What is Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM)?

CIAM solutions deliver simple and seamless customer experiences that also protect customer identities

What is Customer Identity and Access Management?

Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) is specific twist on IAM, focused on customer identities. Where traditional workforce IAM is focused on security, productivity and compliance, CIAM aims to improve the customer sign-up and login experience as well as reduce the risk of account takeover, which is rampant in the consumer space because of password reuse. CIAM isn’t just limited to consumers, but can also apply to other businesses, such as a company’s enterprise customers, partners or vendors.

Scale is also an important factor in CIAM. Whereas even large enterprises with a few exceptions only have employees in the hundreds of thousands, some companies have tens or hundreds of millions of customers. Consequently, CIAM solutions must be able to scale extremely well.

Customer identity and access management (CIAM) key benefits

In the identity space there are both vendors that specialize in CIAM and vendors that handle both customer and workforce identities. Regardless of which type of vendor you choose for your CIAM project, it’s useful to keep in mind the key benefits that a CIAM solution should provide.

  • Improve the registration and sign-in experience with social – Signing up online introduces fiction. Not only does the user have to tediously enter basic information about themselves, they also have to choose a password that they can easily remember. By leveraging the CIAM vendor’s integration with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google, you can drastically speed up the registration process and let the user sign in with their social identity afterwards.
  • Protect customer data – Customer data online is at risk because of password reuse. It’s impossible for most users to come up with unique and strong passwords for the dozens of services they use online. CIAM lets you protect those passwords with multi-factor authentication or completely eliminated passwords using social sign-on.
  • Consolidate disparate identity stores - Many companies have multiple web properties that each have their own identity store. By integrating all your web properties with a CIAM solution, you end up with cleaner identity data and can provide a more seamless user experience for the user who no longer needs a separate password for each web property.

How does CIAM protect business partners?

Companies often need to let business partners access some of their applications, such as order management or inventory systems. As increasingly more businesses have IAM solutions in place for their employees, it makes sense to just establish trust between the respective IAM solutions so that the partner’s employees can single sign-on to the inventory system instead of having to use a password. This not only increases security, but also improves usability.

How does CIAM protect consumer data?

Consumers have to remember a lot of passwords. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Yelp, banks, car and home insurance, pharmacies, their grocery store, online streaming services, Uber, and so on. The number quickly adds up and it’s humanly impossible to give each service a unique, strong password. As consumer services are breached around the world, hackers accumulate more and more credentials, which they use for password stuffing attacks via massive bot networks.

This puts consumers who reuse passwords at risk. With CIAM, you can give the consumer the option to add a second authentication factor or sign in with their social identity, which provides a much greater protection against account takeover.

How do companies save money with CIAM?

Just like CRM and HR solutions are not something companies should build themselves, neither are IAM solutions. IAM vendors provide a robust platform that can easily be integrated with your web properties and provide the scalability, availability and extensibility to support your growing and changing business.

How are IAM and CIAM similar? How are they different?

IAM and CIAM requirements are similar when it comes to scalability, security, and accessibility. Both must include these three components to guarantee a great user experience, whether for internal employees or business partners. The ways in which CIAM goes beyond the traditional IAM approach are:

  • Scalability: A CIAM solution must be able to handle increased Internet traffic both in terms of volume and frequency. Unlike IAM for employee use, your customer portal must be able to support millions of users. It also has to be able to handle rapid spikes in traffic. Use of the portal is unpredictable, but there will be peak times when many people are hitting your system at the same time and the CIAM must be able to handle those peaks.
  • Security with minimal friction: In the past, companies only gave consumers one option for signing in: username and password. Now that multi-factor authentication is commonplace, apps often require two or more factors before granting users access. To ensure that adding MFA factors is not discouraging users from creating accounts CIAM must be implemented in smart ways so as to not slow down or block customers. To keep the barrier of entry low, companies also often lean towards using social media identity for passwordless authentication. You want to have options in how you secure authentication, so be sure your CIAM solution offers enough flexibility to support your particular business.
  • Accessibility: CIAM provides high accessibility of your company’s brand and products to existing and potential customers. Your customers should be able to get what they need on any device at any time with a consistent and seamless experience. Having a consistent brand across many channels, whether a website, mobile app or store kiosk, and having consistent accessibility regardless of which format a customer chooses is important for creating a successful and personalized user experience. This is key to creating loyal and repeat customers.

According to Gartner, CIAM is an essential component to building solid customer trust. In fact, by 2020, companies that implement digitally trustworthy customer solutions will generate 20 percent more online profit than those that do not. Companies can build a strong foundation for customer identity, while minimizing operating costs and maximizing revenue and user experience with a robust CIAM solution.

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