Every day, we sign into countless online accounts, but have you ever wondered how it works?
Once a media giant, Sky is now one of the biggest technology companies on the planet. They have 23 million customers around the world, and they connect them to a huge portal of content, but it wouldn’t be possible without Sky Identity. It’s the gateway to all Sky’s services, one nifty piece of kit that allows you to sign in with minimum effort and maximum security, but what you might not realise is that it’s based in Leeds.
Why something incredibly simple is insanely complex
On the surface, signing in is a really basic function, it’s almost a hygiene factor, unnoticed and unappreciated, but the technology that makes it possible is the exact opposite. It’s intelligent, sophisticated and forward-thinking, designed not just to give you access, but also to protect your data, so you can log in without a second thought – and that’s what makes it interesting.
At Sky, they have their own custom-made platform and it handles every single login to their services, from Sky Go to Now TV, email to account management. They use a web interface, so you can sign in online, and an API that runs in the background on all their apps, including their smart TV products. The result is a seamless service that’s absolutely critical to the business – if Sky Identity goes down, everything goes down, so Sky Identity never goes down.
That’s a big responsibility, especially when you think of the pressure they’re under. At its peak, Sky Identity has to handle millions of simultaneous sign-ins and it’s under constant attack from hackers. They can’t afford to make mistakes, but they also understand that we’re only human, so they’ve put a series of protocols and safety nets in place to protect the platform from themselves. And while it may be a big responsibility, no one has to shoulder it alone.
Ease and security aren’t easy bedfellows
In many ways, identity management is a balancing act. As customers, we want it to be as easy as possible, we don’t want to waste time signing in when we could be watching the latest series of Suits or Killing Eve. But Sky has a responsibility to keep your data secure and to protect their content from the pirates, so they have to find a balance between ease and security.
Part of that is working out when you need to sign in and when you don’t – they’re doing some really interesting stuff with behavioural heuristics to get it right. And then there’s the question of whether you can safely stay signed in. If you’ve ever used Sky Go or Now TV before, you might not even remember the last time you signed in because they store a token on your device that logs you in automatically. No effort, no fuss, just straight back into your favourite show.
But while they’re helping you get into your account, they’re also working to keep people out. Sky as an organisation is under constant attack from hackers, criminals and even government agencies. Some want access to their data, others have an eye on their content, but they all hit a wall. Allowing a breach would be even worse than losing service, so they have a sophisticated system that automatically blocks attacks and a dedicated security team monitoring suspicious activity and identifying new attack strategies.
The scale of it is absolutely mind-boggling
“If you go to a Premier League football game, you’ll probably arrive about half an hour before the match to get your Pukka Pie and your pint. At that time, the stadium is pretty empty, but then just before kick-off, it suddenly fills up. We get exactly the same behaviour online. In the 5 minutes before the game, everyone who wants to watch the game logs in, so we get these massive spikes of activity,” Barry Moses, Head of Technology at Sky Identity, explained. “Our platform is cutting edge in terms of the volumes we deal with, the spiking nature of those volumes and the number of systems and platforms we have to support.”
Last year, Sky broke a record – they hit one million simultaneous sign-ins. That time it was thanks to two concurrent football matches, one in Germany and one here in the UK, but they’re expecting an even bigger spike when Game of Thrones returns later this year, so one million could soon become two. Right now, they run all this traffic through their data centre, but that won’t always be the case. They’re currently building a new cloud infrastructure that will house their entire OTT platform, including Sky Identity.
By containerising all their apps, they can scale their services exponentially and introduce self-healing capabilities to make their platform even more reliable. And that’s still very much their priority, so they won’t make any sudden moves – they’ll begin by sending very small amounts of traffic through the cloud in June, then gradually increasing the load until they’re sure it’s safe to move the whole platform over.
Sometimes you just have to throw out the rulebook
Sky is split up into tribes, and within those tribes, they have scrums – groups of people who work together towards a shared goal. The Identity Tribe is no different, but 18 months ago, they changed the way they do it. Their squads were once built around technology layers, but now they’re fluid – they come together to build a new feature, and when it’s complete, they disband ready to move on to the next. It’s unlike anything else in the business, but it works.
And that’s not the only thing they’ve changed. Within Sky, projects are usually mapped out by a centralised group of Solution Architects, but that wasn’t working here, so they took back control and gave it to their developers. Now they have their own Design Authority and everyone’s invited. Every week, people from across the business ask for features, and the Design Authority comes up with the solution.
Those two changes may seem small, but for the Identity Tribe, they were transformational – suddenly, they were able to forecast better, they could tell you how long a job would take, how much it would cost and when it would be finished. Perhaps more importantly, they saw a spike in staff happiness rates – they’ve gone up by a massive 20%, according to the Sky People Survey, an independent assessment of staff morale.
They value talent in all its guises
Sky is a business that celebrates its success and its people. Big nights out, shuffleboard competitions and delicious feasts are just a few of the rewards on the table at the end of a big project, but the biggest perk of the job comes in the team itself. Sky Identity has one of the most exciting and diverse teams in the entire business.
“We’re really keen to have mixed gender, so male, female, whatever people want to identify themselves as. We also actively encourage part-time and full-time hours, so we’re looking at things like term time hours to support people with children, and we’re looking at job share opportunities,” Barry told us. “We want our workforce to be as diverse as possible because we believe that the more diverse we are, the better the solutions we’ll come up with.”
And that brings us to our final point. Sky Identity is growing and it’s growing fast, so they’re looking for new recruits. You could be fresh out of uni, a few years into your tech career or a seasoned hand with experience on your side – wherever you’re at in your journey, they’ll help you get to the next port. They have a cracking graduate programme and an equally impressive apprenticeship scheme, so you can learn on the job, and you’ll be working in one of the most exciting and most important tribes in Sky today. That’s got to be worth a look, right?