Okta adds new no-code workflows that use identity to trigger sales and marketing tasks

It seems that no-code is the tech watchword of the year. It refers to the ability to create something that normally would require a developer to code, and replace it with dragging and dropping components instead, putting the task in reach of much less technical business users. Today Okta announced new no-code workflows that provide a way to use identity as a trigger to launch a customer-centric workflow.

Okta co-founder and CEO Todd McKinnon says that the company has created a series of connectors to make it easier to connect identity to a workflow that includes sales and marketing tooling. This comes on the heels of the identity lifecycle workflows, the company introduced at the Oktane customer conference in April.

“For this release we are introducing customer identity workflows which are focused on the connectors for all the customer-specific systems, things like Salesforce and Marketo and all the customer-centric [applications] that you’d want to do with your customer identities. And you can imagine over time that we’re going to expose this to more and more areas that will cover every kind of scenario a company would want to use,” McKinnon told TechCrunch.

McKinnon says that last year the company introduced Platform Services, which pulled apart the various pieces of the platform and exposed them as individual services, which bigger company customers could tap into as needed. He says that this is an extension of that idea, but instead of having to get engineering talent to write complex code to tie the Okta service into say Salesforce, you can simply drag the Salesforce connector to your workflow.

As McKinnon describes this using early adopter MLB as an example, say someone downloads the MLB app, creates a log-in and signs in. At that point, if MLB marketing personnel wanted to connect to any applications outside of Okta, it would normally require leveraging some programming help to make it happen.

But with the new workflow tools, a marketing person can set up a workflow that checks the log-in for fraud, then sends the person’s information automatically into Salesforce to create a customer record, and also triggers a welcome email in Marketo — and all of this could be done automatically triggered by the customer sign up.

Okta workflows showing what happens when a person downloads and app and creates an identiy.

Image Credits: Okta

This functionality was made possible by the $52.5 million acquisition of Azuqua last year. As COO and co-founder Frederic Kerrest wrote in a blog post at the time of the acquisition (and we quoted in the article):

“With Okta and Azuqua, IT teams will be able to use pre-built connectors and logic to create streamlined identity processes and increase operational speed. And, product teams will be able to embed this technology in their own applications alongside Okta’s core authentication and user management technology to build…integrated customer experiences.”

And that’s precisely the kind of approach the company is delivering this week. For now, it’s available as an early adopter program, but as Okta works out the kinks, you can expect them to build on this and add other enterprise workflow connectors to the mix as it expands this vision, giving the company a way to move beyond pure identity management and connect to other parts of the organization.


By Ron Miller

SaaS earnings rise as pandemic pushes companies more rapidly to the cloud

As the pandemic surged and companies moved from offices to working at home, they needed tools to ensure the continuity of their business operations. SaaS companies have always been focused on allowing work from anywhere there’s access to a computer and internet connection, and while the economy is reeling from COVID-19 fallout, modern software companies are thriving.

That’s because the pandemic has forced companies that might have been thinking about moving to the cloud to find tools what will get them there much faster. SaaS companies like Zoom, Box, Slack, Okta and Salesforce were there to help; cloud security companies like CrowdStrike also benefited.

While it’s too soon to say how the pandemic will affect work long term when it’s safe for all employees to return to the office, it seems that companies have learned that you can work from anywhere and still get work done, something that could change how we think about working in the future.

One thing is clear: SaaS companies that have reported recent earnings have done well, with Zoom being the most successful example. Revenue was up an eye-popping 169% year-over-year as the world shifted in a big way to online meetings, swelling its balance sheet.

There is a clear connection between the domestic economy’s rapid transition to the cloud and the earnings reports we are seeing — from infrastructure to software and services. The pandemic is forcing a big change to happen faster than we ever imagined.

Big numbers

Zoom and CrowdStrike are two companies expected to grow rapidly thanks to the recent acceleration of the digital transformation of work. Their earnings reports this week made those expectations concrete, with both firms beating expectations while posting impressive revenue growth and profitability results.


By Ron Miller

Good news for enterprise startups: SaaS helped kill the single-vendor stack

In the old days of enterprise software, when companies like IBM, Oracle and Microsoft ruled the roost, there was a tendency to shop from a single vendor. You bought the whole stack, which made life easier for IT — even if it didn’t always work out so well for end users, who were stuck using software that was designed with administrators in mind.

Once Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) came along, IT no longer had complete control over software choices. The companies that dominated the market began to stumble — although Microsoft later found its way — and a new generation of SaaS vendors developed.

As that happened, users saw a way to pick and choose software that worked best for them, as they were no longer bound to clunky enterprise software; they wanted tools at work that worked as well as the ones they used in the consumer space at home.

