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Everything about Consumer IAM (CIAM)

May 15, 2020 12:00:00 AM

In this blog, we will cover everything about Consumer Identity and Access Management (CIAM). This blog will cover all the important points, such as what is CIAM, who uses CIAM, how does Consumer IAM work, CIAM features and benefits of Consumer IAM.

1. What is CIAM?

Consumer Identity and Access Management (Consumer IAM or shortly - CIAM) is a cloud software product for large organisations and enterprise. The name reveals that the focus of the solution is to onboard and manage customers and external users of an organisation, in order to grant them access to online portals, corporate websites or webshops.

A CIAM solution is essential and beneficial for both parties involved in online interaction: organisations and users (customers or business partners).

For organisations, Consumer IAM is an essential tool to onboard, authenticate and recognise users. CIAM enables organisations to gain a complete 360° customer view and personalise their online engagement, which eventually leads to providing the best customer experience. CIAM also helps organisations to collect customer information securely and transparently. With Consumer IAM, organisations can safely manage and store their customer's data and control their access to a variety of apps and services, while complying to privacy and security regulations and requirements.

On the customers side, a CIAM solution is not visible as a separate module, since it integrates within the look and feel of the organisation’s website and platforms. Consumer IAM is there to provide customers with frictionless registration and login across different devices (mobile, desktop, etc), while their personal data are being protected and their privacy rights can be exercised (such as access to personal data, giving and withdrawing consent for the use of data, etc).

To provide the customers with the best and most secure experience, a Consumer IAM solution should offer a broad spectrum of features. This includes Single Sign-On, flexible (social) registration processes, ID validation, fine-grained consent management, Multi Factor Authentication (MFA) and preference management. Solutions should be highly scalable to support the millions of consumers that organisations sometimes serve, and they should support data privacy laws such as GDPR, CCPA, etc.

What is CIAM?

2. Who uses CIAM?

CIAM is used by organisations that want to give their customers secured access to online portals and applications, their corporate website, or a webshop.

Within the organisation, there are multiple stakeholders that benefit from CIAM as a centralised source where all consumer data are gathered. Think of digital marketeers, customer care representatives, data privacy officers and the IT department.

3. How does CIAM work?

Every industry has its challenges, and all organisations are different. It is therefore not easy to define a unified CIAM approach that is interchangeable for each organisation. Let's take the registration process as an example. For some organisations, social registration is more than enough to get an account set up and running. For other organisations, for example banks or insurances, the amount of data required to set up a profile is way more complicated. These organisations use registration processes combined with additional steps such as Multi-factor Authentication or Identity Validation via external parties.

In general, the Consumer IAM process consists of 4 elements:

  1. Customer Registration
  2. Log In and Authentication
  3. Consent and Preference Management
  4. Consumer Profile Analytics

4 elements of Consumer IAM (CIAM)

For each of these elements, a robust CIAM solution should be able to provide various features. We will look in each step individually and which features are important at each step.

1. Customer Registration

It all starts with customer onboarding through a frictionless registration process. At this step, organisations should look for the following features to be provided within a robust CIAM solution:

  • (Social) Registration Features
  • Consent management
  • Identity Validation
  • Attribute Flexibility
  • KYC – Know Your Customer
  • Omni-channel

You can read more about each feature in the “CIAM Features” section.

2. Log In and Authentication

After the customer has successfully created his profile, the next step where CIAM comes in is logging into the account. To support a secure and seamless log in experience, Consumer IAM should have the following features:

  • User Self – Service
  • Single Sign-On
  • Step-up, MFA and passwordless authentication
  • Service Desk
  • Omni-channel

You can read more about each feature in the “CIAM Features” section.

3. Consent and Preference Management

With new privacy regulations such as GDPR in force, consumers now have the right to be in control of their own data. That’s why organisations should offer the option to easily give and withdraw consent for the usage of personal information. Additionally, marketing departments want to serve a customer the best way possible, with services and updates that are relevant. Consent and preference management features allow consumers to personalise their profiles to their wishes, and help build a trusted relationship between organisation and customer.

For consent and preference management, the following Consumer IAM features are important:

  • Consent Management
  • Service Desk
  • User Self Service
  • Attribute Flexibility
  • Omni-channel

4. Consumer Profile Analytics 

After registration and login, a CIAM solution provides a user with a user profile. A profile can give access to applications, but it can also be used to provide an overview of past activity. This can contribute to progressive profiling, resulting in a more personalised experience for the customer. For example, memorising the selected language of the website, or for e-commerce organisations, suggestions based on previously viewed items. Besides a better user experience, profile analytics can also help fraud detection.

At this step, secure Consumer IAM should provide the following features:

  • Consent Management
  • Attribute Flexibility
  • User Self Service
  • Service Desk
  • KYC
  • Omni-channel

You can read more about each feature in the “CIAM Features” section.

4. CIAM Features

In the previous section, we have explained how CIAM works and which features are crucial at each step of the way. Now, let's look closer at these features and why they are essential.

Top 10 CIAM features

1. (Social) Registration Features

A registration process can be customised and configured based on the wishes of an organisation, including options for social login. Even within one organisation, registration processes can differ per brand, user group or country. In below example we demonstrate this for the fictional insurance company InsurGroup, that has three different brands: InsurCar, InsurLife and InsurHome.


