policies in place governed by our information security department, Okta helps us ensure that every person trying to access our resources is really who they say they are.

Q: How have Okta and other technologies helped you maintain business continuity throughout these changes caused by COVID-19?

COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on everyone’s lives, and I believe that this will continue for the foreseeable future. For us, these changes have an impact on processes that were relatively simple and now have become more challenging, such as the onboarding and offboarding of employees and the related logistics, including when employees need to be set up with hardware or need to return any equipment. Daily standup meetings and sprints have had to become virtual meetings. Many aspects of our work have changed and these changes demand that we find creative solutions to continue functioning as an agile team without sacrificing our security.

Because FREE NOW was already tech-forward before coronavirus, we were able to limit the challenges of adjusting to this new way of working. We had ongoing initiatives in place that came in handy, and that we sped up to help us transition, such as one project to fully automate our onboarding and offboarding processes. Okta and some other technologies involved in these processes have been crucial in helping us to maintain our business continuity, because they made our transition into remote working quite easy from a technological perspective. The fact that we didn’t suffer any hiccups from the fast change into remote working is a testament to the stability of Okta and the rest of our infrastructure.

Q: That’s great to hear! So, where do you plan on going from here? What is the group’s vision for your future and that of your employees?

We believe that remote work is here to stay, in one form or another. Traditionally, we’ve worked from our offices and always knew more or less where everyone’s personal desk stood, where their hardware was located. COVID-19 has changed all of that. As we are slowly allowed back into our offices, things need to be done differently to protect our colleagues and customers. So, we’re continually being forced to rethink our meeting structures, logistics, the way we support our colleagues, and the way we operate in general. Moving forward, to keep supporting our workforce and customers remotely, we’re looking once again at how innovative technology such as automation can continue to bring value to us.