Biometrics: Where is the business case?

Lack of clear information on return on investment combined with interoperability issues are holding back adoption of the technology

IT vendors need to provide clear examples of why and how biometrics can benefit businesses if the technology is to become more widely adopted according to industry experts.

Speaking at the Biometrics 2005 conference in London, Dr Jim Wayman, director of the Biometric Test Centre at San Jose University, warned that the market for biological based identity recognition would not take off until suppliers began to clearly document and outline specific cost savings to businesses and organisations.

“Biometric systems have to justify their cost -- saying 'added security' is not enough. Vendors and integrators should be documenting case studies and savings,” he said.
Companies need to justify spending money on technology, but when the technology has no proven track record and is still considered experimental, justification is much harder, added Wayman.

The future of the biometrics market looks promising, he said, but he advised hardware makers to build products around realistic identity needs:“The market will not support non-proportional applications such as fingerprint recognition to buy a coffee.”

Despite its relative infancy as a technology, public support for biometrics appears to be strong. Research conducted by Fujitsu revealed that one in three UK banking customers would like their bank to start using biometrics.

A lack of open standards is also holding back the adoption of the technology, said Dr Jonathan Cave, senior lecturer in economics, at the University of Warwick, also speaking at the event. “The system should work with your other systems. Biometrics has to work with other systems,” he added.

The biometric market is currently dominated by just a few key players such as LG, Panasonic, and Oki, whose technologies are often not interoperable, this ties users to a single vendor and stop investments in the technology for fear of being left stranded with the wrong system. “The market will be dominated by one or two large players which will cause a fear of stranded investments in the wrong system,” said Cave.

Dr John Daugman from Cambridge University, who developed the first identification system that can scan and recognise the iris, agreed that open standards were crucial to the development and adoption of the technology. “Application integration within systems and an open architecture are very important to biometrics,” he said.

Developments in biometric technology include Fujitsu’s Contactless Palm Vein Authentication System, which recognises the veins in a palm from a short distance with few restrictions on hand positioning.

Earlier this year the European Union called on the US to delay the deadline for the introduction of biometric passports for visitors without a visa. Originally the US had set a deadline of October 2005 for visitors entering the country under the visa waiver scheme to hold a passport with a recognised biometric identifier held on an electronic chip.