Biometrics Are Hot, But Will You See Any Profits?

For all practical purposes, biometric access control is a field that didn’t exist 10 years ago. In 1999, according to New York-based International Biometric Group (IBG), the market generated $58 million in sales. However, in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, no aspect of the security industry remains unchanged. With the market doubling in size on a nearly annual basis, sales of biometric systems are expected to top $1.9 billion by 2005.  Currently, there are eight different types of biometrics on the market: retinal, iris, voice, fingerprint, hand geometry, signature, keystroke and facial (2D). As of this writing, there are another five metrics being developed: facial 3D, scent, ear shape, fingernail bed and gait.

For installing security dealers, the question isn’t whether they should be selling biometrics to their customers, the issue is how they will educate themselves in order to provide their clients with informed expertise. Each biometric requires different know-how and is best suited to particular applications.

Most Systems Are Not Designed to Perform Access Control

The single largest biometric segment is devoted to Automatic Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS). This aspect of the market is slipping in share, down to 61 percent in 2001 ($320 million in sales) from 70 percent in 2000, even though the total number of dollars spent continues to grow.

What’s important for dealers to know about AFIS is that these are large systems purchased by government and law enforcement for the purposes of fraud prevention (when used by welfare systems) and forensics (identification of criminal suspects). These systems are not usually put out for bid to security dealers and, therefore, will not occupy much of this article.

Technology Is Available in Many Different Forms

The eight different biometric measures being sold by installing dealers include fingerprint, hand geometry, voice, retina, iris, signature, keystroke and facial recognition. Biometrics, at their most basic, all work from the same assumption: human beings are individuals, no two—including identical twins—share any features than might fool a biometric reader.

Facial recognition, unlike the other biometrics, is split into two camps, eigenfaces and facial metrics. Eigenfaces postulates that every face can fit roughly into one of 150 different idealized eigenfaces. Facial metrics analyzes the spatial relationship of given facial features, such as the distance between the inside corners of the eyes and the outside corners of the mouth, plus the relationship of each measurement to the others.

With any security system, more features means more money. As the complexity of the template increases, giving the system more information to work with, system cost generally goes up.

There are many factors that can affect how easy a system is to use. First and foremost is cultural acceptance. If the employees of a company dislike a system, they will look for ways to circumvent it. Generally speaking, the more invasive a system is, the more likely users are to dislike it.

Provided the population accepts the given system and uses it properly, there are still a host of issues that can affect system performance.

Changing the enrollment angle is a factor that can affect system performance regardless of the kind of biometric. Any of the following can result in a system falsely rejecting a subject: a person placing their thumb at an angle different to that used in enrollment; a person sitting during signature registration and standing for verification; or someone tilting their head to the side for iris or retinal scanning.

Pick a Method Based on the Site’s Environment, Culture

The key to a successful biometric installation comes in balancing each customer’s needs. According to IBG, the perfect biometric is unintrusive, has an affordable cost, is always accurate and requires little effort to operate. Naturally, this perfect biometric does not yet exist. Each of the different kinds of biometrics delivers these features in a differing balance.

Learning a customer’s priorities is of central importance if one is to recommend the most appropriate biometric measure. This can be difficult, as there is generally an inverse relationship between a biometric’s cost and its accuracy.

For most integrators, the issue remains one of accuracy. Nanavati says any time identification (picking one person out of a database) is at stake instead of simple verification (making sure the person is who they claim to be), accuracy will be most important.

Clients Need More Than Just an Installation, They Need a Plan

Establishing what a client needs demands more than asking what biometric measure a company wants.

The assessment phase, Havekost says, is when a dealer should work with the client to assess what he calls the “potentials.” Broader than just risks, potentials account for all the possible circumstances a system and its operators might encounter.

In the design phase, the dealer will propose an integrated system that responds to the client’s stated needs. It accounts for all potentials with appropriate security measures and takes into account factors such as cost, traffic, security sensitivity, user acceptance and accuracy.

The installation phase may be the simplest aspect of creating a biometric system for a client as it draws upon a dealer’s greatest strengths. Following installation comes the point that many integrators say allows a company to distinguish itself: support.

Technology Requires Sensible Policies, Procedures

So what happens when an operator receives a nonmatch or negative on a system? Does the operator ask for ID? Is the person turned away? Or is the person allowed to pass because the system turns up frequent negatives?

For Jeff Whirley, vice president of business development for Infrasafe in Orlando, Fla., policies and procedures matter more than the biometric a customer chooses. “I believe we all tend to miss ‘What are all the policies and procedures that glue all this together?’”

Whirley says end users need to ask, “‘What do I do when I get a reject?’ I believe it is one of the often overlooked elements.”

A Template Is No Good if It Can’t Be Read

The emergence of proprietary systems using new technology is the sort of innovation much of the American economy is founded on. Proprietary technology can be a great way to offer users superior technology in an effort to make them loyal customers. However, in the world of biometrics, as data is collected on an ever-growing population of criminals, travelers and employees, the need for a standardized template that can be read by any system has become acute.

Enter the National Institute for Standards and Technologies (NIST). As a member of the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS), NIST convened a meeting of INCITS members interested in forming a technical committee on biometrics. Some members in attendance, such as the Biometric Foundation, Bioscrypt, Security Industry Association (SIA), ID Technology Partners, Iridian, Motorola and Visionics, were not surprising. But a look at some of the other participants—Apple Computer, Compaq, Sony, Texas Instruments, United Parcel Service and the U.S. Departments of Defense, Justice, State and Transportation—gives an indication of how seriously some are taking the issue of biometrics.

Few Will Get a Piece of the Biometric Market

Due to the increased needs of clients in administering a biometric access system, it is unlikely that a majority of security dealers will have the resources and interest in pursuing the biometric market. Nanavati believes that most sales will go to a select group of businesses. He says, “High-end dealers will begin to adapt and focused specialty organizations will emerge that do just biometrics.”


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