IAM vs CIAM: The Difference

IAM vs CIAM: The Difference

In this article, we will explore identity and access management (IAM) and customer identity and access management (CIAM), examining how they differ, as well as their pros and cons.

By Chidera Humphrey ·

Managing user identities and access is crucial for maintaining security and integrity within an organization.

Identity and Access Management (IAM) and Customer IAM (CIAM) solutions widely used to streamline and ease identity management both for your workforce and your customers.

But understanding the differences and similarities between between IAM and CIAM is often overlooked, which leads wrong tool or solution choices in our companies.

Read More: Top 6 Open Source IAM Solutions For Enterprises

In this blog, we will help you to examine the key differences and similarities between IAM and CIAM.

Table of Contents

Let's dive in!

What is Identity and Access Management (IAM)?

Identity and access management (IAM) is a set of organizational processes, policies, and technologies used to manage digital identities and access.

An IAM system provides a company's IT department with the tool to control who is accepted in a company's system and what those accepted can do in the company's system so as to restrict access to coporate and sensitive data to only people and things that need to work the sensitive data.

IAM provides a secured access to a company's resources such as company records, emails, and company data to authorized entities. This aims to provide the right people with the resources they need to do their work and keep out unauthorized access.

Systems such as

are some of the systems used for IAM.

In a nutshell, identity and access management (IAM) ensures the right people have access to the right resources at the right time.

Core components of IAM

There are two parts to identity and access management (IAM): identity management and access management.

Identity management looks to assert that an accessing user is who they say they are by checking the information provided during accessment against an identity accessment database.

Access management uses the information of the user to determine which resources the user can access and the action they can take on such resources.

However, there are four core components of IAM.



This is the process of actively verifying of the identity of a user by requesting credentials and other necessary information to prove the authenticity of the user. The credentials could include passwords, usernames, emails, governemntal IDs, biometrics such as fingerprints and face IDs.

Once a user is authenticated, permission is granted to the user to access and modify resources within the user's allowed jurisdiction. Oftentimes, a session is created when a user is authenticated. This session logs all the activities and data of the user, including preferences such as background theme and language.

By maintaining the session of the user in one location, the authentication system provides a single sign-on (SSO) service that enables an authenticated user to access different application or system under the same IAM system without having to log in again.


The authorization system is the part that determines what resources can be accessed by an authenticated user. Authorization creates the permission and jurisdiction in which the user can operate.

Authorization is performed by checking the resource access request from the user against authorization policies contained in the IAM policy store. Authorization implements the role-based access control and attribute-based access control.


The administration component is tasked with managing the creation, modification, and deletion of user accounts throughout the lifecycle of a company. The administration is associated with user account management, role/group management, password management, and user/group provisioning.

Other systems such as authentication and authorization are layered on top of the administration system. It ensures authorization to various resources and tools once users have been authenticated.

Reporting and auditing (R&A)

The reporting and auditing system generates reports and activity logs of users in the system. R&A system checks what resources users accessed and what they did with those resources. This helps your company detect and track unauthorized access or suspicious activities.

Additionally, the R&A system monitors users access logs for security purposes and in compliance with the regulations guiding the organization such as GDPR, CPRA, PCI-DSS.

What is Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM)?

Customer identity and access management (CIAM) is a set of technologies used for managing the identities and access of customers of a product or service of a company.

CIAM is the digital identity layer added to consumer-facing applications that enables users to adjust their preferences and privacy settings.

CIAM is a subset of IAM that is focused on the customers of a company.


CIAM helps your company identify your customers, create personalized experiences, and determine the correct access they need to customer-facing applications and services.

CIAM simplifies the user experience by allowing users to access various services using a single set of login credentials.

With CIAM, your company can ensure the safety of customer data, strengthen overall security infrastructure, and provide a personalized experience to your customers.

Features and characteristics unique to CIAM

CIAM focuses more on customers and clients of a company.

