November 22, 2020
3 min read

7 Questions to Ask When Investing in Customer IAM

Your organization might start with a simple single sign-on (SSO) project for your end-users so their sign-in experience is better. In a few months, your teams realize they need to implement SMS or passwordless authentication for a better or easier way so your customers can access your systems and applications. Then comes the various applications you need to integrate with your users. Little do you know that your simple SSO project is now part of a larger digital transformation initiative to provide your users with an intuitive user experience—connecting various apps, systems, and their identities for secure access. This is an example of Customer IAM (CIAM)

What is CIAM?

There are many different articles written around Customer IAM. Simply defined, it is a “Customer focused IAM discipline that facilitates leveraging identity data with business data to catalyze business growth”.

Let’s interpret this.

If you’re looking at increasing revenue or retaining customers, their user experience needs to be at an optimal level. This includes knowing their preferences and providing services accordingly to improve their overall experience. With a CIAM solution, you can get a 360 view of their journey and easily onboard partners and third parties so they too have secure access to company resources. This is a primary task of CIAM.

There is an interesting blog written on how you can identify which stage you are in your CIAM journey, so you can take the right measures to get to the next stage. This is defined as the “maturity model in CIAM”; you can check that out here.

However, assuming you have identified this and are ready to make a purchase or evaluate your options in the market, here are some questions you can get started with.

How flexible is the solution?

You might see this addressed in different terms like “extensibility”. What this essentially means is that your dev team can extend the capabilities of the product the way they need to. While businesses may share common patterns, certain requirements are unique to each business. Therefore, the CIAM solution or product you opt for should be able to cater to your unique requirements.

How scalable is the solution?

Your CIAM solution provider should be able to support your business growth efforts. While you serve 10,000 customers today, your goal would be to see exponential growth. Is the CIAM solution provider able to manage the identities of all your customers? Or would this require purchasing a different product and would it affect pricing? What is the availability of the solution?

How does pricing work?

Next to scalability, this is the other most important question. Some CIAM or IAM vendors charge per user. While this makes sense for a small business or a small number of users, it does not scale when the number of users increases and the technology vendor should be able to provide flexibility on this front. Some vendors also charge per feature. At first, you might think this is fair because all you need is SSO but CIAM solutions are not static, they keep evolving. Ideally, you need a single solution that offers all the capabilities with an easy-to-understand pricing model. It helps if the pricing is publicly available (given that most IAM vendors require you to speak to a sales representative to get pricing information). And does it involve a licensing cost? An open-source product, for example, will offer the product free of charge (enterprise pedigree features) and you would pay for an annual subscription for the services and support they provide.

How developer-friendly is the solution?

This is almost a pro-tip and a question that is rarely asked. This is important because increasingly CIAM projects and tasks are handled by developers. The product they work with needs to provide them software development kits (SDKs) that make the process smoother. This also means having the right kind of documentation and zero-to-less code changes so your team can be efficient and productive to reduce time to market for your CIAM project. It should also support various open standards that your dev team is familiar with, such as OAuth, SAML, Open ID Connect, and so on.

What are the features provided by the solution?

Any standard IAM provider should offer identity federation (social logins), single sign-on (SSO), progressive profiling, strong and adaptive authentication, privacy and consent management, and customer self-service as basic features. The solution you evaluate should offer all of these features to build a successful CIAM strategy.

What are the deployment options?

Some solutions are offered in the cloud, some on-prem, and some both. This is very much dependent on your needs but a solution that offers both or hybrid gives you flexibility.

What platforms and technologies can the solution integrate with?

The solution should be able to integrate with various CRM platforms, data management platforms, marketing platforms, and content management platforms—preferably out-of-the-box—as they are key for a robust CIAM platform.

These questions would help you and the decision-making team to get started in the evaluation process. In summary, the solution should help your dev teams be more efficient, your business to innovate, and keep your users secure. If you would like to access more resources about CIAM, check out this blog.

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