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Biometrics

What CIOs need to know about workplace biometrics

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.

Are biometrics really the future of security and surveillance? Check out: The rise of biometrics is not as clear cut as may seem

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.

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James Woudhuysen

James Woudhuysen is Visiting Professor at London South Bank University. A physics graduate, he helped install the UK's first computer-controlled car park in 1968.

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