The following are the core features of CIAM:



Authentication is the verification of a user's identity. It verifies that a user is who they claim to be.


Authorization determines the level of access and permissions an authenticated user is granted. It ensures that customers only have access to the resources they are allowed to.

User Management

User management has to do with the creation, editing, and handling of user identities and profile. This involves features such as profile updates, account management, and user registration.

Integration with APIs

Integration with APIs connects local and third-party applications to handle customer data and ensure smooth data flow across different systems.

APIs let you integrate with other providers and systems that need to work together for more robust customer experience.

Single sign-on (SSO)

Single sign-on (SSO) lets a customer authenticate once and be able to access other applications and services without having re-enter their credentials.

Customer analytics

Customer analytics lets you gain a deeper understanding of your customers. With customer analytics, businesses can gain insights into consumer trends, improve products and services, and deliver personalized experiences.

Similarities between IAM and CIAM

Both IAM and CIAM systems handle identities of users.

IAM and CIAM solutions allow employees and users authenticate and also control the level of access each entity has.

Additionally, IAM and CIAM solutions aim to enhance security by preventing unauthorized access and identity theft.

Differences between IAM and CIAM

While CIAM and IAM share a few things in common, there are some differences between the two systems.


IAMCustomer IAM (CIAM)
Type of identities managedManages internal, employee identities.Manages external identities such as clients, customers, APIs, and other devices.
Authorization approachTypically uses role-based access control (RBAC) or attribute-based access control (ABAC).Focuses on personalized access control and customer-centric policies.
Authentication methodsHR department usually communicates how employees are verified. This can be username/password, MFA, etc.Allows for multiple choices of identity verification. Bring Your Own Identity (BYOI) are usually supported where users can log in with different verified identities such as bank ID and government ID or social logins like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.
ScalabilityInternal employee base usually do not grow that much so internal IAM is less scalable than CIAM.Highly scalable as customer base can grow exponentially.
Platform flexibilityInternal IAM doesn't require frequent updates.Updated regularly to adjust to consumer trends.
User experienceInternal IAM does not primarily focus on user experience as employees know what they are supposed to do.User experience is critical as it can determine whether customers come back to your service or not.
Data privacyInternal IAM usually complies with internal security policies and industry standards. Access management and privileges (roles and authorization) are controlled by the organization (usually the HR department).Customers have control over their data. CIAM systems provide transparency and protection of customer data as well as comply with regulations (such as GDPR).

Implementation Best Practices

Successfully implementing CIAM and IAM solutions requires careful planning and adherence to best practices.

Below are some of the best practices to consider when choosing and implementing CIAM and IAM systems:


CIAM and IAM systems should provide secure means of verifying and granting access to users. For CIAM solutions, there should be a balance between security and good customer experience.


CIAM systems should be able to handle large volumes of customer identities and operations without drop in performance. As a business customer base grows, the CIAM solution employed should scale along with it.

Flexibility on authentication methods

CIAM solutions should support a variety of authentication methods. Customers should be able to authenticate with any verified ID of their choice as well as social logins.

Integration with existing systems

CIAM and IAM systems should integrate easily with other business processes and systems such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems, marketing automation tools, and payroll software.

User Training and Awareness

Educate users on security best practices and the importance of protecting their credentials.

Conduct regular security awareness training and phishing simulations.

Summing Up

In conclusion, IAM and CIAM systems help businesses manage digital identities and access.

IAM systems are employed to verify employees and give them only the access they need to carry out their work.

CIAM focuses primarily on customers, end-users, clients, and contractors of a business. CIAM solutions let business provide a secure and enhanced experience to their customers.

IAM and CIAM systems share similarities such as need for authentication and authorization. However, there are differences between the two systems especially in terms of scalability, user experience, data privacy, and platform flexibility.

Ultimately, both IAM and CIAM are crucial for ensuring robust security and seamless access management in today's digital landscape.