Plan International: Global children's rights organisation secures sensitive data and cuts overheads
to transform the lives of 100 million girls in 5 years
- An ambitious mission
- Automating and securing IT infrastructure
- Finding a like-minded identity partner
- Deploying time- and- cost-saving tech
- A customer-focused future
Plan International is a children’s rights organisation active in over 75 countries. The charity’s mission is to transform the lives of 100 million girls within the next five years. Technology is integral to Plan International’s ability to work effectively across borders and serve its stakeholders. Unfortunately, the organisation’s costly, disjointed legacy systems were impeding operational efficiency as well as security.
The charity wanted to direct its limited funds and human resources away from manual IT work and toward mission-critical projects. Centralising identity and access management (IAM) would allow the organisation to make better strategic decisions through a sharper lens. The charity knew it needed flexible, frictionless IT infrastructure to help improve and measure its global impact. Security was also important because Plan International works with children and needs to protect sensitive data.
Plan International wanted to adopt as many cloud-based solutions as possible to free up internal IT resources. The organisation needed an IAM partner that could help steward this shift in operations—but business requirements such as capability and cost effectiveness weren’t its only criteria. Plan International was confident that Okta shared in its philosophy and commitment to the humanitarian sector when the team learnt about the Okta for Good initiative.
Plan International quickly and painlessly implemented Okta’s Universal Directory, Single Sign-On, and Lifecycle Management solutions. To its users delight, the experience was seamless and no training was required. The organisation can now manage access with greater ease and oversee accounts in a centralised location. It’s also able to leverage features such as real-time security reporting, and 6,000+ cloud application integrations with the Okta Integration Network. Okta has enabled faster deployments that avoid months of design and configuration.
As Plan International works toward its mission, new and innovative partnerships including those with the technology sector will be a pillar of its operations. The organisation is proud of its data-driven strategy, and now, empowered by modern IAM, the charity will be able to make an even greater impact in the world. Plan International’s opportunities to leverage technology such as machine learning or predictive analytics are only amplified by its partnership with Okta.
Plan International Customer Journey
Plan International’s network spans 75 countries, and security is paramount to the nonprofit’s ability to serve its stakeholders—often vulnerable children. The Okta Identity Cloud enables Plan International to protect user information and manage access with increased visibility and efficiency.
When we met with Okta, we saw not only a good product but a good vision of what Okta wanted to be. Learning about Okta's philosophy showed us it wasn't simply the right technology choice—it was the right organisation for us to partner with.
Gareth Evans, Global IT Architect at Plan International
- One centralised location for user accounts
- Improved access management process
- Ability to leverage real-time security reporting
- Integrations with 6,000+ cloud applications
- Faster deployments with less manual work involved
- Greater visibility into organisational impact in the world
Empowering individuals and communities worldwide
Plan International is a children’s rights organisation with a focus on advancing equality for girls. Now more than 80 years old, the charity works with children, youth, supporters, and partners in over 75 countries around the world. Plan International’s mission for the next five years is to transform the lives of 100 million girls.
“We started as a community-based organisation, but we work at all levels,” says Ellen Wratten, executive director of gender equality and girls’ rights. “If you really want to transform lives at scale, you need to work with governments on policies and you need to work with businesses. We also always work with children and young people—they’re the best advocates for the change they need to see.”
Plan International’s 12,000 employees speak different languages and live and work in various time zones. Technology is integral to the charity’s ability to communicate between global offices and work as a cohesive, effective team.
“Technology has been amazing in bringing us together,” Wratten says. “We use it in everything we do.”
Even more significantly, technology enables Plan International’s core work to advance children’s rights. The organisation operates in challenging environments where highly sensitive data is difficult to collect and has historically been recorded on paper.
“We work with very vulnerable children, and keeping their trust is incredibly important to us,” Wratten says. “Therefore, we need to protect our data.”
Plan International also needed a more efficient and cost-effective identity and access management (IAM) system. The charity wanted increased flexibility to integrate with cloud applications and deploy those apps quickly. The team knew that by reducing their internal IT burden, they could free up resources to better deliver on their mission.
