What is CIAM?

Customer identity and access management (CIAM) refers to the technologies that enable organizations to digitally engage with their customers; allowing users to sign-up, sign-in, and access consumer applications, web portals, or digital services offered by an organization. CIAM is the digital identity layer that is added to customer-facing applications that empower users to manage preferences and privacy settings.

Each stage of a customer’s interaction with an organization requires different experiences and tradeoffs - for example, the ability for the user to sign-up and sign-in has to be smooth and frictionless, however it also has to be secure in order to build and maintain customer trust. CIAM helps you identify your customers, create personalized experiences, and determine the correct access they need to customer-facing applications and services. A CIAM solution can also help an organization with meeting compliance mandates across various industry regulatory standards and frameworks.

Why is CIAM important?

A CIAM solution can provide a secure and enhanced user experience for customers. A sign-up or sign-in interaction with a customer may be the very first digital interaction a customer has with a product or service, which gives customer identity importance from a business outcome perspective: its main purpose is to acquire and retain customers. In addition, your customers likely demand seamless, personalized, and secure touch-points at every stage of their journey with your organization’s application or service. 

Every industry and organization is moving towards transforming how they do business with their customers. CIAM solutions help facilitate personalized experiences across multiple digital channels to provide differentiated customer experiences. A CIAM solution allows an organization to meet customers where they are and how they interact- whether a phone, a computer, a TV, or any a smart home device. The customer experience and how one interacts with your organization are  driving factors that are accelerating the need for CIAM.

For example, a CIAM solution provides an important business enabler by allowing organizations to get to know their customers better and gather useful insights. These insights can help an organization better understand behavior, preferences, and even the ability to provide better customer service. CIAM can help you build more personalized experiences for customers, gain higher retention, build stronger customer trust, and ultimately generate higher revenue for your organization.

In summary, a CIAM solution covers the following key pillars of your customer experience and journey 

  1. Customer experience: CIAM can help you build secure and optimized experiences that delight customers and help you convert interactions into revenue
  2. Unified brand experience: CIAM can help you reach customers where they are and share information across digital channels
  3. Personalization: CIAM can help you build more personalized and targeted digital experiences
  4. Operational: CIAM can help you reduce the cost of acquiring and maintaining customers, particularly by reducing costs of customer support

CIAM versus workforce identity solutions

Many organizations began using identity solutions for customers like what was used internally for managing employee identities, also known as workforce identity solutions. As digital interactions between customers and organizations began to accelerate, it became clear there needed to be purpose-built solutions to provide differentiated experiences for customers. For example, customer and workforce identities will have distinct use cases, differing identity-based outcomes, unique traffic patterns, and end-user experiences that can be vastly different. CIAM solutions typically have very different scale requirements, the number of users supported, than a workforce identity solution- a CIAM solution will often times require the ability to support thousands of authentication transactions per minute and millions of users.

A CIAM solution can have a great impact on turning an anonymous user into a long-term loyal customer. CIAM focuses on the capabilities that allow end users to interact and access applications, websites and services through a variety of digital channels including phones, computers, TVs, smart home devices, exercise equipment, and so on. Therefore organizations implementing CIAM solutions are often driven and motivated by different long-term outcomes compared to workforce identity solutions; especially delivering seamless, engaging, and delightful user experiences that can lead to maximizing revenue and fueling growth. In addition, an investment in a CIAM solution for your application can be critical for agility and innovation. A CIAM solution should offer rich APIs, modern authentication support, and differentiated ways to build an end-to-end customer relationship during the application development lifecycle.

Workforce identity focuses on the mechanism to control which employees have access to what enterprise resources. It allows employees to access the applications and data they need to do their job, with tools and policies to ensure employees only have the minimum access granted to perform their job functions. The lifecycle process of onboarding employees, vetting them, decommissioning them, and managing what they are entitled to access is tightly controlled by your IT, HR, and Security groups within the organization. 

What problems does CIAM help solve?

A CIAM solution can help solve several business and technology problems organizations may face when it comes to managing customer identities. Problems and challenges around performance and scalability, security, fraud prevention, user experience, customer engagement, or even addressing and meeting regulatory compliance mandates are amongst some of top problems a CIAM solution can help solve. 

Performance and scalability are amongst some top problems a CIAM solution can help solve. When it comes to customer identity, traffic patterns and interactions with an application may be unpredictable and will require the ability to scale to thousands of transactions per minute and support millions of users. When compared to customer identity solutions, workforce identity solutions typically have planned capacity requirements and generally align to the number of employees an organization will have.

