By Phil Turner, VP EMEA, Okta

At the heart of any IT strategy is the need to uphold data security. Yet the rise of cloud computing has led the battle lines, once clearly marked as ‘us’ versus ‘the outside world’, to become blurred. Mobile, social, BYOD and the increasing demand to access applications anytime, anywhere has drastically altered the IT landscape and for many IT decision makers, it’s a struggle to simply stay in control.

While the cloud provides employees with the freedom to choose, control and manage their own applications, both its openness and accessibility, whilst advantageous, presents a new set up challenges. Businesses now have to contend with a whole host of different devices, not all of which are vetted by the IT department. Similarly employees are increasingly using the tools and applications most familiar to them to complete their job, rather than those provided by the organisation.

Understanding the Extent of the Problem
According to our new research report, employees are now believed to be accessing a minimum of eight cloud applications per month. However, worryingly one third (37 per cent) are doing so without IT jurisdiction. As a result, it’s no surprise that the research also showed that only 9 per cent of IT decision makers are confident that they have complete visibility of all the applications currently being used by employees.

In addition, access to cloud applications no longer just sits with employees within the business, but reaches across the extended enterprise. Indeed, 70 per cent of organisations surveyed using portals comprised of multiple applications to engage with partners, customers and other external users.

With a high percentage of cloud usage happening ‘off radar’, via mobile devices, and across enterprises, businesses can no longer be certain that the use of cloud applications are meeting their IT policies and guidelines. Furthermore, with IT departments unable to read the whole story, organisations run the risk of losing control of their security and providing prying eyes with access to sensitive information. So how can they re-gain control over their IT environments?

Closing the Identity Gap — the Role of Identity Management
Having a complete understanding of the network and its surroundings no matter the complexity is imperative. Yet, with visibility marginalised, understanding ‘who has access to what’ across the business is fast becoming a significant challenge and identity management (the management of electronic identities) is becoming increasingly important.

Organisations have previously turned to on-premise identity management software to help control and monitor access and privileges to business applications, however the proliferation of devices in the workforce, combined with a rise in the number of applications outside the firewall, means this approach is no longer sufficient.

Businesses need a better way to secure and control a magnitude of more users, devices and applications that span traditional company and network boundaries, such as cloud-based identity and access management. Not only can such technology enable businesses to quickly, and securely, adapt to the ever-changing environment, but it can provide a significant uplift to employee productivity, collaboration and happiness — providing employees with access to the applications they need, when and where they want them.

The next two years will be a critical time for organisations to close the identity gap and regain control of their IT infrastructures. The number of applications, access points and user types within organisations will continue to grow and diversify, creating an increasingly urgent need to gain visibility and control whilst also simplifying user access to cloud systems. It will be those businesses that are unprepared to deal with the sudden increase in cloud applications that will find themselves stretched and exposed.

For more information on the cloud challenges facing businesses and to stay up-to date-with Okta follow @Okta_UK