‘Migrating to the cloud is still one of the biggest challenges facing businesses’

5 May 2023

Alvina Antar. Image: Evan Chung Photography

Alvina Antar, CIO of Okta, discusses her role and what businesses need to do to ensure a smooth migration to the cloud.

Alvina Antar is chief information officer at Okta, a cloud identity company. Prior to her current role at Okta, Antar was CIO at Zuora, an enterprise software company, as well as spending 17 years at Dell, where she worked in digital transformation, global delivery and M&A integration.

In her current role, Antar leads the business technology team to evolve Okta’s operating model through people, process, technology and data.

“Enabling a more efficient and secure workforce is integral to our success and has become a model for cloud adoption and the importance of neutrality for our customers.”

According to Antar, Okta are focused on future proofing the company “with the most modern technology stack and making Okta a data-first company”.

“It’s now more important than ever to have trusted and transparent data for all decision-making. We all know that data-driven companies are far more likely to retain and acquire new customers, which directly leads to profitability.”

‘When an organisation is able to build trust and transparency with data, they are empowered to find better and more effective ways of building’

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in the current IT landscape and how are you addressing them?

Migrating to the cloud is still one of the biggest challenges facing businesses. It requires new operational processes, system architecture, governance, security and skillsets. Leaders who adopt a lift and shift cloud migration effort fail to realise the true value of leveraging the cloud. In some cases, reengineering the underlying architectures, solutions and operating models is warranted.

Regardless of the scenario, moving to the cloud must consider a number of factors and migration often fails due to tactical strategy and poor planning. To enable a smooth migration, businesses should:

  • Take time to strategise, bring in experts who have done this before to define strategy and the implementation plan.
  • Evaluate cloud-readiness from a skills point of view, and prepare a plan to address any skills gap with a combination of hiring, upskilling and partnering approaches.
  • Ensure business service-level agreements (SLAs) are factored and include technology SLAs accordingly in the cloud provider contracts.
  • Factor in the cost of cloud usage and enhancing skillsets in the forecast. Differences in cloud infrastructure and platform services pricing (consumption-based) versus SaaS pricing (subscription-based) are not directly comparable to existing on-premises financial practices.
  • Organisations can no longer expect a tax benefit from capital amortisations so should factor this in the forecast.

This is just one challenge and we are tackling it head on. Technology is revolutionising every industry and companies need to adapt, embrace change or risk getting left behind. And this transformation starts with identity!

What are your thoughts on digital transformation in a broad sense within your industry?

Since I started the CIO role at Okta, the technology industry has changed dramatically. We’ve seen the rise of cloud technologies, and software-as-a-service models have altered the industry forever. Enabling business transformation through disruptive technologies and challenging the status quo is now a directive. In the past two years, we have also seen trends like ecommerce, mobile and remote work – which have been bubbling up for some time – go through an enormous boom due to the pandemic. At the centre of these trends sits identity.

Data is also a critical commodity, with data analytics and insights driving the growth of businesses and industries across the board. For our business technology team, data gives us insights into how effective we are in our mission to evolve Okta’s operating model through people, process, technology and data.

When an organisation is able to build trust and transparency with data, they are empowered to find better and more effective ways of building.

Sustainability has become a key objective for businesses in recent years. What are your thoughts on how this can be addressed from an IT perspective?

Enterprise data is essential to companies meeting their sustainability goals and expectations from stakeholders. The ability to provide transparent, data-driven insights and measure progress toward objectives makes IT critical to the success of any ESG strategy. New enterprise-wide tools, systems and processes will be increasingly important to track greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, measure emissions reductions and report out to stakeholders, especially with coming regulation in Europe (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive) and the US (coming SEC regulation).

Hybrid and remote work is also a key lever in making progress toward corporate climate commitments. In 2021, we commissioned a study from global sustainability consultancy, Anthesis, which revealed that hybrid work can reduce GHG emissions from reduced workplace square footage per person – limiting environmental impacts associated with factors like air conditioning, heating, lighting – and less travel to work by car.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

Enabling the massive jump in remote, distributed or hybrid work has been top of mind for most CIOs over the past year and will continue to be so throughout 2023. Companies made it easier and safer to work from anywhere, and remote collaboration grew 43 times faster than expected, according to our 2023 Hybrid Work report. Furthermore, most organisations across Europe are currently allowing employees to work remotely as often as three days per week.

But these models are under constant review. Our 2023 Hybrid Work report found that three quarters of businesses across Europe are set to review hybrid working policies within 12 months, and more than one in 10 (13pc) have it under constant reassessment. For a CIO, this means adapting quickly and having technology solutions that protect our employees and our data without compromising the user experience wherever they choose to work.

More companies are recognising that the rise of remote work and cloud computing makes a traditional network perimeter-centric view of security obsolete. Each individual accessing corporate information and resources is its own perimeter, and securing that perimeter begins with identity. By implementing a robust ‘zero trust’ strategy with identity at the core, you can ensure the right people have the right level of access to the right resources, in the right context. What’s more, you can manage access levels continuously to deliver the holy grail of productivity and protection with the least friction possible.

What are your thoughts on how we can address the security challenges currently facing your industry?

The pandemic response accelerated hybrid work and the digitalisation of business processes in the cloud, both of which introduce new security challenges. In recent years, we’ve seen sustained ransomware attacks, deeply embedded vulnerabilities and increasing attacks on identity systems.

To combat these challenges, it begins and ends with trust. Trust, and specifically ‘zero trust’, is fast becoming an entity’s most critical resource and one of the biggest differentiators for businesses. Today, it is no longer a theoretical idea – it’s an active initiative for virtually every company with a digital footprint. Therefore, having a strategic approach to zero trust and identity is the key to making zero trust a reality.

With this approach and the right tech partner, you can ensure the right people have the right access at the right time and for the right reason, such as just-in-time provisioning and removing admin access for most of the employees. Establish a process to continuously monitor and refine access as needed and educate your workforce, so that they are always kept up to date on the latest vulnerabilities and trends that they could be targeted with.

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