Customers have an expectation that applications and services they interact with are secure and their personal data is safe. Customer trust can take time to gain, yet can be very quick to lose- thus security is a key area for customer identity. A CIAM solution not only addresses areas around security and safeguarding customer data, but it should be also be part of organization’s security strategy. In other words, a CIAM solution can be one of many layers to protect your overall business, reputation, services, and help improve your security posture. A CIAM solution can also play a critical part in other security detective and preventive controls, such as helping with fraud prevention or ensuring your organization is aligned with compliance and regulatory standards. A CIAM solution becomes an organization’s tool in a broader toolkit for secure interactions between a customer and an organization’s applications and services.

Other top problems that a CIAM solution helps solve are related to user experience, retention, and engagement. Imagine a customer discovering an e-commerce site in their quest to find the perfect gift for a family member, however the website requires the customer to sign-up and the process to create their new account is so tedious and confusing that it takes much longer than it would have to find the gift in the first place. This very well may lead to complete abandonment of any potential purchase, but even worse it could have a longer lasting impact of the potential customer never coming back to the site. User sign-up and sign-in with an application must be frictionless and seamless. For the application developer, a CIAM solution needs to allow an application developer to quickly and efficiently setup authentication instead of a complex account setup. For example, depending on your business requirements, allowing users to sign-up and sign-in with a social identity provider could be a differentiator to whether a user would interact with your application or not. 


In a similar regard, creating the right customer engagement and observability into the customer journey, or lack of, could be a top issues for the application developer and the organization that is transforming their digital experiences. What type of engagement is needed, how would this engagement happen, or how would you ever know the impact and results of any type of engagement with customers? The CIAM solution needs to have observability functionality to help an organization build a stronger, more personalized end-customer relationship. These are questions organizations may struggle with when a CIAM solution is not in place. A CIAM solution enables organizations to gather valuable insights into customer preferences, behaviors, and usage patterns. With such valuable insights, the problem of knowing when, how, and why to engage with customers becomes streamlined- organizations become empowered to delivered targeted marketing campaigns, personalized experiences, and overall improved customer service.

What are the key benefits of CIAM?

There are several key benefits a CIAM solution can provide for your organization.

Frictionless sign-up experience

Creating an account must be frictionless for a user, they should be able to easily sign-up and sign-in to their account. Chances are they didn’t visit your site or application to only create an account, so you want the process of sign-up to be a smooth experience. This also becomes an opportunity to take advantage of social identity providers and allowing users sign-up with something they're already using, such as Apple, Facebook, Google, or Amazon.

Seamless sign-in experience

It’s great if your customer already has an account, but now it’s important there’s a seamless process to get them signed back into your web app or service. In today’s digital era, your customer may have come to expect passwordless sign-in experiences as well. 

Branded Interactions

Between a customer signing-up, signing-in, or getting email communications- these should all be interactions where a customer instantly recognizes your brand. A CIAM solution can ensure these types of interactions apply branding where and when it’s needed as you interact with your customers. A CIAM solution should provide a built-in and customizable UI for user sign-up and sign-in. You should be able to use Android, iOS, and JavaScript SDKs to add user sign-up and sign-in pages to your apps.

Understanding your customer

Gathering and understanding usage patterns, favorite products, personal preferences, various types of engagement- these are just a few mechanisms that can be used to better understand your customer. These various data points can all turn into business intelligence to provide better products and services for your customers.

Single sign-on across different apps

If your organization has several products and services with their own interfaces, it’s important customers are able to use their single account to sign-in to all of your services. 

Self-service account recovery

Forgetting a password happens, but being able to quickly, and securely, recover an account should be simple. A customer should be able to quickly recover their account by using a verified identifier without the help of customer support. This could be the difference between making a business transaction or losing a potential customer.

Access controls with applications and web services 

A CIAM solution should help with the last mile of integration with your customer-facing applications. Application load balancers, API gateways, and credential brokering to web services are all important when building enforcement points that proves access.

Security and privacy built-in

Security and privacy are expected from customers and finding the right balance between security and seamless access can be challenging. This is where a CIAM solution can help an organization find that right balance and adjust as needed. This underlying strategic direction can provide a delightful experience without compromising on the risk of losing customer trust. You should be able to protect your user’s accounts and enhance their sign-in experience with adaptive authentication, where a risk profile is taken into account as the user accesses the application. Other advanced security features, such as advanced bot detection, help your organization by protecting it from paying for automated accounts. 


A CIAM solution should provide a robust set of API hooks and extensions to fully customize the registration, authentication, and customer journey. Identity verification, account verfication, and login processes should be customizable using workflows and integrate with Software Development Kits (SDKs), such as Java, C++, PHP, Python, Golang, Ruby, .NET, and JavaScript.


