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Biometrics gets the thumbs up

Biometrics is a technology whose time has come – representing an opportunity for those channel players willing (and able) to seize it.

The only surprising thing about biometrics is that it’s taken so long to enter the corporate mainstream. One would have thought that the ability to identify individuals securely and conveniently, without the myriad problems and security challenges of passwords, would have been irresistible. But now all indications are that this technology is indeed starting to reach its full potential – and so opening up new opportunities for SIs/VARS with the right skills and attitude.

Given Africa’s particular business challenges, it’s perhaps not surprising that biometrics’ ability to tighten up on physical security has driven implementations of this technology to date. Gary Chalmers, CEO of iPulse Systems, a local designer and manufacturer of biometrics technology, says that Africa is a market leader in the use of biometrics because of the high threat levels.

Mining and manufacturing, with large numbers of employees working shifts, and government, with its requirement for disbursing grants to large numbers of people, have traditionally accounted for the bulk of implementations. Of course, the use of fingerprint biometrics for the Department of Home Affairs’ National Identification System will also drive the use of biometrics as a failsafe identifier of South African citizens.

In addition, the use of fingerprint biometrics on the iPhone 5 could indicate that passwords may soon be a thing of the past, or certainly form only part of a multi-authentication process.

Chalmers points out the majority of the hardware used in biometrics is now plug-and-play, and this market is starting to commoditise. This sector of the market is thus typically able to be handled by resellers in the cabling end of the market. But, says Accsys CEO Teryl Schroenn, the focus is now on the software rather than the hardware, and how that software integrates into the corporate systems. For that reason, she says, Accsys stopped developing its own readers some years ago (it distributes technology from Suprema, ZK and Safran Morpho) to concentrate on developing its own PeopleWare software. By offering time and attendance and payroll functionality on a single platform, Schroenn argues, PeopleWare gives clients both a single point of entry to biometrics and reduces the learning curve.

The key point to notice here is the need for biometrics to be seen as more than a security access feature and integrate into the corporate systems to provide a good return on investment. As this approach builds up steam, it will start to support the use of biometrics to manage companies and better decisions.

Says Schroenn, mobility will offer managers a range of new ways of using biometrics to manage employee productivity at remote sites and to take staffing decisions based on real-time information.

This convergence between the security and IT aspects of biometrics means the opportunity will suit channel players with the broad-based IT and integration skills required to deliver value.

Only those with the right skills need apply

“Value-added services are essential for growth in this market,” says Walter Rautenbach, managing director of neaMetrics, distributor of Suprema technology and also a provider of custom software. “Box-droppers typically find their stay is short – the ability to understand and deliver on a customer’s requirements is key to growth.”

Rautenbach says VAR s interested in biometrics would be well advised to choose to work with a single vendor that provides a sufficient range of products to cover the full spectrum of client needs. This approach means that support costs can be minimised and stock kept available. However, he stresses, it’s also important to give clients the peace of mind that comes from technology that’s 100 percent compliant with international open data exchange standards, thus ensuring they’re not tied into a specific vendor.

Chalmers concurs that software skills are paramount for ambitious channel players. “Just knowing SQL puts you ahead of the game,” he says. “The channel needs to support solutions, not vendors – but you should look for a vendor that supports endto- end solutions that cover both hard- and software.”

Phil Scarfo, senior vice-president: sales and marketing at Lumidigm agrees IT skills are required rather than ‘biometrics skills’. The key to delivering value is the ability to integrate the biometrics solution into the broader IT environment.

“There’s definitely room for growth for VAR s with strong solution skills,” says Schroenn. “We’d certainly love to work with such companies, both here and in the rest of Africa.”

Side box:

Biometrics: Scoping the opportunity

Industry sectors


Mining, manufacturing, retail and other sectors that have large numbers of employees and shift work are all solid candidates for biometrics systems. However, this technology is increasingly moving into the traditional white-collar environments and is expected ultimately to improve digital security and replace multiple (and unsafe) passwords.

Margins

These are likely to be higher when it comes to solution-based integration work. Estimates vary between 10 and 40 percent, depending on volume of business.

Technologies

Fingerprint biometrics is the most common type of biometric used but facial recognition is becoming more important as its price declines. Accsys’ Teryl Schroenn says that facial recognition is particularly relevant in environments where people prefer not to touch surfaces that many others have touched, and in conjunction with fingerprints for greater reliability.

Pull quote:

“There’s definitely room for growth for VARs with strong solution skills.” Teryl Schroenn, Accsys

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