Single Sign-On Simplifies App Management and Access

Blue doorAs we adopt more and more cloud Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications for work, keeping track of those logins and passwords becomes a real pain. For companies, knowing which employees have access to which services and which content becomes a security, compliance and operations nightmare.

Fortunately, a crop of companies are eager to solve the problem with single sign-on (SSO) solutions, which provide dashboards that allow administrators to add and configure SaaS applications for an entire workforce. Users get the simplicity of a single access point for all their web applications, and companies can easily set and track policies.

Another feature companies relish is integration with Active Directory, the de facto standard from Microsoft (s msft) in enterprise identity management that allows administration of roles and assignments for individuals and their access credentials.

Here are a few contenders in this cloud SaaS management arena including their self-described categories:

  • Okta: identity and access management software. Okta, which recently hit the scene following a $10 million investment from Andreesen Horowitz this past summer, promotes the concept of a Cloud Area Network, described as a collection of on-demand services.
  • OneLogin: single sign on for the cloud and SaaS. OneLogin, funded by Charles River Ventures and Redpoint Ventures, also fits directly in this arena. The company claims to have over 900 pre-integrated applications and offers a free plan for a single user, as well as paid group plans.
  • ProtectNetwork: cloud-based e-credential management service. ProtectNetwork is a product of 9 Star Research, a company started in 2002 and likely familiar with e-credential management software before the cloud came along. They now have ProtectNetwork as an online, hosted offering for identity management.
  • Conformity: cloud identity and SaaS management solutions. Based in Austin, Texas, Conformity is backed by Guggenheim Venture Partners. The company has a thorough website on SaaS identity management issues, as well as some clever marketing as the anti-SSO SSO. Go figure.

On the surface, a managed single sign-on solution for companies seems like a no-brainer. (I expect there are other companies I missed in the roundup). But there’s a bigger issue and opportunity here, in my opinion: Rather than merely managing the sign-ons and security, these services could back a step to the selection of SaaS applications themselves.

SSO providers can aggregate the menu of applications at each company and the amount of application use. Combine that with clever polling of customers’ favorite applications, and you start to build a database where pattern-matching across companies (anonymously) could drive SaaS sales. The metadata about the applications becomes more valuable, in my opinion, than the service of managing the sign-ons.

Perhaps these SSO providers give birth to enterprise SaaS app stores. Customers will like the fact that they can benchmark and see patterns of application use amongst peers, and SaaS providers could benefit from a direct-line sales and marketing channel. No doubt there are still plenty of short-term sign-on challenges to solve, but if SaaS sign-ons are the enterprise check-in, I think we’ll see these SSO providers expanding to other interesting territory soon.

Gary Orenstein is host of The Cloud Computing Show.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user Klearchos Kapoutsis.