What is Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM)?

Providing digital services to customers is a balancing act. You need to deliver outstanding customer experience at the same time as building trust in the…

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Dennis McDermott

February 26, 20207 minute read

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Providing digital services to customers is a balancing act. You need to deliver outstanding customer experience at the same time as building trust in the security of your services. Get either wrong and the results can be disastrous. CIAM – often called customer IAM or consumer IAM – enables you to securely capture and manage customer identities to help drive digital initiatives, better understand the total customer relationship, streamline operations, and create a smooth and unified customer experience.

Let’s start by outlining the scale of the issue. Research suggests that B2B companies see customer experience as the most exciting business opportunity in 2020. Over 85% of buyers say they are willing to pay more for a good customer experience. Today, however, only 1% of customers think that companies deliver a level of customer service that consistently meets their expectations.

It’s clear that consumers want a better experience, but this can’t come at the expense of security. In a recent survey, 83% of US customers said that they would stop buying from a company that had experienced a data breach–21% said they would never return. In all, the survey showed you could lose up to half your customers if you’ve been hacked. Even after all the publicity, 80% of all hacking-related breaches in 2019 were tied to user passwords.

With so much of the threat revolving around unauthorized access to customer data, providing secure access has never been so important. Customer identity and access management isn’t a nice to have. It’s essential for modern business. However, the best customer identity management solutions do more than protect the customer. They provide the foundation to deliver enhanced business services and engaging customer experience.

What is the definition of Customer IAM?

You can define CIAM as a means to manage the authentication and authorization of customer identities. It will normally involve CIAM software or a third party CIAM platform that enables users to register identities and create accounts while you manage the provisioning, activity and security on the web or mobile service.

The best CIAM solutions are able to secure customer-facing business processes exactly as organizations need by providing a comprehensive range of features including customer registration, self-service account management, consent and preference management and multi-factor authentication. The ability for customers to serve themselves is essential as a large organization can easily be dealing with hundreds of thousands or millions of customers. It’s simply impossible for the IT team to effectively provision and manage all these accounts. A CIAM solution can do this automatically to ensure a secure customer experience. This requires a customer identity and access management architecture built for extreme scalability and performance.

The growing importance of CIAM is demonstrated in the rapid increase in market size. In a recent market overview customer identity and access solutions sales reached $16 billion in 2018. The consumer IAM market is estimated to pass $37 billion by 2023.


IAM is defined as a framework that ensures that the right people, systems, and things have access to the right resources at the right times for the right reasons. Traditional identity and access management (IAM) was designed to secure access for employees to internal systems. protected behind the corporate firewall, and to cloud applications. This is often called the ‘inside out’ approach to identity management.

As soon as you have to accommodate players from outside the organization, the cracks in traditional IAM start to appear. These identity management solutions were not created for the needs of a company where the majority of connections are coming from outside and often beyond the control of the IT team. Customer IAM is part of a new ‘outside in’ approach to identity management. Customer identity management builds on traditional IAM by adding capabilities that establish trust with external users and give more power to the customer while the internal IT team can see exactly what each user is doing and quickly identify and isolate any suspicious users or activities.

The best CIAM software lets you manage based on user attributes to ensure authorized customers have the access they need and others can’t go where they’re not authorized. Architecturally, the best CIAM solutions are built to easily interoperate with a variety of systems and applications, are highly available, scale to millions of users, reliably meet performance SLAs, and support industry standards.

What are the benefits of CIAM?

Any company that’s making daily connections with a large customer base should already have begun to implement a CIAM program. If you are still considering what CIAM can offer your business, here is a shortlist of capabilities the right customer identity and access management software will provide.

Single view of the customer

CIAM solutions allow you to capture structured and unstructured data from internal and external systems to create and maintain a single source of truth about a customer within a central enterprise identity directory. With a single hub for all identities, your customer identity solution seamlessly links user authentication and authorization data with other business functions such as customer management, sales, marketing, business intelligence, and support services.

Seamless customer experience

Customer access has moved beyond your web presence. You need to provide a smooth and seamless omnichannel experience including web, mobile, IoT and other channels. CIAM software has to enable simplified access and unified customer profiles so your customers receive the experience they expect whichever channel they use to engage. The best CIAM solutions are offering frictionless access-using methods such as password-less access–that makes the experience fast and easy so encouraging your customers to return and explore more of your digital services.

Advanced security features

CIAM allows you to facilitate the process for customers to register and establish their own profiles. The CIAM solution must enable the auto-provisioning of services to the customer as well as setting the access levels and duration of access granted. Most importantly, any CIAM software has to be able to quickly and effectively identify where there may be issues or attacks. It should be able to spot aberrant behaviour and isolate any attempt at a breach. The best CIAM solutions now dynamically adapt security requirements in real time in response to situational risk factors, plus provide multi-factor authentication­–using one-time authentication codes, email, biometrics and geolocation to further establish quick and secure authentication wherever the customer is.

Privacy and regulatory compliance

With a new generation of data privacy laws such as GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), there is a huge focus on how all organizations manage customer data. Poor consent management opens the company to the risk of fines and reputational damage. CIAM must give customers insight and control over the data you hold, how it’s being used and where it’s being shared. The good news is that this is precisely the type of data that a good CIAM solution captures and maintains. Implementing CIAM can be a significant step towards compliance with the latest global and regional data privacy regulations.

How to select the best CIAM platform

As the number of CIAM use cases increases, many organizations are turning to third party CIAM vendors to deliver the customer identity management services they need. These providers normally deliver a scalable Cloud-based CIAM platform that includes all the capabilities that you require when managing customers. Selecting the best CIAM platform will depend on the unique business requirements of your organization. However, it’s advisable to look for a CIAM provider that offers a managed services option so that you’re assured you don’t just have the CIAM architecture but also the level of CIAM skills and resources you need.

Find out more about identity and access management platforms from OpenText™.

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Dennis McDermott

Dennis McDermott heads product marketing for OpenText Identity and Access Management and Supplier Portal solutions. Formally trained in human-centered design and research, Dennis has over 25 years of experience in aligning technology product offerings with core buyer needs and preferences and has led marketing and sales organizations in identity and access management for the past 15 years.

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