What is CIAM and How Does It Work?

CIAM is the customer-centric version of Identity and Access Management (IAM). It helps companies establish robust security policies to keep sensitive and private data safe from cyber attacks and data breaches.


Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM)

Customers expect a simple and seamless onboarding and login process. Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) provides just that while also helping boost conversions and solidify customer loyalty. With CIAM, companies are able to collect and organise customer identity and profile data and manage customer access to applications, services, digital accounts, and online profiles. CIAM fuses security, analytics, and the customer experience to provide the perfect data and access management solution.

CIAM also helps companies establish robust security policies and ensure that sensitive data does not fall into the wrong hands. Protecting sensitive data from breaches and cybercriminals is critical for remaining compliant with data privacy laws. Furthermore, having a single source of truth helps companies gain valuable insight into their customers’ usage behaviours and interests.

CIAM solutions generally consist of a combination of features, ranging from registration, account management powered by self-service tools, consent and settings management, single sign-on (SSO), multi-factor authentication (MFA), access management, directory services, and data governance. Thanks to CIAM, customers can enjoy a secure and seamless user experience across multiple (omni-channel availability) channels. This helps drive engagement with the brand and solidify customer loyalty.

Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) is a customer-centric adaptation of Identity and Access Management (IAM). By merging the authentication and authorisation processes into customer-facing applications, CIAM is able to:

  • Provide a streamlined customer registration and login experience, with safeguards against account hacking (a widespread concern in the consumer space resulting from password reuse).
  • Create tailored and branded experiences that cater to specific consumers, businesses, and enterprise customers.
  • Offer a scalable solution capable of supporting countless customers.

Why is CIAM important?

A successful customer experience balances security and usability. Access to personal user data gives companies an opportunity to offer a customised and relevant user experience. However, customers will only be willing to share their personal information if their user experience is built on a foundation of trust and security. Security cannot be compromised to enhance the customer experience. Or vice-versa. CIAM makes this possible.

The foundation of CIAM is: security, scalability, compliance, and customer satisfaction. By integrating CIAM solutions into customer self-service, payment, order tracking, returns, etc., systems, companies can mitigate the risks that arise from weak or recycled passwords.

CIAM solutions streamline the management of digital identities (users and their data) and access permissions (the allocation of access rights to only certain data/information for certain users) that a company (or external cloud provider) collects and stores. Digital identities give customers easy yet secure access to their personal accounts and information while making it possible for companies to create a unique and customised user experience.

When interacting with companies and brands, customers have two simple demands:

  • An exceptional user experience: A smooth registration and onboarding process can pave the way for loyal customers. Part of this process involves creating a personalised user experience that is not excessively intrusive. With a CIAM solution, companies accumulate data from customer interactions with their websites, apps, and partner apps. This creates the kind holistic view of each individual customer that companies need to provide a tailored experience. Since customers now expect this type of individualised experience, this is no longer an option but an essential differentiator.
  • Data protection and protection from fraud, data breaches, and privacy violations: A username and password are no longer the only customer sign-in option. With MFA now a standard security feature, two or more factors are now generally required for account and data access. CIAM ensures that MFA does not impede users who want to create accounts or log in to existing accounts, thus keeping entry barriers low. CIAM also makes it easy for customers to add an additional authentication factor or use social sign-in (via a trusted social account), thereby minimising the risk of account takeover.

As mentioned, CIAM is a customer-centric version of IAM. It implements all the features of IAM with a focus on the customer experience. As such, the majority of the data storage and access rights decisions are allocated to the users themselves. This means that users can design their own experience by opting in or out of access and security protocols, selecting their own privacy settings, and deciding what data they want to share and see.

CIAM has distinct features that help shape customers’ interactions. These include:

  • Unified profiles: Customer access spans from web apps to mobile, IoT, partner applications, and more. Thanks to CIAM, it is possible to have unified customer profiles and offer consistent omni-channel experiences and tailored interactions with customers.
  • Security requirements: With cybercrime and data breaches on the rise, many companies are unsure how best to protect valuable customer data. CIAM solutions incorporate strong security features, ranging from the authentication process to the data layer. This not only reduces the risk of data breach, it also prevents  the resulting loss of revenue, reputation, and customer trust associated with data theft.
  • Performance and scalability: Data is everywhere. And most companies have extensive amounts of data for each customer. Combined with fluctuating customer demand, this can make it tricky to deliver a great customer experience. With CIAM, companies can provide instant and seamless  access to customer-facing apps and services, even during peak usage times. Since CIAM solutions are scalable, they can grow along with your customer base.
  • Privacy and regulatory compliance: With customers sharing extensive amounts of personal information with companies, personalised interactions have become easier than ever. However, customer concerns about data privacy are simultaneously growing. Users expect companies to safeguard their data. CIAM facilitates this by giving customers full control over how and with whom they share information. CIAM also makes it easier to manage customer consent and remain in compliance with privacy regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA).

