Centralized authentication system helps Colorado county transition to remote work
Like every community across the United States, Colorado’s Larimer County was pushed fully into the digital realm by pandemic-inspired stay-at-home orders and an overnight labor migration from offices to living rooms.
“We were lucky (because) we already had apps that were up and running,” said Gregg Turnbull, director of innovation and insights at Larimer County’s regional government. From staff members working digitally to school districts shifting to remote learning, vendors that expected to conduct business from afar and constituents looking for online forms, “The pandemic lit a fire for all of these needs,” he said.
Among the challenges Turnbull said his organization have overcome in this digital endeavor, connecting unrelated apps for a seamless user experience has proven to be among the most important. To make the transition easier, Larimer County contracted with Okta, a San Francisco-based tech company that manages access management software, to streamline company logins across the county’s many and sometimes incongruent applications.
The software “allows us to bring many different applications online, and you can share one identity,” Turnbull continued, noting county employees can use the same digital identity to securely access different cloud-based services via desktop, laptop and phone applications. Specifically, Turnbull and his team built a “central, secure way for thousands of employees and citizens to be authenticated while enabling their 28 departments (the sheriff’s office, parks office, vehicle licensing department, etc.) to go fully remote in a matter of weeks,” according to a brief about the digital transformation.
Turnbull attributes Okta’s single-identity capability with helping county employees adapt to rapidly changing work conditions—having to remember numerous digital identities can be stressful, especially for those unaccustomed to working within cloud-based systems.
“We had expectations of fear, and expectations that people would be resistant,” Turnbull said, noting the transition went smoothly and without friction.
This shift to remote work by public sector agencies was required for city and county governments like Larimer County to maintain their critical operations, notes a Microsoft brief written by Julia Glidden, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s worldwide public sector. More than a year into the pandemic, “as some workers now begin to return to the office, governmental and educational institutions must adapt to a new, hybrid era.”
In both the private and public sectors, remote and hybrid work is here to stay. With that, new challenges have emerged—most importantly, connectivity.
Larimer County is a good example of a region that faces hurdles in connecting all its constituents. Home of Denver, with a population of around 300,000, the county is split between urban, agricultural, “and we have this really nice natural resource space,” Turnbull said. Given the nature of some sections of the county, there “will always be a difficulty in getting connectivity into rural areas.”
In this, Turnbull stressed the importance of being willing to respond to feedback and to be ahead of the curve. Often, change is “driven by the residents,” Turnbull said. “It’s a dance, a back and forth. Residents will come to us and say, ‘why can’t the county do certain things.’ … It’s also up to us to think, ‘how can we meet their needs.'”
While technology has changed drastically, “We’re still doing the services we did 100 years ago, looking out for residents, making sure land is tracked within the county, but we’re trying to do it in clearer way, a better way, digitally,” Turnbull said.