Nowadays, great customer experience is the name of the game. Customers tend to prefer web portals and applications that are strong in this department. Therefore it's in the business interest to provide as seamless an experience as it's possible to achieve.

Yet, the customer experience must also be secure, which can make it less fluid. This is where customer identity access management (CIAM) solutions come in. They offer a balance between convenience and security by facilitating data sharing. Here's what you should know about this solution.

CIAM definition

CIAM, or customer identity and access management, is a system allowing control of customer access to applications and services and capturing and managing customer identity data. This allows a secure and streamlined user access to applications and web portals’ resources and data.

The solutions themselves consist of several functionalities:

  • Customer registration
  • Self-service account management
  • Consent and preference management
  • Single sign-on (SSO)
  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA)
  • Access management
  • Directory services and data access governance

CIAM solutions ensure smooth customer journey without compromising security. Depending on the solution, it can be deployed on-premises, in the cloud, or via the identity-as-a-service (IDaaS) platform. In some cases, they can be encoded within APIs or function as standalone modules for better application support.

Key takeaways

  • Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) controls customer access to applications and services and ensures secure management of customer identity data.
  • For customers, CIAM ensures a secure and personalized online experience without infringing on privacy.
  • For businesses, CIAM enhances security, helps prevent data breaches, and increases customer satisfaction and conversions.
  • CIAM offers improved user experiences, robust data protection, compliance support, and detailed analytics for decision-making.
  • It protects customer data by reducing breach risks and secures against fraud through data encryption and multi-factor authentication.
  • Essential elements of CIAM include high scalability, single sign-on, multi-factor authentication, and centralized user management.
  • Use cases for CIAM include improving customer knowledge, customizing user experiences, strengthening data security, and organizing marketing data effectively.
  • The distinction between IAM and CIAM lies in their focus areas; IAM caters to internal services, while CIAM is designed for external user interactions, demanding more adaptable authentication methods.

Why is CIAM important?

CIAM solves several problems associated with online business applications. However, the benefits extend to both businesses and customers.

For customers

A happy customer is something that every business strives for. Making the customer journey as smooth as possible allows them to achieve exactly that. With these solutions, the experience can be tailored to each user without invading the user’s privacy. Most customer identity solutions can collect a great deal of data to provide a well-defined customer profile. The data is collected in the background, providing a much smoother user experience.

For businesses

Keeping a customer happy means better conversions and better revenues. However, the initiative to transition to CIAM solutions also makes sense from a security standpoint. Moving away from a username/password system and adding additional authentication factors

Moving away from usernames and passwords by adding multi-factor authentication is more secure. This can have a positive effect when trying to prevent potential data breaches.

Benefits of CIAM

As CIAM handles sensitive user data, this is one of the most critical elements within a business. Due to the risk and cost of data breaches, the importance of CIAM is ever-growing. Here are the key benefits associated with CIAM solutions.

  • Identity and access management. Customer identity solutions take the burden off businesses regarding digital customer identities and their access. This makes it possible to supervise user identities securely.
  • Customer data protection. You can always count on your customers to reuse their passwords for most service accounts. CIAM solutions offer protection with multiple layers of verification needed.
  • Seamless user experience. Nothing kills customer satisfaction faster than a requirement to pass through multiple authentication steps. However, with CIAMs, this friction could be avoided creating customer experience where it’s only needed to authenticate once, to be passed through multiple steps.
  • Better customization. Flexible APIs allow developers to build applications with support for CIAMs right from the gate. This also means that authentication requirements can become an organic part of the development cycle.
  • Multichannel support. One of the biggest benefits of CIAMs is multichannel support allowing organizations to operate different entry points. No matter what method your users choose, they will get the same streamlined experience.
  • Account self-service. Instead of relying on manual approvals, CIAM solutions enable users to manage their credentials. Password resets, and authentication doesn’t need any additional input.
  • Easier compliance. Security benefits from the CIAM solution can help you obtain HIPAA and ISO certification.
  • In-depth analytics. No business decision can be made without data to back it up. CIAMs can serve as a very valuable tool for gathering customer data. Using it later can bring various benefits of improved retention, increased conversions, etc.
  • Improve scalability. CIAM systems can support a high volume of users without being interrupted by downtimes.

