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What is Secure Customer Identity (aka User Management)?

Lindsay Brunner

In the modern app ecosystem, virtually every application leverages identity to provide customized and secure user experiences. Customer identity and access management (CIAM), also known as secure user management, or secure customer identity, is the system an application deploys to determine who a user is, and what information they have access to. It encompasses authentication and authorization, as well as managing login experiences, user preferences, and user data.

Collecting and managing this data securely is complex, and requires a heavy investment in development time and expertise to execute and manage. But it’s critical to get it right —  the International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that 80% of consumers will defect from a company in the next two years because their sensitive data was impacted by a breach. Even tech giants like Uber are susceptible to these attacks. Companies must consider the potential implications of building their own customer identity solution when they don’t have the right time or resources to devote to doing it right.

A CIAM solution streamlines this with a suite of tools (primarily APIs and SDKs) that gives companies a competitive advantage by outsourcing identity management to an expert provider. In doing so, development teams are freed up to focus on what they do best — bringing unique products and services to market.

What does strong customer identity and access management require?

A good CIAM solution not only alleviates the strain on engineering resources, it also provides organizations with a 360-degree view of their customers. When CIAM is done well, it provides companies with deeper customer insights that can help them build a richer picture of their customers, create more effective omni-channel strategies, tailor promotions, and create features that will resonate with their audience and service their needs.

For customers, a strong CIAM solution is the virtual front door of their experience with an app. With the ever-present challenges of user retention, security, speed, and personalization in an application have become need-to-haves — and a strong CIAM solution delivers on all three.

Security
Data security is a make-or-break factor. Airtight, user-friendly, and identity-driven security is imperative: CIAM solutions that include features like Single Sign-On (SSO), a single point of entry to all tools and information a users needs, and Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), which prompts for additional authentication based on user and device context, are essential. This ensures users are who they say they are, and protects organizations from attacks. No one wants to be the subject of news headlines about the latest large-scale breach.

With a single source of truth, companies also know who has access to what data, and customers can easily control their preferences and privacy settings to determine how their data is used. This will only become increasingly important with regulations like GDPR, and companies must ensure their applications’ security features are updated regularly. A good CIAM solution takes care of this.  

Speed
Both companies and customers require this: for the former, if an application isn’t in market, it isn’t driving business and building a customer base. The faster it’s launched, the better. For the latter, customers will quickly tire of long load times and in-app glitches. The right CIAM solution will be able to handle hundreds of thousands, even millions, of consumer access requests, particularly during promotions or surge times when user volume is particularly high.

Personalization
A fully integrated CIAM solution should provide users with personalized access to the tools and information they seek. An easy way to enable this is to opt for a CIAM solution that operates silently. Using Okta’s API, companies can easily deploy custom CIAM policies at point-of-entry without enforcing third-party branding or messaging on customers. This ensures the customer’s experience is both personalized and consistent every time.

How enterprises build modern user management

Businesses like Adobe and MGM have found incredible success with CIAM solutions. Adobe’s engineering resources were better allocated to building new features for Adobe Creative Suite rather than reinventing the wheel in the identity stack for Adobe Creative Cloud. “I want to use what's best in class in the market and then apply the Adobe-specific requirements to that stack to get something out to our customers really quickly,” said Scott Castle, product manager for Creative Cloud. This created scalable, federated connections between the Creative Cloud and its customers’ identity systems, allowing engineers to build the next Photoshop feature, rather than allocate time and money towards user management.

MGM also leveraged CIAM to build a personalized customer loyalty program, MLife. While MGM engineers created the foundation of the MLife experience, Okta secured the back end, managing identity across MGM’s portfolio of applications and analytics.

See how MGM uses Okta to create the ultimate user experience across its properties.

When done right, CIAM solutions allow companies to launch applications faster, delight users, protect important customer data, and drive stronger marketing results — both by gaining deeper customer insights and by freeing dev teams up to focus on building better applications and leaving the demands of user management to the experts.

Find out more about how Okta creates secure, seamless customer identity and access management.

LindsayBrunner headshot

Lindsay Brunner is a Content Marketing Manager at Okta responsible for our developer blog, as well as the vision and strategy for technical communications around customer identity and application development. Prior to Okta, Lindsay led content marketing at Stormpath, and has nearly a decade of experience building great content for various brands. When she's not correcting someone's lack of an Oxford comma, Lindsay enjoys reading and gaming, especially hosting board game nights. You can catch her on Twitter @lindsayb610.