A beginner’s guide to Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM)

Posted by Adam Richardson - 10/02/2022

Nearly every organisation needs some kind of Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) system, especially if they’re customer or public facing. But not many people know what CIAM actually is, and how it can help organisations strike the right balance between security and delivering a better user experience. 

So with this in mind, let’s run through some of the basic principles of CIAM you need to know about. 

It all starts with a problem 

Online identity management has always been a challenging issue to tackle. With every new user account or device trying to access a system or service, the problem only grows. We’re all suffering from an extreme password weariness, and logging in to so many different platforms each using their own authentication processes is becoming a serious time drain.  

But security remains of paramount importance. How can organisations quickly and accurately authenticate user credentials, without destroying the user experience?  

The solution is CIAM. This is technology which attempts to usher in a sense of order, to systems which grow gradually more chaotic every time a new variable is introduced.  


But what actually is CIAM? 

The concept behind Customer Identity and Access Management is quite simple. CIAM extends identity data across systems, rather than creating separate records for every database or application.  

It integrates with other enterprise applications, such as CRM, CMS (content management systems) and marketing platforms. If it works well, it ties these applications together in order to effectively manage customer identities – while being minimally visible to customers themselves. 

As for how it works, InformationWeek has a helpful explanation: 

“A CIAM system typically resides in the cloud and operates under a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. It relies on built-in connectors and APIs to tie together various enterprise applications, systems, and data repositories. This makes it possible to combine features, including customer registration, account management, directory services, and authentication. 

“When a customer visits a website or calls in, for example, the CIAM solution handles the authentication process (using a password, single sign-on, biometrics, or multiple factors, for example).” 


Features of CIAM systems 

A typical CIAM system will combine a number of different features and functions. These include: 

  • Customer registration
  • Self-service account management functionality for users
  • Single sign-on (SSO)
  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA)
  • Management of consent and user communication preferences
  • General access management
  • Directory services
  • Data access governance. 


The benefits 

CIAM offers two compelling benefits for organisations, and for their users or customers. The first is of course a seamless user experience, which works quietly in the background to deliver optimum performance no matter which channels a customer uses to engage with a company. Crucially, it also does this at scale – so you can have millions of users on a platform and the CIAM will still work in the same way.  

But CIAM systems also deliver risk-based authentication (RBA) or adaptive authentication. This automatically looks for signs (i.e. IP addresses, date/time of access) that a user is not quite who they claim to be.  This is another huge benefit, helping organisations to more effectively manage risk. 


Looking to work in CIAM, or are you looking to find experts to improve identity and access management in your organisation? Find just what you’re looking for with Strive, specialists in software sales recruitment. Get in touch to find out more.

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