Through freemium models and low-cost subscriptions, individual employees and teams started selecting their own tools, and a new way of buying software began to take hold. Instead of buying software from a single shop, consumers could buy the best tool for the job. This in turn, led to wider adoption, as these small groups of users led the way to more lucrative enterprise deals.

The philosophical change has worked well for enterprise startups. The new world means a well-executed idea can beat an incumbent with a similar product. Just ask companies like Slack, Zoom and Box, which have shown what’s possible when you put users first.


By Ron Miller

Okta brings identity management to server level

Since it was founded in 2009, Okta has been focused on protecting identity — first for individuals in the cloud, and later at the device level. Today at its Oktane customer conference, the company announced a new level of identity protection at the server level.

The new tool, called Advanced Server Access, provides identity management for Windows and Linux Servers, whether they are in a datacenter or the cloud. The product supports major cloud infrastructure vendors like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform, and gives IT the ability to protect access to servers, reduce the likelihood of identity theft and bring a level of automation the server credential process.

As company founder and CEO Todd McKinnon points out, as every organization becomes a technology company building out their own applications, protecting servers becomes increasingly critical. “Identity is getting more and more important because there is more technology and zero trust in the network. You need to manage identity not just for users or devices. We are now applying our identity [experience] to the most critical resources for these emerging tech companies, their servers,” he said.

McKinnon explained that developers typically communicate with Linux servers via the SSH protocol. It required logging in of course, even before today’s announcement, but what Okta is doing is simplifying that in the same it simplified logging into cloud applications for individuals.

People’s roles change over time, but instead of changing those roles at the identity layer to allow access to the server, in a typical shop the development or operations team creates an admin account with a superset of permissions and simply shares that. “That means the admin account has all the permissions, and also means they are sharing these credentials,” he said. If those credentials get stolen, the thief potentially has access to the entire universe of servers inside a company.

Okta’s idea is to bring a level of automation to the server identity management process, so that users maintain their own individual credentials and permissions in a more automated fashion, even as roles change, across the entire server infrastructure a company manages. “It’s continuous, automatic, real-time checking of the state of the machine, and the state of the user and the permissions that makes it far more secure,” he said.

The tool is continuously monitoring this information to make sure nothing has changed such as another machine has taken over, avoiding man-in-the-middle attacks. It’s also making sure that there is no virus or malware, and that the person who is using the machine is who they say they are and has access at the level they are using it.

Okta went public almost exactly two years ago, and it needs to keep finding ways to expand its core identity services. Bringing it to the server level as this new product does moves the idea of identity management deeper into a technology stack, and McKinnon hinted the company isn’t done yet.

“You might not think of server access is an identity opportunity, but the way we do it will make it clear that it really is an opportunity, and the same can be said for the next several innovations we will have after this,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Okta appoints former Charles Schwab exec to board of directors

Okta, the Nasdaq-listed cloud identity management company, has recruited former Charles Schwab chief marketing officer Becky Saeger to its board of directors. The latest appointment comes one month after the company named Shellye Archambeau, former chief executive officer of MetricStream, to its board.

Saeger becomes Okta’s third female board member. Michelle Wilson, a former senior vice president and general counsel at Amazon, joined the company’s board in 2015. According to data collected by Women on Boards, women hold just over 17 percent of corporate board seats, up from 16.0 percent in 2017.

“A board is there for a few reasons,” Okta co-founder and CEO Todd McKinnon told TechCrunch. “One is to oversee a company’s management and strategy. A company like Okta is in a fast-growing industry and there is too much of a tendency for groupthink. You need someone around you to question the basis of what you’re thinking about.”

McKinnon has spoken openly about his commitment to diversity. In a letter to employees in early 2017, for example, he denounced President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on refugee admissions to the U.S. “Diversity of thought and experience are fundamental values at Okta, that includes religious beliefs, gender diversity, sexual orientation and political views,” he wrote. “No matter who you voted for, our opposition to this policy is not just about our business — it is also about our belief in the American freedoms and protections that have made our country so innovative and accepting of those most in need.”

Okta’s C-suite, though majority male, includes chief customer officer Krista Anderson-Copperman, executive vice president and chief of staff Angela Grady, and chief people officer Kristina Johnson.

Saeger, who McKinnon chose for her marketing and financial services acumen, also sits on the board of E*TRADE, an online broker.

“I am excited about the notion that as this company grows and evolves, the brand can become more visible and more meaningful,” Saeger told TechCrunch.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Okta debuted on the stock exchange in April 2017, closing up 38 percent on its first day of trading.


By Kate Clark