Hassen Karaa – Building a Successful Enterprise Product: Think Beyond the Features

BY CALVIN HOOT ON AUGUST 29, 2017

Hassen Karaa is a Director of Product Management for Okta’s Identity Products. Hassen and his team lead the strategy, roadmap, and delivery for Okta’s Access and Lifecycle Management line of products. Prior to Okta, Hassen was at Microsoft where he worked on various enterprise products.

In this talk, Hassen tells the story of two enterprise products, of how critical integrations were to their respective failure and success (but not just in terms of features!), and of the four principles for success that he learned from this experience.

4 key Principles for Enterprise Product Success

  1. Product first, then integrations
  2. Integrations, not prerequisites
  3. Make integrations possible, then make them easy
  4. Provide clear ownership, and least-privileged access

To highlight what those mean, he dives into two case studies of enterprise products.

Integration-Driven Failure

The first tale is of a product that failed, despite being well-funded, tested by several reference customers, and having very little market competition. This first product was built on top of integrations using a faulty assumption: “you already use these tools so it will be easy to manage mobile devices with them.”

By making integrations a prerequisite, they ended up eliminating many potential customers by enforcing hard dependencies, and never gaining the traction they needed.

Integration-Enabled Success

He then contrasts this with a product which is heavier on integrations, and that is doing well – Okta. This enterprise product focuses on enabling integrations, not enforcing or requiring them. Critically, Okta focused on their own product first, and then thought about integrations, treating them as growth accelerators.

These accelerators, having expanded the core of your product, do not need to start as amazing user experiences; perfect is the enemy of done. Instead, by first making them possible you allow customers to help build your catalog of integrations, making your product a more attractive proposition for even more customers. Then you can iterate on making the integration process easier, along with building your own catalog.

His last principle of ownership and privileges is a pitfall to avoid: when you’re designing an integration, beware of requiring or applying blanket permissions. Making an integration possible that requires high-level privileges is going to be an instant “no” from business customers. Instead, aim for a level of access that starts as basic as read-only.

The Difference

Hassen’s insight is that what determined success and failure in these two product stories is not exactly which features the two teams decided to build – it’s how and why they designed those features, and what they meant for the overarching product strategy.

Enterprise Integrations Worth Investigating

With these principles in mind, Hassen discusses integration ideas to consider:

  1. Data Import/Export
  2. Logging/Auditing
  3. Workflow/Automation
  4. Identity/Security

Each of these have well known enterprise solutions that will make your product more attractive, allowing it to be a bridge to “a goldmine of users”.

Hassen wraps up his talk with an audience Q&A. First, the value of integrations hit home, and he details more about how to get started with single sign-on (SSO). Finally, he wraps up with a challenge for all product managers, especially those without a strong customer base: How do you stay aligned with your vision when salespeople or potential customers are pushing you with “we will give you money if you build X”?

About CALVIN HOOT

Calvin Hoot happily owns the title, "process nerd". When we do anything we follow a process, implicit or explicit, which often only makes sense in retrospect. He brings attention to these processes so that we can create with intention and enjoy the journey regardless of the destination.

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