Getting a Good Read on the Biometrics Market


No one has a real crystal ball to view the future, but it’s safe to say that biometrics for personal identification and authentication will one day find widespread use in the access control market, just as proximity did less than a decade ago. Biometrics is also likely to become one of the most controversial subjects of the 21st century.

“The science driving biometrics is not new; the application of practical and efficient biometric devices is,” says Steve Surfaro, director of enterprise projects with Panasonic Security Systems of Secaucus, N.J. “New noninvasive forms of biometrics are becoming increasingly prevalent as the demand for higher security — particularly in reference to pedestrian entry and egress — continues to grow across application lines.”

The fact is biometric access is serious business, not only to its opponents, but also to those systems integration companies that sell and install it, their clients who have vision and those manufacturers that make it. Stakeholders, like the U.S. military, have committed themselves to implementing biometrics for applications that range from physical security to computer access. Private sector commercial, retail and financial concerns are also dedicated to making it become a de facto reality.

Homeland Security and Financial Markets Lead the Charge
Although the military’s effort to incorporate biometrics has been helpful in moving society toward a biometric solution, Walter Hamilton, chairman of the board with the Washington-based International Biometric Industry Association (IBIA), believes that the most significant effort of all is Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12). “There’s not a thing wrong with the work the military is doing in biometrics, but HSPD-12 is leading the multiple-agency effort to centralize [the use of] new biometric identifiers for government contractors. It’s, in fact, forcing all federal agencies to embrace biometric and smart card technologies,” says Hamilton.

Hamilton cites border and financial issues as two other equally powerful motivators in the move toward biometric identifiers in place of proximity access control and other such technologies.

In the area of the financial world, cashless payments will become a powerful force that will lead many to embrace biometric identification. Many believe biometric technology will provide the means whereby safe, private access and financial transactions will become possible — as opposed to the hodgepodge, somewhat unreliable means employed today.

A general reduction in price to security companies, and thus the end user, is another reason why demand for biometric solutions will continue to grow.

“The cost to the integrator has come down significantly over the past few years. Reader technology is more affordable to the dealer and end user,” says Bill Meekins, sales manager, eastern region, with Indala of San Jose, Calif. “Biometrics has become cheaper, more accurate than in the past, and people are more willing to provide a fingerprint than ever before.”

“The most significant improvement in biometrics is ‘cost reduction.’ When PCSC integrated the first biometric with access control in 1985, the cost of a eye retina scanner to the end user was more than $250,000 each,” says Mas Kosaka, president of PCSC of Torrance, Calif. “The technology required a reader to be connected to a HP minicomputer. Today, the end-user cost range is from $1,500 to $10,000, depending on the technology.”

Good Times Ahead for Biometrics, Predicted to Hit $1.4 Billion by 2008
There’s never been a time like now to enter the biometric access control marketplace. According to a Frost & Sullivan financial market report, the biometric market did a whopping $527 million in new business during 2004 and is expected to hit $1.4 billion by 2008.

Despite this fact, there are a sizable number of security dealers and systems integrators that are reluctant to enter the market. Some of this reluctance stems from fear of the technology, while another part of the equation relates to the preconceived notion that clients simply won’t buy it.

“Our firm performs 98 percent of the work internally. Working for nearly 20 years in this atmosphere, we’ve learned to embrace new technologies,” says Tim Miller, president and CEO of AccuTech Systems of Rockville, Md.

Systems integrators, in particular, have begun using biometrics. Part of the reason can be attributed to the fact that this segment of the security market is already using network technology and data storage devices, integrating them with conventional as well as newly released IP-based security solutions. Why not biometrics, Miller asks.

“Integrators who deal with large-scale projects and government applications tend to get involved with biometric technologies more readily than companies who deal strictly with security,” says Miller. “For those who invest in the training required to support enterprise-class systems that actively engage IT, the inclusion of biometric platforms is a natural fit.”

Biometric-Based Time and Attendance Yields High ROI
The return on investment (ROI) with biometrics is relatively high, although it is somewhat difficult to quantify for the average security company.

“Our mission is to develop the best solution for our clients. Theoretically, any increase in security gained from technology is a return on investment for the client,” says Miller. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of time and attendance (T&A).

“What we have seen in the time and attendance market is a tremendous acceptance and understanding of the value proposition that biometrics brings to these applications,” says Bill Spence, biometric SBU manager with Ingersoll Rand (IR) Security Technologies, Schlage biometric solutions of Forestville, Conn.

According to Spence, when his firm entered the T&A market, its objective was to stop an employee from spending three hours on the golf course instead of in the office. The theory centered on the fact that computerization would force that person to remain on the job so he or she could be recorded as present. Unfortunately, this is not how the situation played out.

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