Identity as the foundation of every employee and customer experience

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When you hear the word identity, you probably first think of IT services like access management, resetting passwords, or creating service tickets.

But identity goes so much deeper, and well beyond IT. Especially as organizations increasingly digitize their products and services, migrate more assets to the cloud, and utilize advanced technologies in their operations, identity takes on new meaning and becomes much more central to both your own employees and the experiences you offer customers.

So, how do you take identity from the past to the future, and what can it unlock for your business? Let’s look at new ways to think about identity and how to establish it as a foundation for every digital interaction.

COVID’s impact on digitalization

The transition to digital experiences and dynamic work environments was well underway before the pandemic. However, it accelerated, virtually overnight, as COVID-19 sped up the adoption of digital technologies.

According to a McKinsey study, North American companies made seven years’ worth of progress on their digital offerings in just the first few months of the pandemic. The digitization of customer interactions accelerated by three years in the same period.

Businesses that expected to spend over a year (454 days) implementing remote working pre-pandemic did so in just 11 days. To address increasing customer demand for online purchases and services, organizations moved 27 times more quickly than they believed possible, and cloud migration took just over 23 days rather than the 547 they expected.

These sudden changes also require organizations to change how they think about identity. No longer is it just a back-office IT function aimed at reducing costs and streamlining operations. It’s about considering what identity enables for your business both now and in the future.

The problem with digital experiences that don’t start with identity

One of the biggest problems in the modern era is the proliferation of data. When you have different services that generate data at rapid speeds, it’s typically not clean. Without clean data, you can’t gain any insights.

Organizations collect all this data in various places. A customer might have a customer record, a CRM entry, and be part of a loyalty program – which means they might get some personalized recommendations when they shop. There’s a lot of data coming in, but it’s scattered. These organizations are trying to deliver seamless customer experiences, but they’re approaching the problem in the wrong order.

Just like you have to enable cloud computing before you can take advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), you have to establish identity before you can collect data and create great customer experiences.

With a single customer identity viewable across all your different systems, you can better understand your customers’ needs and deliver exactly what they’re looking for.

A large healthcare company with many brands did exactly this when it shifted strategies in the wake of the pandemic. Looking to create a direct and scalable consumer relationship, it established a single identity for each patient across all of the company’s brands. It not only created a seamless relationship with each customer, but it unlocked new business models and services that weren’t possible when data was scattered without the foundation of identity.

Privacy as a differentiator

As we think about the future of digitization and data collection, more online interactions are being tracked. This is raising issues like data transparency and how much control individuals have over their data.

As much as companies differentiate themselves on the experiences they create, they also need to do so on their ability to respect individual privacy. By securing customer experiences, organizations can establish a level of trust that increases retention and loyalty. However, it’s only possible by taking that identity mindset from the start.

That unifying principle will ensure you know where all of a customer’s data is – and allow you to better safeguard it in a way that benefits both your organization and customers’ desire for privacy.

Security rooted in identity

Security is often top of mind when you think of identity. This goes back to the concept of “control” and establishing a zero trust security framework. But it goes beyond just an access problem. It’s an entire lifecycle.

Identity needs to stretch across every platform employees are on and every device they use, ensuring a consistent experience. Ask yourself: Who should have access to an application, why should they have access, and how long do they need access? Your objective should be to minimize access and permissions to those individuals who really need it.

Once this policy is in place, automate everything else. This will enable employees to have the biggest sandbox to be productive and collaborate, while at the same time, putting up invisible guardrails for them to follow.

For both employees and customers, you should assess your inventory of your current practices. Are you enabling and securing the most mission-critical applications for your company, and are you retiring what has lost value? Once you’ve identified the best practices, you can start to think about best practices that unify the experience across cloud, on-prem, and hybrid, all driven by identity.

Reimagining the possibilities of identity

Identity is much more than access and IT functions. It’s a core requirement of frictionless, secure experiences.

Actually reaching the point at which identity becomes a foundation starts with buy-in from senior leaders. The organizations that have been most successful at rethinking and recentering identity have had a lot of alignment at the highest levels. That helped them identify areas of collaboration and standardize identity and security across everything they build.

It’s a process, one that starts with a new vision for the role identity plays in your business and how it builds relationships with both employees and customers.

About the author

Molly He drives marketing and strategy for Personal Okta, focused on empowering consumers to manage and own their digital identity. Prior to Okta, she worked in big data analytics at Palantir and Internet of Things at Microsoft. Molly holds a B.S. in Finance from the University of Pennsylvania.