Tackling legacy on-premises systems and records
With a substantial amount of data being collected on paper, Plan International needed to find efficiencies in its processes. Employees were feeling the pain of cumbersome legacy systems. The status quo was not only time consuming to administer, it made storing and referencing information a challenge. This was especially problematic because in the not-for-profit sector, it’s crucial that organisations be able to evaluate their impact and compliance in a timely and transparent manner.
“It was a disjointed approach and a lot of manual work. Now, we’re becoming more of a technology driven organisation,” says Gareth Evans, Plan International’s global IT architect. “The faster we can get from collecting data to digitising that data, looking at it, and reporting on it, the faster we can make effective strategic decisions.”
The previous systems also put stakeholders’ sensitive personal information at risk of falling into the wrong hands. It was crucial for Plan International to modernise its IT infrastructure and better protect this data. The organisation needed to centralise IAM and eliminate security blind spots.
“Security is challenging in the places we work,” Evans says. “We’re working with some of the most vulnerable people in the world and we have to balance usability with security—and it’s a fine line. Phishing and ransomware attacks just continue to escalate, so it’s always our goal to keep improving our security.”
In addition to processes that drained resources and infrastructure that left data vulnerable to breaches, the legacy systems carried a high cost, as is typical in any organisation with paper-based operations. Plan International wanted to optimise its workflows in order to direct funds to other areas of need and serve its stakeholders more effectively.
Prior to implementing Okta, Plan International was also heavily dependent on Active Directory (AD). The organisation had customised AD over the years, and had reached a juncture where it needed to decide whether to continue investing in the technology or rethink its approach to IT infrastructure.
“AD was high maintenance and costly. We needed to change that, and that was the impetus for moving to the cloud,” Evans says. “At the end of the day, we're trying to carry out our work on restrictive budgets, and we want our efforts to have the biggest impact possible.”
Aligning on business needs—and values
Ultimately, Plan International’s technology needed to address the complex, urgent issues that children—particularly girls—face around the world. The charity had to evolve as its global stakeholders and partners adopted new ways of communicating and working with one another.
“Our business needs to harness the potential of technology, and we want young people to get the best out of that technology,” Wratten says.
Plan International’s strategy over the past five years has been to adopt as many cloud-based solutions as possible to allow its IT team to bring maximum value to the organisation. The charity wanted to free up time spent overseeing things like data centres and IP connectivity.
“We wanted to be buying, not building, and really move into driving volume in our investments,” Evans says. “We’re trying to move not just to the cloud, but to the stars.”
The nature of Plan International’s work necessitates that it be open to new tech solutions. The charity is currently working on a global monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system that will allow data to be collected on a mobile device, then immediately be sent to the system. The organisation needed an access management partner to help steward this shift in operations.
“The M&E system will allow us to more clearly assess the impact we’re having in different regions—where it’s maximised and where we can improve,” Evans says.
In addition to meeting business requirements, it was important to Plan International to find an identity partner with similar values. The charity’s tender process includes a scorecard that measures capability, cost effectiveness, and organisational philosophy.
“We get the most value when there’s a true partnership in place and you're willing to give more than technology, but time and effort and experience, and really engage with the unique challenges we face,” Evans says.
Plan International found that Okta’s IAM solution checked all the requisite boxes, but on an equally important level, that the company shared in its commitment to the humanitarian sector through the Okta for Good initiative. This program offers not-for-profit organisations 25 free licenses for Okta products as well as preferential pricing for additional licenses and products.
“Learning about Okta’s humanitarian philosophy showed us a commitment level to the not-for-profit sector that doesn’t always exist with vendors. Okta wasn't simply the right technology choice—it was the right organisation for us to partner with. It’s the people who make a difference in a relationship,” Evans says.
Deploying new tech quickly and painlessly
Now that Plan International and Okta had aligned on a vision that incorporated both business requirements and organisational values, the charity’s first step was to deploy Okta’s Single Sign-On (SSO) and integrate it with Workplace by Facebook. Plan International wanted to roll out the new SSO technology quickly and leverage features like the customisable user experience, secure directory, and real-time security reporting.
“This was our first real cloud-based solution, and we didn't want to go through the challenges we’d been through in the past or have it be a significant part of the project,” Evans says. “With Okta, it only took us 15 minutes to deploy, and our users had access with the same username and password. There was no training. It was just easy.”
