When regional stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic were first issued in early 2020, the general expectation was that societal changes would only be temporary. As people hunkered down in homes around the world, they expressed a collective confidence that life would eventually (perhaps after only a few weeks) return to normal. Over time, the realization that the pandemic has, in many ways, changed the world forever has slowly been gaining acceptance. Of course, it seems likely that at some point medical science will discover the means to control and perhaps even eradicate the illness, and eventually people will feel free to emerge from their homes. However, many of the fundamental changes to day-to-day activities and lifestyles that have been adopted are likely to persist well into the future.
Perhaps the most significant cultural shift has been with the greatly increased reliance on digital commerce. While online purchases have certainly been accelerating over the past decade, during the pandemic their significance has evolved from that of a convenience to a necessity. In fact, many people discovered they could order things online (such as groceries) that they previously would never have conceived of purchasing outside of a brick and mortar store. Additionally, many individuals recognized the value of online services (such as for banking) and found they could maintain relationships using social media and online communication resources that they had not formerly taken the time to learn. Having discovered these resources, people are not likely to give them up even after requirements for social distancing have eased.
Nearly all online services and shopping outlets saw dramatic increases in usage immediately following the issuance of the stay-at-home orders. Many were actually taken by surprise by the sudden influx of new customers. In addition to scaling up online capabilities, many businesses had to radically change their go-to-market strategies as they more readily engaged in competition with other online providers rather than physical stores. Today, websites and online services are being radically reimagined to support the sweeping changes in consumer habits and preferences.
At the forefront of evolving commercial IT features are the methods by which consumers authenticate themselves in order to gain access to personalized accounts, purchasing pages, or hosted services. Solutions supporting consumer identity and access management (CIAM) enable consumers to self-manage their access credentials during enrollment, periodic authentication, and credential recovery processes. Key features of CIAM solutions for dealing with post-pandemic-era challenges can be logically organized into five key areas:
- Customer Experience Improvements – The number of steps a customer must perform in order to access online services is frequently referenced as the level of access “friction.” High-friction access solutions will invariably result in a loss of customers. In fact, many consumers select an online service based solely on the initial experience they had with accessing the platform. Customer experiences are greatly improved by allowing them to utilize the authenticators they prefer, such as by leveraging biometrics (e.g., thumbprint or facial scan) or linking to social media accounts. Online businesses are also advantaged if they offer simplified credential recovery processes. As competition increases among online providers in a post-COVID-19 world, businesses with low-friction and intuitive access processes are more likely to garner higher marks in customer satisfaction and, by extension, increase market share.
- Security Enhancements – While improvements to user experiences are critical to business success, they should not be attained by sacrificing security. Ensuring the security of customer information and the online-hosted services is, in fact, the very purpose for incorporating identity and access processes. Hackers and scam artists are like sharks constantly searching for the largest school of fish. The bigger the pool of potential targets, the greater the odds of a successful violation. The increased usage of online services following the global pandemic stay-at-home orders was like inviting sharks to an all-you-can-eat buffet. Malicious actors have accelerated their attempts to phish for gullible respondents, distribute malware, or otherwise breach security protections.
- Scalability Achievement – Dramatic and unexpected increases in customers accessing online services can tax hosted resources and erode experiences. Even the largest online retailers struggled to keep up with unexpected demand during the early days of the pandemic. The last thing any retailer wants to do is turn away customers because their infrastructure cannot handle the demand. CIAM services should be able to automatically expand to meet sudden demands and contract during low-use periods to minimize costs.
- Management Simplification – An ideal CIAM solution employs customer self-management functionality that eliminates the need for direct administrator support for enabling and maintaining identity and access settings and processes. If the platform is doing its job correctly, customer service requests to resolve access issues should be extremely rare. Additionally, ongoing monitoring and management support is greatly assisted with the availability of centralize dashboards and reporting tools, automated remediations features, and direct integration with third-party security and systems management solutions.
- Rapid Service Onboarding – As was evident in the public’s initial response to the pandemic, customer requirements can change dramatically in a very short period of time. Online merchants and solution providers must have the agility to rapidly respond to changes in consumer appetites in order outpace competitors. CIAM solutions should be able to leverage standards so they can be easily and rapidly integrated into new applications and services.
For a more detailed dive into this topic, be sure to check out my upcoming webinar on “Advancing Consumer Engagements by Improving Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM).”