All these three brands require a different type of information for the registration. In the Insurcar registration flow, the user already has an insurance policy that needs to be filled in to match the user upon online registration. In the case of Insurhome, a customer will need an external Identity Validation. Depending on the organisation needs, the registration process can be customised within the CIAM platform.

2. Consent Management

Under GDPR, Consent Management has become a vital point to keep track of valid processing purposes for customers and organisations. With Consent Management, customers have a choice to give and withdraw consent on data attributes or documents such as privacy policies at any given time. Through a consent API, organisations get real-time updates on their customers’ consents, so they will always be able to demonstrate that they received consent.

3. Identity Validation

More and more organisations provide online services to make their customers’ life easier. This enables customers to perform more transactions such as online purchases, tax and bill payment online. This move requires organisations to have a secure Identity Validation mechanism in place. Identity Validation enables organisations to check and associate a digital identity with a real person. A good CIAM solution integrates with external identity providers such as government IDs under eIDAS, multiple identity schemes such as iDIN (The Netherlands), WebID (UK) and Verimi (Germany). 

4. Attribute Flexibility

Many organisations use company-specific attributes. A retailer might need a customer’s size information, but for an insurer this is not relevant. Since no business is the same, a strong Consumer IAM solution should be able to provide organisations with flexible identity - related attribute information that fits the specific needs of the organisation. On top of that, these attributes can have flexible layers of information on top of them (metadata), for example to store different processing purposes for consent.

5. KYC – Know Your Customer

KYC or Know Your Customer is a process of identifying and verifying the organisation’s customers. This process is essential for organisations such as banks and insurers to make sure that criminals don’t misuse their resources and information. KYC is smartly designed to detect and prevent abuse and fraud. The right CIAM solution will allow organisations to perform audit trails from the CIAM platform (via a dedicated user interface) saving precious time and efforts.

6. User Self – Service 

Strong Self- Service features provide customers with the flexibility to take actions on their profile. CIAM enables customers to self-register or request a password reset, but it can go much further. In many cases consumers will be able to access, edit and download their personal data, modify and add social login connections, request additional access, give or withdraw consent and much more.

7. Single Sign-On

With Single Sign-On, customers are able to log in only once to access multiple applications and services.This provides a frictionless customer experience and the easiness of one-time login and constant accessibility of their online profile.

8. Step-up, MFA and Passwordless Authentication

According to Norton, 4 billion data breaches happened in 2019 (Source). 
With an increasing level of data breaches, more and more customers are looking for ways to protect their online profiles with an additional level of security in the form of Multi-Factor of Step-up Authentication. A robust CIAM solution should be able to support and provide various features, such as OTP, push notifications, biometrics or passwordless authentication.

9. Service Desk

A Service Desk application that is tailor-made for the organisation’s customer care and service desk operating teams is required to effectively help consumers with any identity and access-related issues that may arise.

10. Omni-channel

Customers are shifting more and more towards mobile. Since 2013, mobile traffic grew by 222% (Source). With such high increase in mobile usage, organisations need to make sure that customers can access their application across devices, and that logging in from a smart phone is just as easy as on a desktop. Modern CIAM platforms help organisations out by providing mobile SDKs to easily add login and authentication functionalities to apps.

5. Benefits of Consumer IAM 

As an organisation, you must be wondering: how will my organisation benefit from Consumer IAM? Here’s a list of the top 5 benefits of CIAM:

Top 5 benefits of CIAM

1. Seamless customer experience

With many organisations expanding online, customers also have high expectations from the organisation online services. Customers are looking for frictionless customer experience, starting from easy and secure registration, easy log in opportunities and frictionless transaction experience.

2. Data privacy and security

With the number of data breaches increasing every year (Source) and the entry into force of updated privacy regulations, organisations must make sure that they do their best to protect their customers' data. A robust CIAM solution provides a variety of options to increase the security of customer data.

3. Scalability

For many organisations, there are days when their website traffic explodes! For e-commerce, this could be sale dates (e.g. Black Friday) for education institutions it’s the beginning of the school year. Or for example, in 2019 Disney+ experienced up to 10 million sign-ups on day of the launch (Source). A flexible cloud Consumer IAM solution will be able to handle such peaks in performance and make sure all of the customers get frictionless experience no matter the numbers.

4. A complete overview of a customer

If you are an organisation that supports multiple branches with various login opportunities, a 360-degree customer overview is highly essential to you. Additionally, you also want to provide a personalised experience to each of your customers based on their behaviour and interaction with an online application. A CIAM solution will help your organisation to recognise the customer no matter which branch of your organisation they are accessing.

5. Manage more complex infrastructures with relationships and things

Consumers don’t live alone and there are multiple accounts that should be accessed by multiple users. More and more organisations nowadays provide an opportunity for family accounts. Think of streaming services such as Netflix. The spreading of smart devices has added Identity of things to the mix, resulting in (home) devices that can be managed by multiple family members.

CIAM Solution

Would you like to know more about how CIAM can be beneficial for your organisation?
We've created several complete CIAM Buyer Toolsets for various industries. Check them out here to learn more.

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