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Firm Uses Identity Management Solution to Develop Cost-Effective Authentication Tool
Portal Solutions designs and implements digital workplace solutions that support collaboration. It used Windows Azure Active Directory to develop AuthentiMate, a solution that helps organizations offer secure portal access to customers, partners, and suppliers. Portal Solutions customers can use AuthentiMate to easily collaborate with external contacts without placing an additional identity management burden on their IT departments.
"We are delivering greater value to our customers because we are able to cut down on costs, complexity, and development time by taking advantage of Windows Azure Active Directory."
Portal Solutions helps organizations effectively share what they know and find what they need through well-designed digital workplace solutions. The firm has a long history of developing portals based on Microsoft SharePoint Server. It works with its customers to make sure that their portals are useful, whether customers need strategic assistance, technical design services, or other services that contribute to a finely tuned digital workplace.
Because Portal Solutions works with organizations in so many industries, it can recognize business needs that span a variety of markets, and it takes advantage of that strategic view-point to develop solutions that solve real problems for its customers. The company did just that in 2013, when it saw customers struggling with external user authentication.
“Many of our customers, particularly in the professional services realm, want to share information with external consultants, clients, and partners through their Microsoft SharePoint Server extranet sites,” explains Rick Hinton, Vice President, Products and Solutions, at Portal Solutions. “Managing external permissions, handling passwords, and provisioning accounts caused a lot of headaches for our customers, so we built custom authentication solutions for several of them. The solutions worked well, but they required a great deal of manual work and development time. We realized that it might be possible to build a reusable solution based on existing technology and make it less expensive and faster to put it into production.”
In May 2013, Portal Solutions began work on its AuthentiMate application after learning about Windows Azure Active Directory, which provides identity management and access control capabilities for cloud-based applications. Portal Solutions designed AuthentiMate so that external parties can connect to SharePoint environments by using their existing LinkedIn, Facebook, Yahoo, Google+, or Microsoft Live ID credentials. “We could see the identity management trend moving from occurring locally to occurring online, and we realized that Windows Azure Active Directory would accelerate our development process because it already contained all the building blocks that we needed,” says Val Orekhov, Chief Architect at Portal Solutions.
The choice to use Windows Azure Active Directory was a deliberate one for Portal Solutions. The firm has been an Amazon Web Services customer in the past but found that Windows Azure Active Directory was the right solution because it helped solve a specific problem. “Some identity providers are almost too comprehensive, with customers paying for much more than they need,” says Hinton. “We feel as though Windows Azure Active Directory fits perfectly into our strategy of finding robust components to replace the custom development that we used to do.”
By August 2013, Portal Solutions had started a pilot program for AuthentiMate, using 25 of its own customers and partners to test the solution. External users register credentials in as little as three clicks, using existing passwords for easier management.
As of November 2013, the firm has three pilot customers, each with many external contacts using AuthentiMate, and it expects the solution to be in full production by early 2014. Those customers can grant access to specific information for a defined period of time, and they receive audit reports about the content that external parties can access. Portal Solutions plans to make it possible for customers to connect their external contacts to solutions beyond those based on SharePoint, such as SkyDrive Pro and other file-sharing services.
By basing its solution on Windows Azure Active Directory, Portal Solutions makes it easier for its customers to collaborate and streamline identity management. “We are delivering greater value to our customers because we are able to cut down on costs, complexity, and development time by taking advantage of Windows Azure Active Directory,” says Hinton. Benefits include:
- Straightforward identity management. Portal Solutions has simplified identity management for its customers. “We used to hear from customers that our custom identity management solutions were too complex,” says Hinton. “We have taken complexity out of the conversation by building on Windows Azure Active Directory. It’s not uncommon for our professional services customers to have more external users than internal ones, and our customers’ IT departments will no longer have to struggle to set up and manage all those external users.”
- Improved user experience. Because it makes the most of built-in functionality from Windows Azure Active Directory, Portal Solutions has developed an easy-to-use solution for its customers. “We have created a much better experience for internal and external users,” says Orekhov. “Internal users need only the external contact’s email address to easily share information, and external users can gain access to the resources they need without waiting for help from IT staff or worrying about managing yet another set of credentials.”
- Competitive advantage. Portal Solutions believes that its ability to develop AuthentiMate—and do so quickly—gives it a competitive edge. “Using Windows Azure Active Directory has been a real differentiator for us,” says Hinton. “Not only are we enhancing our offerings to existing customers, we’re also able to open up our solutions to a new set of customers who have more limited budgets. Plus, a whole cloud ecosystem is available to us as we incorporate more with Windows Azure.”
- Fast time-to-market. Portal Solutions previously needed up to two months to build a custom identity management solution, but the firm now has a ready-made solution that can be implemented for a customer in just a few days. “Thanks in large part to our use of Windows Azure Active Directory, we were able to develop AuthentiMate and have it ready to test in less than four months, which meant that we will be able to bring it to market quickly,” says Orekhov. “We appreciate that we have a repeatable solution that customers can get value from within just a few days.”