Experience Optimization

Personalization through Single Sign On (SSO)

Content Engineer Shadeed WillisIntegrating a single sign on system (SSO) with a customer relationship management (CRM) system, as well as social platforms and other back-end systems, can provide marketing teams with the ability to personalize user experience and drive revenue. Today’s savviest digital marketers are combining their CRM systems, social platforms and other internal databases via SSO to broaden the customer experience, and are being rewarded with a three-dimensional understanding of their customers in return.

Companies can track, segment, and manage their customer base and provide new channels to engage audiences. Marketers can overlay social data from Facebook and Google with their CRM data and build greater awareness of customer demographics, affinities, and purchasing habits. From a technical perspective, it requires significant planning to ensure a full and secure SSO implementation and avoid gaps and a disconnect with industry standards.

The evolution of SSO
In its formative years, the business value of SSO was to provide a single point of access to multiple systems across a corporate network. Recent additions from the open source community have provided traction into open standards of connected social accounts, which enables connectivity between providers such as Google or Facebook and a marketer’s consumer-facing website.

Users are signing in to sites using their Facebook or Gmail logins, which marketers can automatically link to existing CRM profiles. When effectively integrated with a CRM system, SSO provides a platform for marketers to mine data from, and gain visibility into, a new dimension of customer information.

For example, matching demographic information against purchase history can provide insights for cross-sell and up-sell opportunities, enhanced personalization of service, and greater engagement within the site community. The net result appears to the user as a seamless experience that provides them with hyper-accurate content targeting.

Technical considerations
An effective SSO implementation relies on a solid technical foundation. The complexities of integrating a CRM system with a custom SSO implementation require a disciplined approach to development with a focus on high availability. For any implementation, keep in mind the following considerations:

  • Consider creating a custom, simplified but secure API to abstract your downstream identity-management and authorization platforms, which are the supporting technologies of most SSO solutions. This is important as you integrate third parties into your trusted authentication circle by simplifying SSO terms and complex concepts into an easy-to-understand, integrated programming interface. It also makes leveraging invaluable data from popular social OAuth-enabled services such as Facebook and Google with your existing CRM system that much easier.
  • Streamline the complex build and continuous integration process using a test-driven development methodology and a fully scripted build process to ensure an automated regression test of the system occurs each time a build and deploy takes place.
  • Clustering the SSO system ensures high availability and failover with enough excess capacity to avoid performance declines in the event of a system outage. Again, a fully scripted build and release process here should consider the details of the environment and have the ability to programmatically remove or add application servers via a load balancer.

In Kanban‘s experience, these approaches have yielded downtime that is both less frequent and of shorter duration.

Regardless of the forethought that goes into system design, successfully integrating SSO with a target system requires that system to include full protocol support, such as adherence to the SAML2 standard. Many systems that claim integration with SSO standards fail to adhere to the full standard, which can result in functional gaps and security risks. It’s important to have the right vantage point on these issues at the outset of an integration project to prevent gaps in expectations and functionality.

Digital marketers who have the vision and resources to develop a robust SSO integration will find the rewards can be well worth the effort. Business stakeholders can develop the awareness of the customer they need and provide a richer, more personalized experience. However, marketers must create these systems using a pragmatic technical approach that can scale with the business, while keeping an eye on the details that can derail a successful integration.

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