How does CIAM protect customer data

CIAM is built to secure customer data during its journey by helping out its clients in two major ways.

Minimizing data breach risk

The key to stopping data breaches is limiting how a bad actor could access and lead to customer information. For this reason, various technologies encrypt customer data, alert administrators and prevent log tampering. All of this makes an organization more resistant.

Helps to better secure data against fraud

Fraud attempts usually target individual customers using data from other companies’ leaks. Customers frequently reuse their logins, making it easier for hackers to breach their accounts. A potential solution is requiring second-factor confirmations when logging in.

In other cases, users may confirm their customer identities via push notifications. For instance, if a customer logs in with a laptop, it can confirm its identity with a smartphone app. There are many methods to set up an MFA conveniently.

Important elements of CIAM

CIAM offers many possibilities for businesses. Yet to be a good fit, the solution must meet certain criteria.

High scalability

CIAM solutions provide users with unparalleled flexibility in terms of scale. A large number of customers can be served at the same time. Therefore, if your business is booming, your clients won’t be stuck in queues.

Single sign-on (SSO)

SSO allows customers to avoid multiple authentication rounds when logging in to your services or applications. As identity-as-a-service (IDaaS) constitutes an important part of knowing your customer, this allows controlling user authentication in greater detail, creating more efficient and secure authorization mechanisms.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

MFA is an additional reassurance that the logging user truly is what it claims to be. Additional factors like security questions, biometric data, or one-time passcodes help to increase reassurance and the threshold of entry. Simultaneously this login method can incorporate adaptive authentication checking additional external factors like time of day, device, etc. This helps flag the login for any abnormal customer behavior that could indicate the user’s account is breached.

Centralized user management

Various jurisdictions around the world strictly regulate customer data access. CIAM solutions help businesses to limit customer data availability. In addition, customer identity management reduces various risks of customer data exposure.

CIAM use cases

CIAM solutions are mainly geared towards these four use cases.

  • Improvement of knowing your customer procedures. Most modern marketing tools can indicate that the user has signed on without telling you anything else about that person. In contrast, CIAM solutions provide a much more in-depth overview of the customer’s journey.
  • UX customization. Deeper knowledge about your customers can be incredibly useful as it makes your improvement strategy more sound. In addition, this opens the door to customizing the experience according to their habits or usage patterns, making conversions easier.
  • Strengthening of data security. Data breaches can be devastating for most businesses not only because of the fines for leaking private customer data. This also means that customers will often turn to the competitor just because of their cleaner track record. Therefore, a key priority is laying out a good foundation for customer data handling and CIAM helps to achieve that.
  • Marketing data streamlining. Having a single marketing data tunnel helps to have everything in one place. Otherwise, the insights could be lost as they’re scattered across different tracking platforms. CIAM helps to structure data conveniently and provides various useful metrics for analysts.

What is the difference between IAM and CIAM?

Identity management, or IAM, is a discipline enabling authorized individuals to access needed materials. Therefore, IAM software combines various security with complex authorization systems across many applications.

IAM vs CIAM comparison table

IAM systems are typically reserved for internal services and used for intranets and user portals. In comparison, CIAM services are better suited for visitors using websites or mobile apps. In addition, CIAM requires more flexibility in terms of authentication, using various methods and technologies.


Improvements to the customer experience are one of the most important business priorities. In such an environment, customer identity access management can seem like a godsend helping to make the experience smoother and more secure.

Taking care of various areas like customer registration, self-service account management, single sign-on, access management, and others helps by having a holistic system. When put into practice, this allows CIAM solutions to provide a seamless customer journey without compromising security.

The approach has numerous benefits to both businesses and the organization’s clients. It helps to protect confidential customer data and allows to make customer journeys personalized. Future-thinking enterprises should consider moving towards CIAM solution as there are numerous benefits to take advantage of.