Breaking down organisational barriers

WPP, winner of Okta’s Business Innovation Of The Year Award 2020, Aug 18, 2020

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As technology evolves, clients increasingly expect more from their service providers. WPP, the largest marketing and advertising group in the world, knew that to keep its high-profile clients satisfied, it would need to offer constant availability, quick response times, and customised solutions. 

For a massive organisation like WPP, which includes more than 2,500 companies across 112 different countries, meeting these goals would require creativity and innovation. With the right strategy in place, however, WPP knew it could give clients the responsive, customised service they’re looking for.

Matt Graham-Hyde, Director of Strategy & Architecture at WPP says “We want our clients to get the best out of WPP by accessing our services and our creative talent as easily as they would if we were a completely consolidated organisation.” 

The organisation developed a transformation strategy, including a significant IT initiative designed to unify WPP’s IT environment. With a loose federation of IT with separate networks and separate technology stacks, it had become difficult for WPP employees to communicate, collaborate, and share resources.

“We’ve acquired hundreds of agencies all around the world,” says Graham-Hyde. “The result was a group of distinct IT infrastructures. Our challenge was figuring out how to consolidate and standardise our platforms, and how to leverage our global talent pool so that we can provide the best value to our clients.” 

Unifying the group’s IT infrastructure was critical to increasing WPP’s ability to innovate and collaborate, while also maintaining the organisation’s security standards.

“Our clients work in dynamic marketplaces, and we wanted to provide the kinds of contemporary service offerings they’re looking for,” says Graham-Hyde. “We want our clients to get the best out of WPP by accessing our services and our creative talent as easily as they would if we were a single organisation.” 

Accessing experience and expertise

WPP moved forward with several goals in mind: to shift on-premises infrastructure to the cloud, to leverage the Internet as their network transport layer, and to make all tools and resources accessible through shared platforms. Before WPP could begin its modernisation initiative, however, it needed an IT services provider that was experienced and creative enough to guide the process. 

WPP turned to Xalient, an IT services provider that specialises in helping companies increase resilience and agility. 

“Xalient specialises in disruptive technologies, and as such, was able to bring us new innovative thinking,” says Graham-Hyde. “The company was also agile enough to get things done fast.” 

While meeting with WPP executives, Xalient quickly realised that in order for WPP to truly transform its IT, it would need to rebuild its identity infrastructure. At the time, WPP’s IT environment included more than 250 separate directories and multi tenanted solutions for all it’s applications.

“Xalient suggested we focus on identity because our end goal was a WPP identity in a  Zero Trust environment,” says Graham-Hyde. “We wanted overarching security that would protect us in a cloud-based environment. Zero Trust is the way to go, but you can’t deliver it unless you know the identity of your users, whether they’re accessing your services from a café or another part of the world.” 

A proven identity partner

To solve all of these issues, WPP needed a strong, flexible identity partner. Xalient evaluated a number of options on behalf of WPP, and based on Xalient’s recommendation, the group selected Okta. Sherry Vaswani, CEO at Xalient comments, “We recommended Okta for two reasons. First and foremost, the product is recognised in the marketplace as being at the forefront of identity management; and second, we knew that it could be implemented rapidly to solve WPP’s most pressing issues”.

WPP also hired Xalient to manage the transformation to a single identity, and purchased a range of Okta’s Workforce products, including Universal Directory, Single Sign-OnAdaptive Multi-Factor Authentication, and Lifecycle Management. The company also purchased Premier Plus Success package, which entitled WPP to a high level of Okta support, and Preview Sandbox for testing. 

“We didn’t have any in-house Okta experience, so we knew hiring Xalient would eliminate a lot of the risk,” says Graham-Hyde. “They’d handle Okta for us as a managed service, deploy it for us, onboard our initial applications and directories, and provide the support and maintenance.”

With Okta in place, WPP would be able to eliminate all duplicate profiles by setting up each employee with a company-level identity. Employees would be able to access all tools and services from a single, secure dashboard, making it much easier for employees to collaborate.

Building connections

WPP and Xalient’s deployment strategy consisted of three phases: identity consolidation, application onboarding, and Active Directory removal. Initially, Xalient migrated employees into specific groups within Okta’s Universal Directory. The entire process took less than a month, a remarkable feat that speaks to Xalient’s expertise and Okta’s simplicity. 

Next, WPP and Xalient started the consolidation process by establishing a hub-and-spoke identity architecture that would make it easier for WPP’s groups to share resources and increase consistency across the entire organisation. 

Then, Xalient began onboarding WPP’s global applications, which include, Google Cloud Platform, SAP Concur and WPP-Open.

The global rollout is still ongoing, but once it’s complete, WPP will allow its individual companies to onboard their own applications,” says Graham-Hyde, “this will speed up the Okta adoption process.”

By the time the Okta rollout is complete, WPP anticipates that all 120,000 WPP employees and external client users will be able to collaborate and share resources and applications through a new WPP-branded portal called WPP-Open. 

Simple and secure

WPP-Open will be supported by Single Sign-On and protected by Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication. “Every employee will need to provide a second factor to access each application,” says Graham-Hyde. 

Xalient has also helped WPP establish policies that trigger additional factor requests depending on location and time of day. In addition to ensuring security, these policies can also be used to help WPP satisfy different regulatory requirements across countries. “Places like Germany, for example, have very strict regulations on employees using their own tech,” says Graham-Hyde. “So policies can be established around that sort of thing as well.”

In addition to ensuring security and visibility, WPP is also streamlining its provisioning process with Lifecycle Management. This product ensures that whenever WPP onboards a new app, entitled employees receive it within minutes—and the manual work required is minimal.

“With over 350 companies involved, our provisioning process is quite complex,” says Graham-Hyde. “But our new hub and spoke architecture allows us to provision—and deprovision--effectively. Xalient’s reporting hub has really helped us eliminate those duplicate identities as well because now, in addition to our hub-and-spoke environment, we have access to an additional hub that houses all of the identities. We can run reporting on that hub, and we can identify the duplicates before they cause any issues with activation.”

One very welcome benefit of deploying Okta has been the ability for WPP to enhance its response to the recent Covid-19 pandemic by helping WPP provide rapid, secure access to a number of new remote working solutions for staff working from home. In addition, Okta, now the single, central source of truth for employee identity, is proving central to knowing where WPP’s people are.

A simplified future

Once WPP has finished rolling Okta out to all of its employees, WPP and Xalient will integrate their HR solution with Okta. With Lifecycle Management in the mix, WPP will be able to automatically provision and deprovision employees as soon as an administrator enters a change into the HR system.  

WPP is also considering ways to extend its new Okta-based environment to non-employees, beginning with the group’s “associates.” 

As WPP continues on its transformational journey towards a secure, unified infrastructure, Okta and Xalient will continue to offer WPP flexible support, consultation, and solutions. The end result of these combined efforts? Improved employee collaboration, a secure, scalable foundation, and a client experience that’s designed to exceed all expectations.

About WPP

WPP creates transformative ideas and outcomes for its clients through an integrated offer of communications, experience, commerce, and technology.

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