Last week, we took a look at the challenges faced by “traditional IAM” vendors as they try to move into the customer identity space. Such vendors offer web access management and federation packages that are optimized for LDAP/AD and aimed at employees. Now we should contrast that with the new players in this realm and explore how they’re shaping the debate—and growing the market.

Beyond Security with the New IAM Contenders: Leveraging Registration to Build a More Complete Customer Profile

So let’s review the value proposition of the two companies that have brought us this new focus on customer identity: Gigya and Janrain. For these newcomers, the value is not only about delivering security for access or a better user experience through registration. They’re also aimed at leveraging that registration process to collect data for a complete customer profile, moving from a narrow security focus to a broader marketing/sales focus—and this has some consequences for the identity infrastructure and services needed to support these kind of operations.

For these new contenders, security is a starting point to serve better customer knowledge, more complete profiles, and the entire marketing and sales lifecycle. So in their case it is not only about accessing or recording customer identities, it’s about integrating and interfacing this information into the rest of the marketing value chain, using applications such as Marketo and others to build a complete profile. So one of the key values here is about collecting and integrating customer identity data with the rest of the marketing/sales activities.

At the low level of storage and data integration, that means the best platform for accomplishing this would be SQL—or better yet, a higher-level “join” service that’s abstracted or virtual, as in the diagram below. It makes sense that you’d need some sort of glue engine to join identities with the multiple attributes that are siloed across the different processes of your organization. And we know that LDAP directories alone, without some sort of integration mechanism, are not equipped for that. In fact, Gigya, the more “pure play” in this space, doesn’t even use LDAP directories; instead, they store everything in a relational database because SQL is the engine for joining.

Abstraction Layer

So if we look at the customer identity market through this lens of SQL and the join operation, I see a couple of hard truths for the traditional IAM folks:

  1. First, if we’re talking about using current IAM packages in the security field for managing customer access, performance and scalability are an issue due to the “impedance” problem. Sure, your IAM package “supports” SQL but it’s optimized for LDAP, so unless you migrate—or virtualize—your customers’ identity from SQL to LDAP in the large volumes that are characteristic of this market, you’ll have problems with the scalability and stability of your solution. (And this does not begin to cover the need for flexibility or ease of integration with your existing applications and processes dealing with customers).
  2. And second, if you are looking at leveraging the customer registration process as a first step to build a complete profile, your challenge is more in data/service integration than anything else. In that case, I don’t see where there’s a play for “traditional WAM” or “federation” vendors that stick to an LDAP model, because no one except those equipped with an “unbound” imagination would use LDAP as an engine for integration and joining… 🙂

The Nature of Nurturing: An Object Lesson in Progressive, Contextual Disclosure

Before we give up all hope on directories (or at least on hierarchies, graphs, and LDAP), let’s step beyond the security world for a second and look at the marketing process of nurturing prospect and customer relationships. Within this discipline, a company deals with prospects and customers in a progressive way, guiding them through each stage of the process in a series of steps and disclosing the right amount of information within the right context. And of course, it’s natural that such a process could begin with the registration of a user.

We’ll step through this process in my next post, so be sure to check back for more on this topic…

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