How does CIAM differ from IAM?

Even though CIAM and IAM are technologically similar, they both serve two different purposes. Understanding these differences is very important to build a potent CIAM strategy. This article tries to explore these key differences in detail.

To begin with, CIAM and IAM serve two different user bases. Whereas IAM mainly targets employees of a business, CIAM targets a business’s customers. This difference in the customer base, as you would see, heralds a whole lot of changes to the way IAM is designed and the way CIAM is designed.

When it comes to IAM, a business has a virtual monopoly over its users since they happen to be the business’s employers. However, since a CIAM’s users are a business’s customers, a business stands the risk of losing its customers to another business. This competition for customers makes user experience key in CIAM. A good CIAM solution should not only ensure that they provide a user experience that is good enough to retain its customers but should also ensure that it is good enough to attract new customers.

User onboarding

It is often the employer who onboards an employee into an IAM system. In contrast, a customer is expected to onboard himself/herself into a CIAM. Consequently, this makes user-onboarding an important part of a CIAM solution. As discussed above, a poor user experience during onboarding can completely turn away customers. A study done by Blue Research found that 86% of the surveyed people avoided a website if they were to fill in a registration form to create a new account. This shows how important creating an efficient user onboarding experience is.

Providing social logins can play a great role in making the whole process of creating a new account uncomplicated. This will profoundly improve the user experience and allow users to create new accounts easily. Besides, social logins also ensure that users don’t have to remember an additional login credential, and the trouble of resetting a forgotten password is completely avoided.

If a business has multiple websites or offers multiple services through different portals, a CIAM solution should offer Single Sign-on (SSO) so that customers can log in once and use the same session to access all the services provided by the service. For example, you only need to log in once into Google and you will be able to access various services provided by Google such as YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps, etc. through the same session.

Providing a personalized experience in CIAM

Since CIAM is used by businesses to reach out to their customers, it is important that a CIAM solution has the ability to help a business provide a very personally customized experience to its users. For instance, to provide offers and coupons that would be relevant to a person’s age, gender, ethnicity, etc., a CIAM should be able to collect such personal details about a user. This should begin even before a user creates an account with the business’s website.

The process of collecting relevant data about a user begins as soon as the user visits the website. Then, various user behaviors such as the links a user clicks, the products a user views, and the amount of time a user spends on a page can be tracked to provide more relevant information to the user. If the user fills in a contact form, then the identification information collected using the contact form can be used to identify the collected data with real-world identities. And when the user finally decides to create an account, the business will already have enough information about the user to provide a more customized experience. This whole process is called progressive profiling and helps businesses provide a more personalized service to their customers.

On the other hand, an IAM doesn’t need to progressively profile its users because the employer will already have more than enough data about the employee by virtue of the employment contract. Furthermore, a personalized experience is also not indispensable in IAM since an employee cannot move from one business to another as a customer does.

User profile management

In IAM, the employer manages users’ profiles and the employee is often not allowed to manage their user profile. But in CIAM, a user profile is supposed to be managed by the users themselves.

Thus, a good CIAM solution should allow a user to modify their information, change password, add or remove data, add social login, revoke consents given to third-party applications, export their data, and so on.

Data and privacy in CIAM

Another major difference between IAM and CIAM is data and privacy. In IAM, since an employee is obliged to share their data with their employer, data and privacy is not a pivotal issue. However, in CIAM, data, and privacy become a salient feature to both ensure compliance with state regulations such as GDPR, and make sure the customers feel confident enough to share their data with the business.

CIAM should ensure customers’ data is protected from data breaches and the customers have control over what data they share. Moreover, a business should be transparent about how customers’ data are used.

Providing an omni-channel experience

CIAM could be accessed through various devices by a customer. Therefore, CIAM should be able to provide its service across multiple form factors such as desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones. The user interface should be responsive and the user experience should remain constant across all devices.


An IAM system would be used only by a few hundred to a few thousand users concurrently. However, a business may have millions of customers, and hence, a CIAM should be able to scale well enough to cater to so many users concurrently.

Though the building blocks of CIAM and IAM remain the same, as you would have seen, their use cases and purposes differ. Understanding these nuances is important to deploy a successful CIAM solution. Remember, a bad IAM might not affect a business but a bad CIAM can destroy a business in its entirety!

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