Defining Customer Identity & Access Management (CIAM)

A customer identity and access management system, or CIAM, allows you to harness all of the data you have about your customers in one safe, secure spot.

That same system gives your customers the power to control what you know about them and how you use it. Their access allows them to seamlessly use all of your digital services too.

Let's dig into the details about how these systems work, common benefits, and how you might use a system like this to help your company move forward. 

What Is a Customer Identity & Access Management System?

An average company uses a variety of solutions to help customers tap into its resources safely and appropriately. You might have some tools that allow your consumers to sign in to your digital tools, others that track what users do while they're on your website, and a third set that records the purchases your customers make in-person and online.

Think of a CIAM solution as a toolkit that contains all of these pieces working together seamlessly. 

A typical CIAM product might include these capabilities to support a customer through the purchase lifecycle:

  • Registration: The customer encounters your company for the first time and agrees to become part of your corporate family. By registering within your CIAM system, that person can access your website, your apps, your database, and more (depending on what you want to configure).
  • Ease of return: In the first quarter of 2015, consumers downloaded about 16 apps. In the first quarter of 2020, they downloaded almost 34. These app stats demonstrate just how many resources are on the average phone.

    It also explains why so many people reuse passwords. They can't keep track of unique credentials for each resource.

    A CIAM system allows for single sign-on (SSO), so a consumer can head almost anywhere in your universe with one set of credentials. That allows for easy browsing early in the purchase process.

  • Ongoing conversations: Each time a user does something within your ecosystem, your CIAM solution tracks that. With enough data, you can tailor your marketing content for that person, pushing them into your purchase funnel.

    But your consumers can define how you use their data. They may allow some types of sharing, but not others. As this relationship unfolds, with you offering personalisation and them controlling access, your relationship deepens. 

CIAM systems typically come with robust data protections built right in. They often encrypt data for storage or randomise it to thwart hackers.

If you’re worried about the complexities of privacy laws, and you’re not sure whether or not you comply with all of the rules, a CIAM product relieves some pressure. Your solution does the work for you.

Known Consumer Identity Management Benefits 

You want to know almost everything about your customers. They want a seamless, personalised, controlled interaction. The best CIAM solutions can make this wish list a reality. 

Your CIAM solution could offer:

  • Authentication. A name/password combination typically isn't enough to enter a CIAM system. Your customers must offer some other form of verification, such as a one-time code sent to a registered device. You control what that consumer can and can't do and see within your system through this sign-on process.
  • Consistency. Experts call omni-channel personalisation a futuristic marketing goal. A CIAM solution could make it a reality.

    When consumers use the same credentials to access your website, your apps, and more, you gather all of their data in one place. You can tailor what they see in each channel based on the massive dataset you've collected. The same prompt or messaging could appear everywhere, so your users get a consistent experience with your company across channels. And you can track how well your prompts or calls to action work.

  • Compliance. Safety features built into CIAM solutions ensure that you're following today's data-protection laws. Consumers control what you keep and what you share. And encryption and scrambling keep the risk of theft low.
  • Scalability. Imagine that your company experiences exponential growth. Can you treat every new customer as well as your existing clients? CIAM solutions allow you to easily expand and contract your client list, so you're always ready to respond when needed.
  • Protection. Data within a CIAM solution is encrypted. Even if a hacker steals it, the information is difficult to use. Dashboards also help you spot suspicious activity, and you can shut off access in one place to stop an attack before it grows.
  • Ease. Building such a sophisticated and robust piece of software isn't easy, and few administrators have the skills needed to make it happen. Buy an off-the-shelf CIAM product, and you allow someone else to do the heavy lifting for you. 

These are just a few of the benefits commonly attributed to CIAM, but know that there are many more.

How Could You Use a CIAM Product?

These are four ways to make your customers happier (and improve your sales) with a CIAM product. 

Invest in the right solution, and you could:

  • Truly know your customers. People must register to gain access. Many current marketing tools come with worthless reports that just tell you "a user" signed on, but you have no idea who that person really is or what that person wants or needs. A CIAM solution allows you to dig into the data and gain a deeper understanding of the customers you serve.
  • Tailor the experiences you deliver. When you know where your customers go and what they look at, you can provide meaningful incentives. Customers love a customised deal, as 30 percent of them say they'd start using an app again if they got a discount that meant something to them.
  • Protect the data you collect. If you face a data breach, prepare to pay a steep fine. And then, prepare for customers to walk away from your products and services. A full 87 percent of customers say they won't work with a company with sketchy security policies. Don't be one of those companies. Invest in a solution that keeps valuable data out of the hands of hackers.
  • Improve your marketing. Create a single source of truth for all the data about your customers. Rather than sifting through reams of unstructured data that is hard to translate, dig into the metrics that matter so you can serve your customers even better. 

You may find even more uses for the right product. But clearly, there's a lot you can do with a CIAM solution.

Where to Find the Right CIAM Product

Given how complex and robust these solutions are, it's common for companies to buy products rather than building them. Plenty of companies produce CIAM solutions. You'll need to find one that offers the flexibility and complexity your customers deserve. 

If you're shopping for a CIAM product, we'd like to talk with you. Okta has a variety of solutions you can use and bundle to meet your organisation’s specific needs. Learn more about customer identity


App Download and Usage Statistics (2020). (October 2020). Business of Apps. 

Your Employees Are Reusing Passwords. Find Out How Many. (June 2020). Infosecurity. 

USA: Data Protection Laws and Regulations 2020. (June 2020). 

Why Omni-Channel Personalisation Is the Future of Marketing. (February 2020). University of Pennsylvania. 

Mobile App Marketing Insights: How Consumers Really Find and Use Your App. (May 2015). Google. 

The Consumer-Data Opportunity and the Privacy Imperative. (April 2020). McKinsey and Company. 

Should Marketers Worry About a Single Source of Truth? (September 2020). Martech Today.