Biometrics: A Common Thread Of Security, Time, And Attendance
Economic woes and security concerns thrust biometric technology into the VAR spotlight. Time and attendance is still the core application in the workplace, but security follows closely.
Time and attendance vendors have long touted the virtues of using biometric technology for access control. With homeland security a water-cooler phrase, their words have finally hit home with end users. So, VARs who sell biometric time and attendance solutions would be foolish not to give the security angle equal footing to labor management in the sales pitch. In fact, many of the recent developments in biometric time and attendance solutions were made with growing security concerns in mind.
Are You Selling Only Half An Answer?
Jimmy Bianco, president of automatic ID vendor Control Module, Inc. (Enfield, CT), believes that time and attendance and keyless entry are as natural to integrate as payroll and time and attendance. Therefore, it makes sense to convey the benefits of both when selling time and attendance solutions.
But Bianco cautions VARs to analyze customers before assuming biometrics is the right technology for them. "It isn't for everyone," he says. For instance, an abrasives manufacturer's workforce might have fingerprint deficiencies that limit the effectiveness of a fingerprint reader. To help combat the limitations of traditional biometric readers that measure the outer layer of skin, end users can use a sensor that sends a signal across the surface of a fingerprint to measure a live layer of skin beneath the first layer. Bianco claims that use of this type of sensor results in a 30% better read rate than standard sensors.
Peter DiMaria, founder of Accu-Time Systems, Inc. (Ellington, CT), also recognizes security as an "enormous" growth area for biometrics. But while he clearly sees the link between biometric time and attendance technology and security, he warns that VARs should be sure their product or service is "appropriate and not just opportunistic." Just because a time and attendance VAR offers a product with a fingerprint reader or hand scanner doesn't mean it adequately addresses security issues. Time and attendance products that do double-duty for security must have comprehensive software programs in place to back them up.
Software Developments Satisfy Labor And Security Needs
Control Module plans to release a feature for its one-to-many labor management devices that eliminates the need for employees to identify themselves with a PIN. Instead, employees will be required to simply place a finger on a reader for two seconds then keep walking. The fingerprint measurement is identified from a database of up to 300 prints. The terminal grants or denies access based on a 99% confidence match, for example. Right now, the database is limited to 300 prints to accommodate a two-second response time, but Bianco claims the two-second mark will be achievable with a 1,000-employee database by this summer. In its original form, the feature is useful to organizations of less than 300 employees.
Bianco also refers to software improvements that help prevent misreads. "You don't want to compromise security, but you don't want to discriminate against an employee with low-quality fingerprints," he says. "So we can separate employees with poor fingerprint image content." Fingerprint readers, he explains, have variable levels of sensitivity, which he describes on a scale of one to five. Set at five, the reader will authenticate only high-quality matches, that is, people with fingerprints unobstructed by abrasions or foreign matter like paint or dye. The lower the device's setting, the more it allows for error. If a particular employee has ongoing trouble clocking in or gaining access at the level five setting, the employee's print is automatically identified and authenticated at a lower level. Following this interaction with the terminal, the device will automatically set itself to measure the next individual's print at level five.
Networking the terminals to a server or the Internet allows mobility of the data collected and stored and eliminates storage limits imposed by the memory of the individual terminal. This is especially useful in environments where employees work at and must clock in or gain access to more than one site. "While with a one-to-one system you can load only 4,000 templates to a terminal, a centralized system allows you to store an almost unlimited amount of templates on the server," says Bianco.
Labor Management Is Still The Hot Button
While there is crossover between biometric time and attendance and security products, and though the nation's current climate lends itself to the escalation of security measures, labor management is still the hot button for end users. "In this volatile economy, time and attendance solutions for better labor control and efficiency are in great demand," says DiMaria. "Capital expenditures have come under corporate scrutiny with the economy in a conservative mode." Decision makers need plenty of assurance that what capital expenditures they make will provide perpetual returns. DiMaria says the best place for a VAR to grow its business right now is with current customers. "The VARs in our industry who are making money are working with their existing customers to provide value, not just discounted products," he says. "These VARs spend the face time it takes with their customers to ensure the products are satisfactory, and they make sure they have provided all the products or services that have potential for consumption." In other words, make sure you're not overlooking opportunities for profit with current customers before you look for new ones.
Show Your Customers How To Beat Fraud
Bianco and DiMaria both share stories of end user pain. Beyond just buddy punching, dishonest employees find all sorts of ways to beat the clock. DiMaria tells of a company that regained a full 40-hour workweek by simply cracking down on extended lunch hours and breaks with a biometric time and attendance system. Bianco refers to an airline that had to dismiss supervisors for overlooking absences in exchange for money. While care must be taken in a sales approach that targets employee dishonesty, showing your customers products that can help them save money by tightening up labor management efforts is the key to closing more sales.