What is CIAM?

Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) is a subset of Identity and Access Management (IAM) that focuses on controlling end users’ access to an organization’s digital resources. Unlike other IAM solutions, CIAM also enables organizations to govern, collect, analyze, and securely store customer data.

Most CIAM solutions include some or all the following features:

  • Customer registration
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
  • Single Sign-On solution (SSO)
  • Access management
  • Authorization
  • Directory services
  • Data access governance
  • Identity proofing
  • Identity orchestration
  • Threat detection
  • Fraud detection

Essential CIAM features

While CIAM solutions can include any or all the features and technologies listed above, not all are strictly necessary. However, all CIAM solutions should offer the following features:

Centralized User Management

CIAM is unique among IAM solutions in granting organizations insight into their users. This information is of immense value to organizations, allowing them to provide users with a personalized experience, driving retention rates, and giving them a competitive edge. However, without a centralized user management system, that information can become difficult to manage.

Centralized user management systems store user data in a centralized database, eliminating data silos and duplicate data. This allows administrators to quickly and easily grant or revoke permissions, analyze data, and comply with reporting requirements of various data privacy laws.


Whereas other IAM solutions support a limited number of employees, vendors, and business partners, CIAM solutions can be scaled up to millions of users, with enrollment numbers often spiking in response to short-term events such as promotional discounts or public holidays. For this reason, although scalability isn’t typically classed as a software feature, CIAM solutions absolutely must offer third-party, cloud-enabled scalability.

Single Sign-On

Single Sign-On (SSO), or “sign-in with . . .” technology has fast become an essential facet of almost all IAM solutions. SSO allows users to log in to multiple applications using only one set of credentials, easing the registration and authentication process, improving the user experience. You’ve likely used SSO technology to sign into G-Suite applications such as Gmail, YouTube, and Google Docs.

Multi-Factor Authentication

MFA has long been lauded as the natural successor to the traditional, vulnerable username-password authentication method, demanding an extra credential to authenticate users and prevent unauthorized access. The extra credential could be a PIN sent to the user’s phone, an email, or biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints or face scans.

The future of CIAM

CIAM solutions have quickly become essential to many organizations’ business models. Managing customer access and data at scale provides enormous value, building trust, and allowing for personalized user experiences. As a result, CIAM solutions are only likely to grow in popularity in coming years. What’s more, as governments around the world put more regulatory pressure on organizations, many will turn to CIAM for simple, manageable data reporting.

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