The Time Is Now For Biometrics
This year, 46% of the time and attendance terminals ADI Time has sold have included biometrics technology. That's nearly 20% more than last year. For ADI, the window of opportunity for selling biometrics is open.
These days, everyone is into security. In fact, now the word security is referred to as a bona fide technology, or to be more precise, a group of technologies. CCTV (closed circuit television), network firewalls, VPNs (virtual private networks), smart cards, and biometrics are among the plethora of technologies that compose the security universe. But it is biometrics that has recently garnered the lion's share of interest from both end users and the channel. In the latter's case, time and attendance has proven to be a sort of "killer app" for biometrics. For instance, many VARs, integrators, and software developers sell biometric-enhanced time clocks (i.e. biometric terminals). One of those companies is ADI Time (Providence, RI).
It All Starts With Buddy Punching
According to John Volatile, CEO of ADI, his company began selling hand geometry (a type of biometric) terminals in 1996 and fingerprint recognition terminals in 1999. In either case, biometrics technology wasn't nearly as accepted then as it is today. Customers were using biometrics more as a buddy punching (when one employee punches in or out for a coworker) deterrent rather than as part of an overall security initiative. ADI, which is a software developer/integrator of time and attendance and labor management solutions, chose both fingerprint and hand geometry as its choices of biometrics to solve the buddy punching problem.
"Companies can only guess at the effects of buddy punching," Volatile says. "They believe they are losing money but don't have a scorecard. Once a time and attendance system with a biometric component is installed, they have a scorecard. Then, they can compare previous payroll periods and see the difference before and after the new system was installed."
Although ADI primarily serves the airline, financial, healthcare, retail, and hospitality markets, Volatile says the desire to eliminate buddy punching can be found in any kind of vertical. For example, one ADI customer is an 80-unit parking lot company that employs five people at each lot. The company installed a biometric terminal at each lot to make sure the right employee is at the right lot at any given time. A system administrator monitors all of the terminals from a central location.
Security = Access Control
Although using biometrics to squash buddy punching has been successful, most people associate this technology with access control (e.g. physical and computer/network access). But, high costs have always hindered biometrics growth. Now, with falling costs and heightened security concerns, companies are more apt to give biometric access control projects the green light.
For ADI the connection between selling time and attendance solutions and access control is obvious: time and attendance terminals can also be programmed for physical access control. For instance, employee schedules can be downloaded to a biometric terminal. So, if a valid 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. employee tries to enter the workplace in the middle of the night, access will be denied.
"Selling biometric terminals has opened up the white collar market for us," Volatile admits. "These companies are often seeking an access control solution, and then realize the added benefits of having time and attendance built in, too. Furthermore, white collar employees tend to view a biometric terminal more as a security device rather than a way of punching in and out." One such ADI customer, a 600-person law firm, installed biometric terminals for its entire staff to use. Previously, only clerical staff had used a punch time clock.
Biometrics Is The Growing Market
Contrary to what you may think, most companies did not rush out after 9/11/01 and buy new biometric time and attendance or access control systems. Yes, there was - and still is - an increased interest in biometrics, but remember, 2001 was not a good year for IT spending. Instead, many companies did their research, sent out their RFQs (requests for quotes), and then waited until 2002 to purchase these systems. "Business picked up for us in March and April of this year," explains Volatile. "Many of our recently completed orders have been on hold for five months or more. We've also been hearing from a lot of prospects that have revised their interest in biometrics and are now again contacting us for this technology." Volatile says the customers that call him usually know exactly what type of biometrics they want. Furthermore, research firm IDC (Framingham, MA) says companies seeking biometrics are doing so to reinforce, not replace, current authentication methods such as passwords. The firm estimates the worldwide biometrics market will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 50% until 2005. ADI's sales growth for biometric terminals has gone from 20% in 2000, to 27% in 2001, to 46% this year. "For us, biometrics is the growing market," Volatile says.
Educate To Overcome Biometrics' Myths
Growing or not, selling any type of biometrics is bound to lead to objections from customers. Privacy concerns are the most likely roadblock encountered. However, hand geometry terminals also draw religious opponents who claim some kind of "mark of the beast" (see Revelation 13:16) is being added by using these devices. Of course these terminals have no way of marking a hand, but a VAR may have to actually disassemble a reader to prove this to a customer.
It's up to a VAR to cure these biometrics phobias. Make sure you understand exactly how a particular biometric works. For example, most biometric terminals offer one-to-one authentication that compares a password or PIN with an encrypted biometric template. One-to-one authentication is in contrast to one-to-many identification, which compares a live biometric with a database containing many stored biometric images. In either case, a biometric record cannot reveal a person's identity unless the individual chooses. The biometric is stored as a digital template so only the owner can access personal information. "We have a biometric project that was on hold for two years," Volatile states. "Forty fingerprint terminals were proposed, but the employees felt their privacy was being violated by 'giving a fingerprint.' We finally convinced them that it is not a real fingerprint and that the system is safe and secure."
Sanitation issues are also commonly listed as a problem with biometric readers. Employees think they'll get germs from touching a surface where other employees' fingers or hands have been. "To those customers I say it is no different than touching a doorknob," Volatile says. "We have a day spa/salon with a few hundred employees that use hand geometry terminals. Every flu season we get a call asking if employees can catch colds from other employees by using these terminals. We tell them they can clean the terminals with alcohol and that seems to satisfy their concerns."
Workforce Management Is The Name Of The Game
Volatile says the companies he encounters today want more than just time and attendance solutions, they want workforce management solutions. They want solutions that will reduce payroll costs, manage labor costs, and track workforce productivity. And, they want a higher level of security. By combining ADI's turnkey software solutions with biometric terminals, Volatile has been able to meet these customer demands, open new markets, and increase revenue.