A CIAM solution should align with multiple security and regulatory requirements, such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, SOC, ISO/IEC 27001, ISO/IEC 27017, ISO/IEC 27018, and ISO 9001.

What are the core capabilities of CIAM?

Registering, authenticating, and retaining customers is the primary use case for a CIAM solution. But, a well-architected CIAM solution will have some core capabilities that expand beyond just registration and signing-in.


Authentication mechanism are a core capability of a CIAM solution and having the assurance of knowing who is logging into your applications and services are important. The level of assurance may need to vary depending on the product, service, or even need to change based on the context of a customer signing-in.


Ensuring customers have the right access at the right times and for the right reasons should be transparent to the customer, yet critical to the organization to understand that proper authorization is happening.

User management 

Managing the digital identity of customers and ensuring there’s a lifecycle to handle their journey with your organization is important and a CIAM solution can handle a bulk of this for you.

Application interoperability

A CIAM solution can handle all of your customer identity needs and then some, but your applications and services are ultimately where you want your customers to interact and engage. Therefore, it’s important a CIAM solution has the right amount extensibility and interoperability with other technologies, such as supporting OAuth 2.0 and providing a rich set of APIs and SDKs.

Federation and open standards 

Supporting social identity providers to sign-up and sign-in customers is important, but a CIAM solution should also be able to handle business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C) scenarios. This is where a CIAM solution supporting standards-based identity providers such as SAML 2.0 and OpenID Connect (OIDC) become a competitive advantage for an organization providing SaaS services and applications.

Metrics & Analytics

Capturing data everywhere is core to a CIAM solution. Whether it’s sign-up or sign-in transactions, how a user browses your site, buying patterns of products, responses to marketing campaigns, etc. The ability to capture all of these data points can lead to higher conversion rates, better retention, higher levels of engagement, and ultimately higher revenues for your business.

How can AWS help with CIAM?

AWS has significantly more services, and more features within those services, than any other cloud provider- from infrastructure technologies like compute, storage, and databases– to emerging technologies, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, data lakes and analytics, and Internet of Things.

Whether you’re wanting to modernize existing applications and services or if you’re building the next cool web or mobile application, a comprehensive CIAM solution built using AWS services can help your organization provide delightful user experiences and achieve business objectives. Implementing and customizing a CIAM solution on AWS allows you to improve your organizational agility, optimize costs, maintain higher levels of elasticity, direct your team’s focus more on innovation, and allow you to go global in minutes. 

Amazon Cognito can serve as a managed, high-performant, identity store that can scale to millions of users. Whether you have existing workloads or looking to build the next great application, Amazon Cognito can integrate with many other AWS services or third-party partner solutions from the Amazon Partner Network to provide an end-to-end CIAM solution. 

Some benefits of building a CIAM solution within AWS include:

  • Fully managed Hosted User Interface (UI) that’s turn-key ready to handle user self-registration sign-up, sign-in, MFA enrollment (using authenticator app), and self-service account recovery through Amazon Cognito User Pools. Also supporting social identity sign-up/sign-in and support federation using SAML 2.0 and OpenID Connect.
  • Ensure security on day one to protect customers and your business using Amazon Cognito’s advanced security features (compromised credential check, adaptive authentication, and more) and protect your web app and service from common exploits and bots using AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF).
  • Dynamic access control and credential brokering through Amazon Cognito Identity Pools to access other AWS services such as Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon S3, and other AWS services.
  • Take advantage of native integrations between Amazon Cognito, Amazon API Gateway, and AWS Lambda for your serverless workloads.
  • Let an Application Load Balancer (ALB) handle secure authentication with Amazon Cognito and deliver high availability, automatic scaling, and health/performance monitoring for your web application.
  • Take a data-driven approach to drive customer acquisition, engagement, retention, and communication using Amazon Pinpoint, Amazon SES, Amazon SNS.
  • Decouple fine-grained authorization decisions from business logic using Amazon Cognito for your customer identity management and Amazon Verified Permissions for dynamic, real-time authorization.
  • Build custom full-stack web and mobile applications in hours and easily deploy and host your app securely in a few clicks using AWS Amplify and secure customer identities with Amazon Cognito.
  • Build a fully custom differentiated CIAM solution by taking advantage of other AWS services such as Amazon DynamoDB for housing user profile data, integrate ML & AI with Amazon Personalize to elevate the customer experience or Amazon Rekognition for identity proofing, or create rich interactive business intelligence dashboards using Amazon QuickSight

Get started with Amazon Cognito to begin building a CIAM solution today.