The place of apps in the enterprise

Interesting reading from Okta's third-annual Businesses @ Work report.

The enterprise is changing.

The models our parents and grandparents knew (stability, a job for life, static models) are giving way to change at ever-increasing rates. Agility in terms of organizational products and services is the new default. And for individuals, career changes are almost constant. And mirroring this dynamism is an increasing complexity and variety in terms of the tools that we all use to get our job done. While in generations past office workers had a small choice of tools (an adding machine, a typewriter, a ledger) today sees literally millions of options (Slack versus HipChat, Office 365 versus Google Docs versus Zoho, monolithic versus decoupled).

And so, as we head into a new year that looks to continue this trend, it is interesting to look at some empirical data around how individuals are working and interacting with the applications they use.

Which is where Okta comes in. The authentication, security, and access company has just released a new report, the third in its "Businesses @ Work" series. The report is a departure from the usual model: Instead of surveying individuals, Okta analyzed its own user data and amassed the statistics of the millions of individual users it has across thousands of companies. These statistics, based on 2016 usage patterns, highlight some interesting findings: 

  • Personal apps take precedence over corporate-delivered ones -- 56% of apps used by Okta customers today are not provided by IT, compared to 48% last year. LinkedIn, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and PayPal lead the pack.
  • Microsoft's Office 365 suite remains the most popular enterprise app, followed by Salesforce, Box and Amazon AWS.
  • Slack's rise in popularity over the past two years is stellar. Just two years ago, Slack was the 67th most popular app in Okta's network. Today, it's seventh.
  • Slack's success comes at the expense of others -- namely, HipChat and Yammer.

So, let's look more deeply at some of these trends.

Bulls, bears and everything in-between

Bulls: Okta's findings show that Office 365 increased its lead as the most popular app in its network in 2016. While this is, of course, Okta-specific, and hence is skewed toward organizations that are "au fait" with the cloud, it is a reasonable indication of more general trends. Of course the more traditional of companies will show less adoption of cloud, but it is a good indication of what is coming up more generally.

Office 365 is also the number one life cycle-management app today (but Box and Google's G Suite are not far behind). And, perhaps unsurprisingly, Office 365 is far and away the most popular app accessed by Okta customers on mobile devices. 

Bears: Based on Okta data, no two apps have been more impacted by the incredible nature of Slack's success than Yammer and HipChat. Both have continued to steadily decline in popularity throughout 2016.

Readers will remember that Yammer was a high-profile acquisition by Microsoft a few years ago and one that, commentators agree, has somewhat languished. Microsoft even announced plans to discontinue selling Yammer as a stand-alone product in 2017 and is attempting to reinvent itself in this space with the introduction of Microsoft Teams.

In-between: Video and web conferencing platform Zoom is zooming to the top! The app was the fastest-growing app in the past six months. It wasn't even in the top 25 in the last Okta report. Zoom grew 67% in the past six months, followed by Cisco Umbrella, which grew 47%. Slack came in third with 44% growth -- an impressive feat after holding the "Fastest-Growing App" title for the past two reports.

It’s not just business -- it's personal

One of the common traits that services such as Okta show is that they often cross work and personal use. However, the scale of the trend of personally chosen apps coming under the umbrella of a corporate authentication app is interesting: More than 50% of apps that are accessed via Okta are not provided by IT. This raises some important issues for enterprise IT practitioners. As the lines blur between work and personal lives, businesses need to understand the importance of securing employee access to all apps.

Security isn't the only reason businesses are allowing end users to add apps themselves. Joe Turbett, senior director of global operations and infrastructure at McGraw-Hill, said, "We have a newer, kinder, gentler IT where we're trying to encourage and be flexible with our employees' ability to be productive. I need them to  be productive in everything they do." 

Obviously, Turbett is, at this stage, very much an outlier. But, again, his attitude is an indication of what is coming in the future.

With external identities comes great responsibility

In the 2016 Businesses @ Work report, Okta shared that the number of external identities (partners, customers and suppliers) in its network had surpassed the number of internal identities for the first time. The number of external identities continues to increase. External identities grew 294% and 540% in 2015 and 2016, respectively. It's clear that technology is playing a bigger role than ever before, as nearly every company thinks about how it becomes a technology-driven company in its own right.

While it has become a cliche to say that software is eating the world, it is certainly increasingly important to an increasing proportion of organizations. Okta's data tells us that the responsibility for these software-based initiatives is falling at least in part on the CIO. The digital transformation is happening -- and it's sitting on IT's desk. IT doesn't just manage employees anymore -- it manages entire ecosystems of employees, customers, partners and distributors. 

What percentage of identities are outside the workforce?

"Digital transformation" is the trendy catchphrase in companies today. And while the term is certainly over-hyped, the concept itself is not just hype.

Nearly every company is thinking about how to become a technology company in its own right, so they can be competitive in today's world. It's clear that digital transformation is a real thing.

But what hasn't been clear for a lot of these companies is who owns this transition. Is it a marketing function, or an IT one? Or is there a new role to fill? Many large enterprises are hiring "chief digital officers" to manage their digital transformation initiatives. For companies that don't have the luxury of expanding their executive team, the responsibility for these initiatives has often been scattered. However, this year's report suggests that IT will be running the show.


Grist for the mill. It is always good to get some reflective data from a year just gone and, in turn, to extrapolate it out into future predictions. The Okta report is a helpful tool for people thinking about priorities in the new year.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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