Tech Support updates outdated login service

Photo Courtesy of Henry Gustafson

Over Spring Break, Okta was implemented as the new authentication service for online tools like webmail and canvas.

Brian Thomas

brthomas@ursinus.edu

Logging into vital online tools is now a little easier for the Ursinus community.

Over spring break, the campus transitioned to Okta, an authentication service meant to streamline web-usage across the board for Ursinus students and faculty. Essentially, it helps you avoid having to enter and re-enter your email and password every time you open a new tool. In its initial stages, it only functions for webmail, Canvas, and Grizzly Gateway, according to a campus-wide email.

Okta replaces the former system, which was crafted by Ursinus staff using a free software from Microsoft, according to Chief Information Officer Gene Spencer. That system had become pretty outdated for students accustomed to more modern approaches.

“The [old approach] did not have the features that people have become used to with modern apps … do-it-yourself password changes, security questions/answers, and verification of good ‘strong’ passwords,” said Spencer in an email. “Okta improves all of these areas and helps provide a modern connection to our digital tools.”

The transition, which occurred while students were away for spring break, went pretty smoothly, according to Spencer. It required students to log into webmail on a computer and go through some steps, such as selecting a security picture and a security question, before being able to access their email accounts again.

Ninety-five percent of users transitioned easily, while five percent had trouble, according to Spencer. Most of the ones who had issues were users who primarily accessed their email accounts on their phones. Tech Support worked to fix those issues, and Spencer said that he believes 100 percent of users are now up and running, but encouraged anyone still having trouble to go to Tech Support.

On March 2, Canvas was also down. This issue was unrelated to the transition to Okta, according to Spencer. The problem was that Amazon Web Services, which hosts Canvas, went down. That issue has been fixed as well.

Still, some students felt that the change happened too abruptly, and without ample warning. Junior Brandon Carey said that he would have appreciated more heads up.

“I feel like it was sprung especially because there was no warning—this is the kind of thing you should give a couple weeks’ notice on, just so people know in time,” he said. The initial email was sent one week prior to the transition. “At the end of the day, I know there’s not much the student body or professors can do about these changes, but just springing things on us like this makes it feel like we have less of a say.”

Despite this, Carey finds the new login to be “cleaner” and “more streamlined.”

Spencer also said that there were some other reasons for the change. One was that it allowed the school to engage with incoming students more quickly.

In the old system, Spencer explained in an interview, incoming students would have to wait for months to get their UC login information. Now, that information can be distributed immediately after the student makes their initial deposit. In the interview, Spencer said that a large number of students coming in next year already have access to their Ursinus email accounts.

“The old approach could not handle that requirement of immediate processing,” said Spencer, in an email.

Another reason for the change, according to Spencer, is that new classes will no longer receive the same laptops upon enrolling. As The Grizzly previously reported, next year’s incoming class will be the first in over a decade to bring their own laptops to school as Ursinus phases out the laptop program.

“The vastly expanding number of devices … is another compelling reason for the change,” said Spencer in an email. “Preparing a better BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) environment was critical for us now that the laptop program is ending.”

The initial email announcing the switch alluded to more services eventually being integrated into the Okta login framework. According to Spencer, most of the applications used by students, faculty, and staff can be integrated.

“There are many applications that require users to supply a password; all of those can be integrated to Okta,” said Spencer, in an email. “For students, Handshake, the Idea Exchange, and EMS (event scheduling) will be connected. Faculty and staff use a significant number of other applications to run the business of the college and they too can be connected seamlessly.”

Students and faculty who experience issues with Okta or any other technology-related issue should contact Tech Support.

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