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Decoding Identity and Access Management for Organizations and Consumers

Workforce IAM and consumer IAM are not interchangeable — they serve different purposes and constituencies.

5 Min Read
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The world is increasingly becoming more interconnected, and digital identity is evolving to address the unique needs of organizations and consumers. While the two types of identity and access management — workforce IAM and consumer IAM — share some commonalities, they are designed for distinct use cases and fit different requirements.

"The obvious difference between the two use cases is the user constituencies," says Henrique Teixeira, senior research director at Gartner.

Vendors and buyers often separate the use cases into internal identities (workforce) and external identities (consumer) because there may be requirements that apply to one group but not the other. For example, consent and preference management to protect the privacy of customer data is an important part of consumer IAM, but not so much in workforce IAM, Teixeira says.

Many organizations believe that they can use workforce IAM solutions to solve identity issues around securing consumer identities, says David Mahdi, CIO of Transmit Security.

"As organizations deploy more customer-facing digital services [via mobile and/or Web], they now need to invest in CIAM solutions to help establish and maintain trust and privacy," he says.

Securing the Digital Workforce

Workforce IAM, also known as employee IAM or corporate IAM, is designed to manage and secure the digital identities of an organization's employees, contractors, and partners. The primary goal of workforce IAM is to protect sensitive corporate data and resources by ensuring that the right people have access to the right information, at the right time, and in compliance with regulatory requirements.

Workforce IAM solutions provide strong, multifactor authentication (MFA) to ensure that users are who they claim to be. This often involves a combination of passwords, one-time passcodes, and biometric factors, such as fingerprint or facial recognition. MFA helps organizations prevent unauthorized access to their systems, thereby reducing the risk of data breaches and cyberattacks.

Role-based access control (RBAC) and attribute-based access control (ABAC) are employed to grant users access to specific resources based on their job function, seniority, department, or other attributes. This fine-grained access control helps organizations maintain the principle of least privilege, which minimizes the potential for insider threats and data leakage. These features allow users to access multiple applications within the organization using a single set of credentials, simplifying the login process and improving user experience. Federation extends single sign-on (SSO) across organizational boundaries, enabling seamless collaboration between partners, suppliers, and customers.

Workforce IAM systems manage user accounts from onboarding to offboarding, including provisioning and deprovisioning access, password resets, and profile updates. Automating these processes not only saves time and effort but also reduces the risk of human error and ensures that access rights remain up to date.

Workforce IAM solutions track and monitor user activities, generating audit trails and reports that help organizations maintain compliance with industry regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX). These tools also facilitate the identification of suspicious behavior or potential security incidents, allowing for prompt investigation and remediation.

"Employees that make up the workforce sign employee agreements, which essentially means that they must adhere to any and all access policies. This absolutely shapes the UX and security requirements of workforce IAM solutions," Transmit Security's Mahdi says. "That is simply not the case when dealing with consumer security and identities. If they suffer a poor UX, they can and will go elsewhere, especially when it's an online digital service — where competitors are a simple click away."

Enhancing the Consumer Experience

Consumer IAM, or customer IAM, focuses on managing the identities of an organization's customers or end users. The main objectives of consumer IAM are to create seamless and secure user experiences across digital touch points, while safeguarding customer data and maintaining compliance with privacy regulations.

Consumer IAM solutions often allow users to register and log in using their social media accounts or other trusted identity providers, streamlining the authentication process and reducing the need for multiple sets of credentials. This convenience helps organizations attract and retain customers, especially in industries with high levels of competition.

Customers can manage their profiles, preferences, and consent settings through self-service portals, giving them more control over their data and interactions with the organization. This empowers customers to update their information, adjust privacy settings, and manage their communication preferences without relying on customer support, thereby reducing operational costs for the organization.

Consumer IAM systems are designed to handle millions of users and to scale rapidly to accommodate growth in user base or increased traffic during peak times. High-performance IAM solutions ensure that customer-facing applications remain responsive and reliable, even under heavy loads, which is crucial for maintaining customer satisfaction and minimizing churn.

Such solutions collect and analyze customer data, enabling organizations to deliver personalized content, offers, and recommendations based on individual preferences, browsing history, and purchase patterns. This level of personalization can enhance customer loyalty, drive repeat business, and increase conversion rates. Additionally, customer analytics can provide valuable insights into user behavior, helping organizations identify trends, opportunities, and areas for improvement.

Consumer IAM plays a critical role in complying with data protection and privacy regulations, such as GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). These solutions help organizations manage customer consent for data processing, store and transmit customer data securely, and respond to data subject access requests. By ensuring compliance, consumer IAM can help organizations avoid costly fines and reputational damage.

These systems use advanced techniques, such as machine learning and behavioral analytics, to identify potentially fraudulent activities and assess the risk level of each login attempt. Based on the risk score, the IAM solution may require additional authentication factors or block access altogether. This helps protect customers' accounts from unauthorized access and reduces the organization's exposure to fraud-related losses.

Picking the Right IAM

Workforce IAM emphasizes the protection of corporate resources and data, ensuring that employees and partners have appropriate access to systems and information. In contrast, consumer IAM prioritizes the customer experience, personalization, and privacy, aiming to foster trust and loyalty among end users.

As organizations continue to adapt to the ever-changing digital landscape, understanding these distinctions is crucial for selecting the right IAM solution to meet their specific needs. By implementing the appropriate workforce or consumer IAM system, organizations not only improve security and compliance, but they also enhance user experience, drive customer satisfaction, and, ultimately, achieve business success.

About the Author(s)

Jonathan Care, Contributing Writer

Jonathan Care is a recognised expert in the field of Cybersecurity & Fraud Detection. A former top-rated Gartner analyst, Care was responsible for defining the Fraud market, and leading Gartner’s Insider Threat and Risk research. He regularly advises cybersecurity industry leaders on strategic growth and has worked with key figures in industry and government across the globe. He is a lead contributor for Dark Reading, an industry-defining publication.

Care has testified in court as an expert witness and forensic investigator and is a Fellow of the British Computer Society. He also fuels his creative passion as a composer of film/TV music.

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