The definitive guide to choosing a Customer and Identity Access Management (CIAM) solution

Auth & identity
August 30, 2022
Author: Reed McGinley-Stempel

When it comes to customer identity and access management (CIAM), there are a lot of decisions to make. What features do you need? How will you integrate the solution into your existing infrastructure? Do you want to build or buy a CIAM platform?

These are all important questions, but they can be difficult to answer without first understanding the landscape of CIAM. In this blog post, we’ll introduce CIAM and provide a guide for your business on how to think about building or buying a CIAM solution that best fits your needs.

What is Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM)?

Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) is a system that manages the identities of a company's customers and provides them with access to the company's digital resources. It includes features such as customer registration, login, password management, and single sign-on. CIAM also provides a way for companies to collect and manage customer data.

Every application that needs to authenticate their customers must build or buy a CIAM system to manage their users. You can build a CIAM system in-house, but it's recommended to use a trusted provider due to the added risk and cost of rolling your own system. If you’re looking to buy a CIAM solution, there are a number of companies that offer CIAM services, including Stytch, Auth0, Okta, Ping Identity, and OneLogin.

The build vs. buy decision

To solve for your company's CIAM needs, there are two main approaches: build or buy. There are pros and cons to each approach, and the decision ultimately comes down to your specific situation.

Building a CIAM solution from scratch can be a daunting task. Not only do you need to have the right team in place to develop the solution, but you also need to have the necessary budget and resources. Additionally, it can be difficult to keep up with the rapidly changing trends in CIAM if you're not dedicating a team specifically to this area.

Outsourcing CIAM to a third-party authentication provider (like Stytch) can be a more cost-effective and time-efficient solution. With a reliable platform for CIAM, businesses can quickly and securely get all of their authentication needs handled out-of-the-box.

When considering whether to build or buy a CIAM solution, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind:

  • The size of your company: If you're a small or mid-sized company, it may not make sense to invest the time and resources into building a CIAM solution from scratch. In this case, outsourcing CIAM to a third-party provider like Stytch can be a more efficient solution.
  • Your company's core competencies: Does your company have the necessary expertise to build a CIAM solution? If not, it may be more beneficial to outsource this function to a company that specializes in authentication.
  • The cost: Building a CIAM solution from scratch can be a costly endeavor. Not only do you need to invest in the development of the solution, but you also need to factor in the cost of maintaining and upgrading the solution over time. Outsourcing CIAM to a third-party provider can help reduce these costs.
  • Complexity of authentication needs: Some of the more complex authentication solutions include multi-factor authentication (MFA) and single sign-on (SSO). Both MFA and SSO are important security measures that businesses should consider when implementing a CIAM solution. However, these solutions require a much heavier lift than simply building passwords. If your company is not familiar with or does not have the resources to implement MFA or SSO, it may be more beneficial to outsource this function to a company that specializes in authentication.

When considering the build versus buy decision for CIAM, we sometimes hear a hesitancy to outsource authentication to a third-party provider given the critical nature of sign-up and login plays for all applications. One thing that many tend to overlook is that, as your authentication needs grow more complex, you'll inevitably outsource at least some portion of your auth stack.

For instance, whether you're building support for email verification (e.g. for password resets or sign-up), SMS two-factor authentication, or single sign-on (e.g. OneLogin), every road in your company's authentication journey eventually leads towards outsourcing some portion of your IAM needs to a programmatic email provider, or a programmatic SMS provider, or a SSO provider. Even if you have the in-house expertise to build these authentication capabilities, it's typically more efficient (both in terms of time-to-market and cost) to outsource them.

Thus, when making the build versus buy decision for CIAM, we recommend that companies consider their core competencies, the costs associated with building and maintaining a CIAM solution, and the benefits of outsourcing authentication to a specialized provider. If you have the in-house expertise and the resources to build a comprehensive CIAM solution, then by all means, go for it. However, if you're like most companies, it makes more sense to outsource your CIAM needs to a specialized provider like Stytch.

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Looking for a CIAM provider? Try Stytch today.

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Purchasing a CIAM solution

Once you've decided whether to build or buy a CIAM solution, the next step is to assess the competition. When evaluating CIAM providers, there are a few key factors to keep in mind:

  • Ease of use: The platform should be easy to use for developers, administrators, and end users.
  • Security: The platform should offer robust security features to protect your customer's data. It’s recommended to require the vendor to provide a SOC 2 Type II report showing the controls they operate to keep you and your customers safe.
  • Integration: The platform should be able to seamlessly integrate with your existing infrastructure.
  • Support: The provider should offer excellent customer support in case you run into any problems.

Scale: The system should be able to scale to support a large number of users. Considering your CIAM provider protects the front door of your application, you’ll also want to ensure the provider has best-in-class uptime.

When determining which CIAM solution to use, here are some helpful questions to guide your investigation:

  • How do you scale your system reliably to manage large volumes of users? What’s your track record on uptime?
  • Can I see your SOC2 Type II compliance report to understand how you secure customer data? Are you compliant with privacy laws like GDPR and CCPA?
  • How flexible is your offering? Can I access a direct API in my integration for full control of the UX?
  • Is there vendor lock-in if I choose you? How would I export users if I decide to switch systems?
  • Are there any hidden fees if I expand my use of different authentication methods (e.g. multi-factor authentication) over time?

Consider using Stytch for your CIAM needs

Stytch is a customer and identity access management platform that provides a single, unified view of customer identity and activity across all channels and devices. It enables organizations to quickly and securely authenticate customers, authorize access to applications and data, and track and manage customer activity. With our simple API and flexible SDKs, you get secure and high-converting authentication out-of-the-box but retain the ability to own the UX of your application. One of the key advantages of Stytch is its simplicity. Our platform is easy to use for both administrators and end users and offers a comprehensive product suite that includes MFA and SSO capabilities.


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