What CIOs need to know about workplace biometrics

Professor James Woudhuysen takes an in-depth look at what biometrics are out there and what they might mean for tomorrow’s enterprise

Biometrics, in which IT captures and checks a person’s unique biological and behavioral characteristics, is spreading through the world’s workplaces. In North America, where the advent of mainframe computers enabled police forces to establish automatic fingerprint identification systems (AFIS) as early as the 1970s and 1980s, major organizations now want to bring to the workplace widely different kinds of biometric scanners, sensors and other hardware, and the image and signal processing and pattern recognition software that go with these things. Why? In the first place, to prevent unauthorized access to physical sites, and especially unauthorized access to sensitive areas on-site.

A trend toward using biometrics to control employee and contractor entry in factory and in office is one thing. However, the broader market for biometrics is also on the up, and enterprises need to first understand its dynamics before they turn to workplace applications.

To start with, Donald Trump’s policies on illegal migration and national security have driven a thriving market for military biometrics. There, AFIS are established, but the recognition of irises and of faces is set to grow. One report has North American military and civilian government purchases of biometric systems topping $2.5bn by the end of 2022; that might be an underestimate. A particular hotspot in US government: education, where biometrics can help assuage concerns about cheating and campus harassment.

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Booming biometrics markets in law enforcement and general government are good news for giant biometric systems suppliers such as 3M Cogent, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Lockheed Martin, NEC, Nuance, Qualcomm, Siemens and Thales. But they’re also good news for smaller, more specialized firms with slightly cheesy names: BIO-Key International, CMI Time Management, Cross Match Technologies, EyeVerify, FaceFirst, GreenBit Biometric Systems and OT-Morpho. Companies like these can be expected to make their own efforts to extend the use of biometrics to the workplace.

General biometric techniques are spreading fastest, perhaps, in Asia. In North American and European healthcare, for example, concerns around fraud and patient security have been widely met by the deployment of biometric systems. Now it could be the turn of Asia and other developing regions of the world to help drive the global healthcare biometrics market from $1.3bn in 2015 to nearly $9bn in 2024.

In mainstream Chinese commerce, too, payment by means of face recognition systems is growing, especially in shops and fast food outlets. Bank ATMs also boast face recognition. In China as elsewhere, however, it’s government that’s leading the adoption of biometrics. In the dissident northwestern region of Xinjiang, for instance, Beijing has collected fingerprints and iris scans on everyone between 12 and 65 years old. Indeed, Beijing has added, to its database on Xinjiang, mass DNA samples and mass information on blood types.

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