What is CIAM?

What is Customer Identity and Access Management?

What is CIAM?

Customer identity and access management (CIAM) is a specific aspect of identity and access management (IAM) focusing on external users, such as customers, contractors, shareholders, and others. Initially, CIAM was for managing customer’s identities. More recently, however, this evolved into a more complex effort of protecting the data generated by business partners and enterprise customers.

Sometimes CIAM systems are conflated with customer relationship management (CRM) systems, but each is a distinct entity.

Given that 70% of consumers say they are more likely to purchase from a company verified to offer the highest data privacy and security standards, a CIAM solution provides not only a risk-management strategy, but also offers a competitive advantage.

As a solution set, CIAM features typically include:

  • Self-service registration
  • Password and consent management
  • Profile generation and management
  • Authentication and authorization into applications
  • Identity repositories
  • Reporting and analytics
  • APIs and SDKs for mobile applications
  • Social identity registration and login

For a simple breakdown to compare the differences between classic IAM and CIAM, you can begin with internal vs. external. IAM focuses on providing solutions for internal security, increased productivity, and organizational data management compliance for your employees (internal users). CIAM ensures that customers or other “external users” have great, seamless experiences with your processes and data.

Most importantly, however, CIAM also helps protect your organization by limiting the vulnerabilities that can occur from external access. Particularly for external users, your organization can only control security practices outside your network so much. You can’t completely control these external users’ access methods (e.g., public networks, device security). These solutions reduce the risk of an account being hacked or otherwise breached because of poor or lax security practices by the consumer (using the same or similar passwords on multiple retail sites).

Customer identity and access management is an essential step for organizations who rely on external users’ entering and operating within their systems and processes. It is critical to continue building trust with their customers. CIAM protects both your organization and your external users. The safer and more seamless an experience for your external users, the more satisfaction and assurance they will have. Happy users return and become consistent users.

Benefits of CIAM

The benefits of CIAM include the following (elaborated upon below):

  • Improving customer registration and login experience
  • Protecting customer data
  • Consolidating various identity stores
  • Seamless, secure end user experiences

Among the benefits of CIAM is the ability to improve a customer’s registration and login experience. One way of doing this is to enable the use of social media identities in the sign-on, such as the ubiquitous “login with Google/Facebook” notifications that arise when signing in to a retail site.

Logging in with social media accounts is typically carried out via the OAuth2 SSO protocol. For a more in-depth explanation of SSO and protocols, such as SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language), take a look at Tools4ever’s “What Is?” articles on the respective topics:

Requiring a customer to enter basic information about themselves while also creating a strong password is a tedious and tiresome process. If an organization can integrate with a user’s social media platforms, this creates a faster log-in each time the customer visits the company’s site. Most everyone has a Google or Facebook account. Enabling the use of social media-based SSO is a critical advantage of CIAM, and can be enhanced with multifactor authentication (MFA).

Another benefit of CIAM is that it’s a strong method for protecting customers’ data at a large scale. For example, requiring a unique password for every site used within the organization’s network, MFA, and others. CIAM authentication processes reduce the likelihood of a data breach within the network because of the behaviors and actions of external users.

Identity stores are digital repositories of data that verify machine entities or individual users are who they claim to be when logging in. Large organizations with more than one web property likely employ a separate identity store for each site. If an organization can integrate all identity stores into one CIAM solution, then the user has a more seamless experience, because they no longer need separate passwords for each site within the network. For example, if a clothing retailer owns multiple brands with their own websites, customers would remain logged when navigating between each.

Scalability of CIAM

Another crucial difference between CIAM and IAM is scale. Classic IAM typically remains focused on small user numbers due to its internal focus. The biggest companies in the world may have public-facing apps for retail or other operations to engage unlimited numbers of customers across the globe with service, support, and account maintenance. No matter the number of users on the network, CIAM solutions provide access to their data and accounts.

In addition to the number of users served in a region or location, CIAM solutions are scalable to provide access to unlimited customers during peak usage times, or when customer volume peaks. For retail, this may be during certain sales events, promotions, or heightened user engagement.

Any quality CIAM solution must be able to handle peaks in user volume while delivering an excellent experience to the customer. Ideally, the CIAM solution should scale up and down automatically, depending on volume and need. You need to support elastically adjusting the resources handling traffic volume to ensure the best performance while minimizing any potential downtime.

Security and accessibility of CIAM

CIAM and IAM differ in their ability to provide security and accessibility to data. CIAM balances customer ease-of-use with the security of their and the organization’s data. When MFA is added to the access provision process, CIAM solutions must provide this additional layer of security without causing undue friction to the customer experience.

Likewise, CIAM technology allows organizations the ability to provide customer accessibility no matter the device or browser that is used to access data. This provides a consistent and seamless experience, whether the customer accesses the brand property from a website, app, store, or kiosk.

Suppliers and others

Customers are not the only users who need to access a brand’s site. Contractors, suppliers and supporting vendors may also need to access a retailer’s applications to manage inventory or check the status of orders. Signing into a CIAM allows direct access to inventory systems, which increases the overall organizational security and usability.

The ability for suppliers to access inventory systems increases direct communication between parties, while helping them anticipate inventory demand before supply becomes an issue. CIAM inherently boosts customer service.

A CIAM solution is not as comprehensive as a CRM system, but it is usually less costly. A CRM system, such as Salesforce, allows everyone in an organization to manage external interactions, store customer/prospect information, manage marketing campaigns, and more. By contrast, a CIAM system focuses on the retail and supply aspects of a relationship.

In a world with constant evolving interconnectivity and threats, CIAM is an essential option to be explored. If a customer has a bad experience with an organization’s site or app, they may move to a competitor where there is less friction in the sales cycle. Offering a CIAM system as part of comprehensive shopping and security experience is a competitive advantage for any organization looking to provide a first-class customer experience.