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As data continues to be distributed across different environments, enterprises have a constant need to ensure access is properly secured and governed.
Among the vendors in this market is Okera, a San Francisco-based 2016 startup that offers multiple services including the Active Data Access Platform; called ODAP by the company, that enables secure data access and enterprise data governance across multi-cloud environments. Okera has also focused on data lake insights with its Spotlight tool that helps organizations better understand how data is being used.
On Tuesday, Okera marked the next major phase of its evolution, raising $14 million in a funding round led by ClearSky Security and introducing new CEO Nick Halsey. Halsey most recently was president and CEO of visual analytics vendor Zoomdata. Former CEO Nong Li, who is also a co-founder of Okera, is now moving to the CTO role.
In this Q&A, Halsey discusses the state of enterprise data governance and security in the COVID-19 pandemic era and provides insight into where Okera is headed.
How were you able to raise new funding in the middle of a global pandemic?
Nick Halsey: In the current economic climate, a lot of venture capitalists have just said we're not talking to any new companies. But both our new investors and our customers see that there is a growing need in the market to provide secure data access at enterprise scale.
People are starting to really deploy their data lakes aggressively, so securing the data in the lake, but still providing access to it, is a top enterprise priority.
We did this funding even as coronavirus was escalating and a lot of things were being called off and we had already started working from home.
Nick HalseyCEO, Okera
Reality is that demand is going to stay despite the virus, because compliance is an enterprise imperative. Enforcement of GDPR, CCPA and HIPAA will continue and fines will be levied on companies that can't secure customer data and other PII [personally identifiable information] data.
So, we felt the timing was right to do the round; it gives us the ability to invest in growth on the commercial side of the business.
How does enterprise data governance and secure data access change in the COVID-19 pandemic era?
Halsey: I think it actually underscores the urgency for having tooling and capabilities like Okera in the market.
There is a global collaboration in research to try and find a vaccine and medicines to help treat COVID-19. The research has to do specifically with sharing and collaborating over the most important PII information in the world, which is patient information. There is a need to correlate clinical trial data, drug discovery data and patient treatment information.
So how do you how do you do that? How do you collaborate and share data sets and still ensure the security?
I think a lot of people have said, 'Hey, you know what, I'm willing to let you use my cell phone location data, so we can do this tracking of where people who've been infected go.' But again, how do you do that? What would make that a less risky endeavor when it comes to people's privacy? It's exactly what we do.
Just from a cold and calculating commercial perspective, we know and we are seeing that in certain parts of the market, they're either too busy or too impacted, to be engaging right now. But most of the sectors that we deal with are still moving forward with their work.
Where do you see Okera fitting into the market?
Halsey: We're not a data catalog. We partner with companies like Collibra and Alation. What they do is focus on discovery. Finding, identifying, cataloging, organizing information is typically what the catalog vendors do.
Now that it's cataloged and people know where the data is, they want to go access it. We are used for the security policy enforcement and runtime, so we're providing fine-grained access control to that data. We'll read the catalog and then the customers will be able to define and apply the security policy. So we don't compete with the catalog vendors and we don't compete with the analytic tools.
We're sitting on the edge of security and governance. But it's no mistake that this financing was led by ClearSky from their cybersecurity fund, and it was an intentional marriage because they bring insights into the security side of the market.
We need to be able to speak to the CISOs [chief information security officers] as well as the CDOs [chief data officers] because they both play a role in enterprise governance around data lakes.
They have different concerns. A CDO is saying 'How do I provide secure, scalable access to as many people as possible?' Whereas the security side of the house is asking if they are compliant with GDPR and CCPA, as well as if the systems are in place to make sure that the wrong users aren't seeing PII information that is being masked or encrypted, when they're interacting with data systems.
What's next for Okera?
Halsey: Nong Li and his team built a powerful engine and now we want to make it incredibly easy for our customers to deploy it at scale.
So with Spotlight and more work that's going in the product, there's been a tremendous focus on usability to minimize any need to drop down into actual tinkering with code. So you can do everything through a GUI and a dashboard, right out of the box. So that ease of use and administration is really important to invest in.
Okera also needs to plug into an existing stack of best-of-breed products. So we want to make that part incredibly easy to do.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.