Best practice reference: Read how insurance companies save money with CIAM solutions and manage customer data passwordless, securely and efficiently in our blog.

Benefits of CIAM

CIAM helps companies provide easy digital access while maintaining high security standards. The most common advantages of a CIAM system include: 

  • Acquire and retain customers: Getting  new customers  to engage with a brand requires a significant investment in time and resources.  Since first impressions count most, the registration process is critical and also a company’s chance to make or break a new client relationship. A streamlined sign-up process helps minimize abandonment and maximize conversion.
  • Authentication: Once customers have registered, they have to authenticate themselves to interact with a company’s digital services. If this is possible with only one set of credentials for each application, customers are more likely to finish the authentication process. CIAM lets companies create a seamless access experience, setting the groundwork for steady engagement, spending, and brand loyalty.
  • Loyalty & Revenue: CIAM offers companies a comprehensive glimpse of their customers, while also ensuring customers have a unique and customised experience.
    • Self-Service: Customers want consistent and reliable access to their data. Regardless of which channel they are engaging from. Although SSO can help facilitate this, having centralised customer profiles that are synced across all user channels is the only way to guarantee a seamless user experience. CIAM ensures a unified and complete customer view across all applications. Customers only need to make profile updates and changes on one channel, and their profiles will be updated across the board.
    • Support: Support calls are often frustrating. This is compounded by the fact that customers often have to authenticate themselves repeatedly. Thanks to CIAM functionality, customer support can identify a customer who is already logged into the service without repeated logins. This ensures a quick and painless resolution of their issue.
    • Personalisation: With CIAM, any app can store customer data. Be it unstructured data or custom attributes. By storing the data in a single unified customer profile, any app can use it to create a tailored user experience. Thanks to CIAM, companies can also exploit legitimate upsell opportunities. Read the following blog to learn how important the user experience is.
  • Customer Trust: Building customer trust takes time and commitment. Providing data autonomy and ensuring data transparency are key and will help establish customer loyalty. CIAM helps companies manage the customer consent process and ensure alignment with consent settings. If customers request that you not share their data and you do, your consent policies are meaningless. CIAM ensures a company’s practices line up with its privacy policies so customers can safely place their trust in the company and the brand.

The Main Components of CIAM

  • User registration: The first step in CIAM is to register users by collecting their basic information such as name, email and phone number.
  • Authentication: After registration, the user must authenticate to access the service. CIAM solutions offer various authentication methods such as social login, email verification, two-factor authentication, etc. to ensure that the user is who they say they are.
  • Authorisation: Once the user is authenticated, CIAM determines what actions the user can perform based on their access rights. Authorisation can be based on user attributes such as role, department, etc.
  • Single Sign-On (SSO): CIAM solutions provide SSO capabilities that allow users to access multiple services with a single set of credentials. This eliminates the need for users to remember a different username and password for each service.
  • User profile management: CIAM solutions also offer user profile management, allowing users to manage their personal data such as email, phone number and address.
  • Privacy and security: With increasing concerns about privacy and security, CIAM solutions provide measures to protect user data, such as encryption, data masking and privacy compliance. Especially in the banking sector, customers have clear expectations of their bank regarding data protection and secure authentication.  Read in the blog how banks meet customer expectations with CIAM.

In summary, CIAM is a streamlined and secure way for organisations to manage their customers' identity and access to their services.

FAQ about CIAM

How Can CIAM Improve the Customer Experience?

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CIAM enables companies to create a seamless and personalised experience for their customers across all channels. With CIAM, customers can easily register, log in and access their accounts without having to remember multiple usernames and passwords.

Read how using a CIAM system increases customer satisfaction and loyalty in our blog.

How Does CIAM Support Businesses?

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Overall, CIAM provides businesses with a comprehensive and flexible approach to managing customer identities and access that improves the customer experience, security and insight while reducing cost and complexity.

What Are the Best Practices for Implementing CIAM?

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Best practices for implementing CIAM include conducting a thorough assessment of your organisation's security and data protection requirements, selecting a CIAM solution that meets those requirements, integrating CIAM into existing systems and processes, and continuously monitoring and updating the solution to ensure it remains effective.

More information on the successful selection and implementation of CIAM solutions can be found in our blog.

What Are Some Features of CIAM Solutions?

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Features of CIAM solutions include user registration and profile management, authentication and authorisation, single sign-on (SSO), multi-factor authentication (MFA), social login and consent management.

Read how you can outperform the competition by combining CIAM and MFA in our blog.