What is CIAM vs. IAM?

Identity and access management (IAM) is the general category of products and solutions that control which digital assets users can access. IAM also manages the digital identities that exist within an organization, including people, systems, devices, and applications.

Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM)

CIAM (pronounced SIGH-am) is a subsegment of the IAM market, enabling customers to access business websites and digital platforms. It provides seamless and secure experiences for customers, typically spanning account registration through login and access to digital services.

CIAM solutions offer a range of services, such as user registration, authentication, single sign-on (SSO), multi-factor authentication (MFA), password management, and passwordless authentication. Gartner defines CIAM as "tools [that] manage identity, authentication and authorization for external identity use cases. Functionality includes self-service capabilities, adaptive access, SSO and bring your own identity (BYOI)."

IAM has long prioritized security, enabling secure access to resources and controlling permissions (access privileges) based on each user's identity. IAM has long prioritized security, enabling secure access to resources and controlling permissions (access privileges) based on each user's identity. Though customer-facing organizations may have other priorities, security is critically important to building and retaining customer relationships.

Consumers entrust companies with their personally identifiable information (PII), which may include their email and home addresses, phone number, financial information, personal photographs, credit card numbers, protected health information (PHI), tax IDs, and more.

CIAM also secures customers' personal data via encryption, whether the data is "at rest" (stored in a database) or "in transit" (moving from one location to another, such as from a consumer's browser across the internet to a cloud destination). Even if the data was intercepted, it would be of no use to a cybercriminal.

Because experience is often a deciding factor on whether a customer decides to do business with a company, CIAM also emphasizes the user experience by helping companies deliver seamless and pleasant digital experiences.

One of the ways CIAM delivers these experiences is through social login. With social login, customers can register new accounts using information from social media providers, including Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon, and others.

Identity and Access Management (IAM) for the Workforce

In the workforce IAM segment, digital identities for an organization's employees, contractors, partners, and other users are managed and monitored. Enterprises may have thousands of applications, many of which contain sensitive information and intellectual property. It's essential for enterprises to set very granular access policies based on a user's role, as well as context and risk. For example, certain applications may be accessible to an engineer, but not when that engineer is connecting remotely or using an unmanaged device.

Managing workforce access has become incredibly complex with the escalation of remote work and the rapid adoption of cloud apps. Risk and security professionals are faced with volumes of new identities, roles, and entitlements. Managing these changing dynamics is too complicated to be done manually, and that's where identity governance and administration (IGA) comes in.

IGA is used to automate, audit, and monitor user access to services. IGA is an important component of workforce IAM because governance is a key issue for regional compliance and security.

A modern workforce IAM solution converges identity management, access management, and identity governance in a single platform. It provides greater efficiencies, security, and cost savings associated with the ability to manage, secure, and govern identities throughout their entire lifecycle.

The similarities and differences between CIAM and IAM

CIAM and IAM are in many ways the same. Both perform identity management for a group of users within an organization. They both provide access management, controlling what applications and services users are allowed to access. Both solutions enable a friendly user experience that minimizes friction.

Security and fraud prevention are important to preventing unauthorized access, the leading cause of data breaches. They offer protections against fraud, including account takeover (ATO), and can monitor access attempts and user behavior to detect anomalies and block suspicious attempts. (Read about AI-powered threat protection for CIAM and IAM use cases.)

Despite their similarities, CIAM and IAM differ in many ways. One of the major differences is scalability. Unlike workforce identity solutions that support thousands of entities (employees and partners) who require fairly static access to a pre-assigned list of applications, CIAM must be able to scale to accommodate millions of users — often during dramatic spikes in traffic, such as on peak shopping days or during major sporting events. A CIAM platform must be massively scalable and highly available, spanning multiple data centers, hosting platforms, and geographies.

CIAM solutions also offer the ability to deliver customized experiences tailored to a customer segment or even to an individual customer. With these personalized experiences, organizations can deepen their customer relationships while ensuring secure interactions.

Using CIAM, organizations can achieve a fully digital, secure, and seamless customer experience across all stages in the customer journey.

In the registration, authentication, and self-service stages, CIAM provides simplified registration and single sign-on to quickly convert visitors into customers and to keep them coming back. Following customer acquisition, CIAM helps organizations provide fully personalized, omnichannel customer experiences that drive top-line revenue. And finally, in the privacy stage, CIAM helps to provide customers with complete control over their user preferences and personal data. This control is important for building customer trust and complying with privacy regulations.

Both CIAM and IAM solutions can be offered as self-managed software or as a cloud-delivered service (SaaS), sometimes referred to as identity as a service (IDaaS) or cloud identity.

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