A Business Case for Single Sign On

By Kathleen Gaffney
09:47 AM

This weekend, I was busy using online applications. I verified my daughter’s college registration, paid bills, bought movie tickets, etc. While I love doing things online, I do not love signing on to the various websites. I get frustrated trying to remember all my passwords. So I have written them down, but that is a security risk.

This led me to think about my healthcare clients, the clinicians and physicians who need to sign into multiple systems several times a day to do their jobs. It must be quite frustrating, and a distraction from patient care. If my clients write their passwords down, the security risk is more serious than mine at home, since patient data is at risk.

Many healthcare organizations are struggling with the question of single sign-on (SSO). SSO is a system in which users log on to all of their software systems without being prompted to enter a new password or provide authentication for each individual system. However, SSO solutions are costly and often difficult to deploy.

Is SSO worth it?

I did some research and found some surprising information based on surveys performed by the Gartner Group in 2002 and the Ponemon Institute in 2011. The report by Gartner indicated that in the year 2000, 30% of helpdesk calls were password related. The report suggested that each password reset cost the average company about $32. It was estimated that on average, a user would need four password resets per year.1 Therefore, in 2000, an organization of 3,000 users would have spent $384,000 per year on password resets alone! That figure would be much higher in 2011 based on cost increases and the fact that more applications are in use.

The Ponemon Institute study also looked at the cost savings associated with using a SSO solution. This study reported that clinicians use an average of 6.4 passwords per day to access critical applications and patient data. An SSO solution can save an average of 9.51 minutes per day per clinician.2  Using an average salary of $135,000 per year and a 250 day work year, the cost savings would be $68 per day, or $2,675 per year, per clinician. Therefore, an organization with 700 full-time equivalent clinicians can save more than $1.88 million per year with an SSO solution in place. Therefore, while an SSO does have a high initial cost, research shows that it reduces help desk calls and saves time, which ultimately results in cost savings.

If you decide to pursue SSO, remember that not every application can be configured to allow it. Make sure that your organization’s most commonly used applications can support SSO. Also, develop a business case for your organization before you ask for budget money, using your helpdesk call volume, your number of clinicians, etc. If the numbers work for your organization, not only will you save money, but you will also increase productivity, enhance security and improve employee satisfaction – and those benefits are priceless!


1Password Reset: Self-Service That You Will Love (Gartner Research Note T-15-6454)
Gartner Group - Roberta J. Witty & Kris Brittain, April 15 2002

2How Single Sign-On Is Changing Healthcare
A Study of IT Practitioners in Acute Care Hospitals in the United States
Ponemon Institute, June 2011

Kathleen Gaffney is Principal Strategy Consulatant at
Hayes Managment Consulting.

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