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Interview: Okta on their growth strategies in APAC

29 Sep 2017

Okta has been steadily growing on a global scale since the company was founded by Todd McKinnon and Frederic Kerrest in 2009, although the company has only been operating in Australia for a few years.

However, they recently reached a milestone by opening a new APAC office Headquarters in Sydney, underlining their plans to continue their substantial growth in the region.

We caught up with Graham Pearson, Okta vice president for APAC, to talk about how the company is now poised in A/NZ and how it plans to grow with the help if its channel partners.

Okta has experienced a fair amount of growth over the last few years in A/NZ. Has this been a run on effect on what has happened in external markets or is Identity Management (IM) just becoming more of a global imperative?

My personal view on it is it doesn’t have anything to do with identity management, it’s the adoption of cloud and cloud-based applications which then leads back into identity management. I’ve always said that the most amazing thing about a cloud-based ecosystem is that you can access any application at any time on any device.

You can be on your mobile phone on a train, doing your job remotely, so it’s really a much more dynamic situation. Although that can also be the worst thing about cloud-based applications because when you have that sort of versatility it raises security concerns.

That’s really what has brought identity management back to the forefront. I was doing identity management 15 - 20 years ago, so identity management is not new, it’s just what our CEO Todd McKinnon has done with IM that’s really changed the game. The key things there have been making it secure and flexible while making it easy to use and manage, that’s what has taken IM to the next step.

How well is Okta positioned in the Australian market at the moment?

I would love to see the figures and it’s really hard to get numbers because no one really breaks them down per region. Although if I go back on my history, and how long I’ve been in the market and who I used to work for and things like that, I would love to say that we would currently be the number one provider here in Australia, without a doubt.

When we look at overall net-new logos, the total amount of customers we have locally and also the amount of net-new logos we’re bringing in on a quarterly basis, it’s by far more than my previous organisation. It’s crazy stuff,  I’ve pulled my pre-sales director out from another Identity management vendor, he’s come over to me and he’s said to me that he didn’t realise there were so many opportunities out there.

So I know what we’re doing is right, and I know what we’re doing is by far better and greater than anybody else in the current market. How we’ve grown from it just being myself at the kitchen table to 750 square metres overlooking Sydney Harbour, that’s a testament in itself. So while I’d love to see individual figures, but I’d be very surprised if we weren’t number one.

How does Okta have an advantage over those competitors?

When you look at our major competitor, which - while it hasn’t traditionally been the case - today is really Microsoft. If you compare our two organisations, we don’t have as much in the way of people, money or resources, but what we absolutely do have is the focus and the product set, which really sets us apart from any of our competitors. The reliability of our service as being ‘always on’ is a big thing, there's no one in the industry that has got the same rate or uptime as what we have.

We’re also extremely proactive, and that’s evidenced by the way we’ve branched out into adaptive multi-factor authentication, as well as our Okta integration network. We have over 5000 applications, and Microsoft doesn't have anywhere near that many. We’re also not just one stack, we’re across all organisations. If you look at Oracle or Microsoft, you have the red stack, the blue stack or the Microsoft stack, so they’re very verticalized, whereas we’re horizontal.

What are the Major challenges you have experienced in the A/NZ channel space? Has it been a hard market to crack?

From that aspect no, because our channel partners - and we have 6 in total - are either focused, specialised or they just know the Identity space, which I think is the key differentiator. So while I believe I’ve put together the best personnel internally for Okta, it’s the same for our partners.

Identity Solutions is an example, as they have close to 18 years experience in the industry around identity management, so I think that’s the key. If you were to go to a generalised partner I think it’d be a lot harder for you to get into identity, but the fact is, our partners specialise in identity.

Is there anything you specifically look for in a partner?

What we look for is definitely identity management, and then we look for security and software-as-a-service. If they’re a partner that has got all of those three aspects, they tick all of our boxes. If you’re going to use those more traditional style resellers, which are selling a tin or a box and they want you to pay for support and they don’t understand the recurring revenue model, then it’s a little bit harder.

How do you plan on expanding or growing the channel program at the moment? What’s the next step?

The next step is certainly more of what we’re doing. The great thing about Charles Race, our new president of worldwide operations, is that he’s tasked to grow Okta towards being a $1 Billion organisation, and we know that having a thriving partner ecosystem is the most economical way to do that. Really what we’re doing is we’re doubling down on our programs and on our resources to help partners sell identity easier, faster and more quickly.

Then, of course, we’ll eventually start moving into other markets within APAC, so we absolutely know that as soon as you go north, you’re looking at a 90% channel model. So we really need to make sure that we have our channel process and procedure as well as all the learnings we can take from operating in Australia, and replicate that across APAC.

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