I was sitting with my nephew a few weeks ago and discussing what I do for work, he is five and surprisingly very tech savvy. I was telling him about all the different solutions we offer for companies like Self-service Password Reset, Single Sign on, and Two-factor Authentication and he wanted to know more about each. Two-factor was a little too hard for him to wrap his brain around so we did not spend much time talking about that, but he was fascinated with single sign-on.
“Uncle Rob, what is single sign on?”
“Well it is kind of magical actually, you sign-in once and you can open a bunch of different things by just clicking on them.”
As I was explaining this to him I could not believe he was interested in learning more. Most five year old kids are more interested in hearing about firefighters or policemen, not in learning about the benefits of single sign-on and how it works.
“Uncle Rob, I like magic and computers. So is it a magic computer?”
“Not exactly, it is software like a video game. So you don’t need any special magic computer. The software is special though…”
“We have computers at school and we have to put in a password too.”
“My password is a chicken, a truck, and a red bird.”
“Cool, it is a picture password. Do you have to type your name in too?”
When I was in school there was one computer for the whole class and games on big floppy disks, oh the joys of 8-bit games! Now students use iPads, Chromebooks, and other devices in the classroom on a daily basis. This amazes me, but is a true sign of the advances in technology since the 1980’s and early 90’s. As our conversation progressed I grabbed my laptop and showed him single sign-on in action.
“Did you know that single sign on could do this? Watch the screen…” I said as I signed in and the cascading style sheets loaded with the lists of different application icons. He sat there and was a little puzzled at first, I think he expected some big flash or some sort of excitement because of my enthusiasm surrounding the topic.
“That’s it buddy. Wasn’t that cool?”
“I don’t get it.”
“Ok let me do it again.”
This time as I logged in I made a series of noises to make it more exciting for him which put a huge smile on his face. He was much more excited and I showed him how I could access all of the applications without having to log in again, I clicked from my email to my bank account and even eBay seamlessly. He thought this was really cool, which still kind of blew my mind.
This whole interaction made me think more about single sign on and how I tend to take it for granted. Like many things as we first experience as either a child or adult, the excitement can quickly fade as that experience becomes part of our lives.
Life without a single sign-on solution can be a real hassle, especially if you need to access multiple applications just to get your work done. Beyond the annoyance of having to log in so many times, you need to remember your user name and password for each application, which can be a whole other challenge in-and-of–itself. Typically a symptom of having too many user names and passwords is a couple of different scenarios, chronically week passwords and/or forgotten password leading to account lockouts. Both of these scenarios can be a headache for you, the IT professional.
The benefits of single sign-on are pretty verbose, yet so simple a five year old can understand and get excited about the basic functionality behind it. Now if my password were only as easy to remember as chicken, truck and red bird!