In addition to the benefits that both employees and external stakeholders gain from SSO in terms of workflow and user experience, Plan International can also manage access with greater ease through Okta’s Universal Directory. The charity now has one central location where it can oversee all users, groups, and devices from any number of sources—and it integrates with AD, which means no more infrastructure sprawl.
“Now that we’ve moved from an on-premises system to the cloud, the speed that we can deploy applications with Okta will take away months of design, configuration, and custom development. It will leave us with quick and easy decisions such as, ‘Who are we going to give access to?’,” Evans says.
Plan International also deployed Okta’s Lifecycle Management for Workplace by Facebook and Office 365. The organisation is working on custom development for its old identity synchronisation solution to integrate with Lifecycle Management as well. Automation and pre-integrated provisioning are just two of the time and cost saving benefits to the charity. These features drastically reduce the hours previously spent on manual IT work, and the possibility for error when assigning permissions.
Plan International has also found value in the Okta Integration Network. The network enables fast, seamless integrations with apps, human resources information systems, and infrastructure as a service provider.
“The Okta Integration Network has become a marketplace for us. When we’re looking for capability, it’s one of the first places we look because we know if we choose a solution on the network, it will save us both time and money associated with deployment,” Evans says.
Taking a customer-first approach to identity
Plan International is now more customer focused than ever, and modern IAM has helped enable that shift in direction. The organisation’s IT team can spend time focused on the business and how its tech solutions can best serve customers.
“Instead of getting bogged down by designing integrations into identity solutions, our team can try to amplify the value we get out of those apps. We don't need IT people focusing on Okta,” Evans says.
Plan International’s citizen registration program is a prime example. The charity’s innovation team is currently working with the Government of Bangladesh to implement this app at scale—a process that will be faster and smoother with Okta’s integration capabilities.
“This is really important for children and girls’ rights, because if you haven't got an identity, it's very difficult then to get into school and access the services you need as you grow up,” Wratten says.
Plan International now also has greater visibility to data that helps inform strategic decisions. The organisation has integrated Okta with its financial enterprise resource planning system, which allows for more insight into cost effectiveness of various operations.
“This change is going to improve how we work so we can have more impact in the world and better accountability to ourselves and our stakeholders,” Wratten says.
User experience has also improved for Plan International’s staff since it deployed Okta, although it still has some applications left to integrate. One of the charity’s goals was to reduce IT friction to allow its employees to focus on their core work of helping children, instead of trying to remember different access credentials for multiple systems.
“If you're working in the most remote place in the world, the challenges you have are going to be numerous. Username and password shouldn't be one of those,” Evans says. “Connectivity is always going to be a challenge, but we can take IT as a problem away.”
Continuing to aim high
Plan International has undergone a great deal of change in the past 80 years, and the organisation is still very ambitious. The charity knows it will require strong partnerships to reach that objective—including partnerships with the technology sector.
“By working with others, we can do so much more,” Wratten says. “We want to live in a world where every girl and every boy can learn, lead, thrive, and make their own decisions.”
Data is the keystone of Plan International’s digital strategy, and the knowledge gained from data is essential to how the charity will deliver on its mission. Modern IAM allows the organisation more visibility into its impact in the world, as well as how it fares on issues such as compliance.
Looking forward, Plan International has its eyes on Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication as a potential next step. This solution incorporates a wide range of second factors to enhance app security and leverage user account history for risk analysis.
“We have to move with the times. We have to accept that the data that we have is very sensitive and that more people are trying to get access to it,” Evans says.
As technology such as AI and machine learning as well as predictive analytics becomes more prevalent, Plan International sees an opportunity to move into this space and leverage these tools to set itself apart from other organisations.
“I’ve gotten to see the evolution of technology over my 17 years here,” Evans says. “We've gone through the growth of our data centre to moving out of the data centre, and now from on-premises to the cloud. What excites me is what we can do with data, and how we can use Okta to help us benefit more than we ever could have done on our own.”
About Plan International
Plan International is an independent development and humanitarian organisation that advances children’s rights and equality for girls. Founded in 1937, today Plan International works with government and private sector partners around the globe. Its mission is to transform the lives of 100 million girls within the next five years.