This IT leader's innovative leadership led to reduced learning loss and enhanced security. Winner of the Hero Awards.

Secure network access led to successful learning initiatives for this eSN Hero Awards winner

This IT leader's innovative leadership led to reduced learning loss and enhanced security

One of three eSN K-12 Hero Awards winners, Daniel Olivas was nominated by Identity Automation and was selected as a winner for his strategic thinking and leadership in critical district IT and IT security initiatives.

The pandemic has accelerated the transition to remote and hybrid learning, and it made school districts the number one target for cyberattacks. As the fifth largest school district in Texas, Austin Independent School District was no exception. Guided by the motto “AISD Anywhere,” the district used the pandemic as an opportunity to provide over 100,000 students, teachers, staff, parents, and other users with secure access to classroom tools from any Wi-Fi network.

As Network Analyst at Austin ISD, Daniel Olivas led the implementation of an identity-centric zero trust security strategy that ensured this access was not only user-friendly, but secure. Unlike traditional, perimeter-focused approaches to security, Austin ISD’s zero-trust approach assumes all network traffic is untrusted until an identity has been verified–a critical step to securing a digital ecosystem that can be accessed from anywhere.

To tie Austin ISD’s digital ecosystem together and orient it around digital identities, Olivas leveraged the district’s long-time Identity and Access Management (IAM) platform, RapidIdentity, to grant individuals access to needed applications, while connecting data from those applications back to the correct digital identity. Acting as the new perimeter of Austin ISD’s digital environment, RapidIdentity has helped Austin ISD bolster security and become a leader in K-12 authentication and zero trust.

Austin ISD is seen as a technology leader among its peers, recently hosting a user group for Texas school districts that Olivas helped lead on the topic of “Creating an InfoSec Culture Centered on Digital Identities.” As Network Analyst, Olivas was on the front lines in designing and implementing this identity-centric approach to secure anywhere, anytime access.

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Some of the results achieved include:

1) User-friendly login and authentication for all students: RapidIdentity provides Austin ISD with flexible authentication that can be tailored to the unique needs of different user populations. For kindergartners and special education students in particular, the ability to authenticate using a QR code combined with Pictograph authentication has made edtech tools more accessible, while still adhering to security best practices.

2) Reduced learning loss: As long as a student has their Chromebook and Wi-Fi access, they can engage in personalized learning from any location. Teachers have also been empowered with self-service capabilities that allow them to reset passwords right from the classroom, expediting learning instead of waiting for help desk assistance.

3) Enhanced security: Austin ISD has become a K-12 leader in zero-trust and authentication. Its identity-centric approach balances the need for greater security that keeps learners and educators safe online with the need to ensure equitable and user-friendly access.

4) Less downtime: Because Austin ISD takes a cloud-first approach to their digital ecosystem, the district doesn’t have to worry about system downtime during emergency weather conditions, such as the 2021 Texas power crisis.

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Laura Ascione
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