Whirlpool Cleans Up With Single Sign-On

Persuading business executives to spend money on security technologies can be harder than pulling teeth.

Persuading business executives to spend money on security technologies can be harder than pulling teeth. It can be much less difficult, however, if you are able to show how a new technology can make executives lives easier and cut costs while improving security.

Thats what Whirlpool Corp. Vice President of Architecture and Planning Jim Haney learned last year. Recognizing that harried executives were becoming tired of using and managing as many as 10 passwords each to access enterprise applications, Haney said he could simplify their lives while cutting help desk and administrative costs by deploying a companywide, Web-based, single-sign-on system. Whirlpool executives, not surprisingly, couldnt approve the project fast enough.

The decision to reduce the number of passwords is paying off. Whirlpool recently rolled out identity management products that not only enable 59,000 company employees and 15,000 trading partners to authenticate to enterprise applications with one user name and password combination, but also allow them to reset their passwords via a portal. Those capabilities will save the $11 billion appliance company millions of dollars in help desk calls and dramatically increase end-user productivity, Haney said.

"When executive management leadership in the company complained about all the different sign-ons we had, that was indication No. 1 that something was amiss," Haney said. "We didnt want our application vendors to dictate security schemes and directories to us. We wanted to consolidate and standardize application authentication and handle security our way."

An increasing number of enterprises such as Whirlpool are turning to single-sign-on technologies as a cost-effective way to manage user account and access rights, experts say. And its not hard to see why. Gartner Inc., of Stamford, Conn., predicts that a return on investment of nearly 300 percent and savings of $3.5 million can be achieved over three years by a business of 10,000 employees that has implemented an automated identity management system.

And this interest in single sign-on will grow as an increasing number of organizations are forced to respond to privacy and security regulation and as they struggle to authenticate users on more online applications, says Gartner.

Whirlpools decision to tackle single sign-on, long seen as the Holy Grail by security managers, was born out of necessity. As the corporation began deploying an increasing number of Web-enabled applications—including business-to-business trading portals and SAP AGs MySAP enterprise resource planning portal—IT managers struggled to handle different authentication schemes and an increasing number of passwords.