Biometric Analysis: Make Biometrics Tools Business Enabling

Expanding biometrics' focus from enterprise applications to personal technology

Groves stressed the importance of UK businesses not constraining themselves to thinking about biometrics within certain parameters.

"When examining biometrics and how to justify it to the business, don't restrict the imagination to applications like 'strong authentication to the network' or 'reduction in password reset costs'. Granted these will bring significant benefits, but they are almost trivial in comparison to those possible by using biometrics as part of an overall e-business programme. E-invoicing, e-forms and e-procurement are just three examples of where major cost savings can be made by going online, and where biometrics can help secure and promote these steps."

Price versus performance has been another sticking point. Taken in isolation at least, biometric deployment can be difficult justify in cost thanks in the most part to comparatively high costs and the lack of an obvious return on investment path.

According to Duke, this is beginning to ease. "Price has been one of the main hurdles, but the price point now makes biometrics a very viable option for a multi-layered security model and it is becoming increasingly affordable. We are seeing a number of companies opting for Biometrics now, or budgeting for a deployment in the next three to six months."

Toth concurred, noting that iris-scanning device prices in particular have plummeted in recent years and that large-scale adoptions (through deployments at airports) will drive costs down even more. She also suggested that pricing will be squeezed still further, and device performance elevated, thanks to competition among the leading manufacturers.

When though, if ever, will biometrics genuinely form a first line of corporate defence?

Nelson believes that, with growing scrutiny on good corporate governance, data and physical access control, there is a need to combine biometrics with traditional forms of identification such as swipe cards or PINs.

Robbins meanwhile, said other issues such as exceptions management still need careful consideration before biometrics can be mandated - particularly if difficulties in areas such as equal opportunities are to be avoided.

"How will a business manage the situation where a person is disabled and physically unable to supply a biometric of the specified type?" he asked. "Similarly, some people, by nature of their hobbies, are unable to supply fingerprints consistently. Rock climbers for example."

The underlying need looks to be an assured one however. Usernames and passwords are commonly shared, and are easily forgotten, stolen and cracked. So too are magnetic cards, while traditional forms of ID, such as national ID cards and passports can also be easy to forge. Toth claimed it is merely a matter of time; two to five years to be specific.

"Biometrics is not a panacea, but it is a big step up. Biometrics can genuinely bind a specific person to a set of data. No traditional method can deliver that. The increasing use of biometrics is the next evolutionary step on the technology ladder."

She conceded however, that widespread take-up is unlikely to be instantaneous. "Not everyone will want biometric options at the beginning. Biometrically enabled devices will be an addition to existing portfolios rather than a replacement, for a few years to come at least."

According to Robbins, this gradual drip-feed could open the door to reseller and integrator-led solutions.

"Today, biometric technology is not a simple technology roll out," he explained. "It requires a wide range of business and security skills to design and implement the required secure processes. Resellers will need strong professional services capabilities right across the security spectrum, incorporating risk assessment, compliance and deployment skills."

Fujitsu's Nelson sees an immediate opportunity, but asserted that resellers looking to take advantage need to think carefully about their integrator relationships.

"Resellers should watch for new developments and stay close to the integrators developing solutions. Understanding the real user demand and building the relationship with the user is the key to success. Ultimately this is a channel business. Of course there are large scale opportunities for the services companies, but the channel has a big part to play in the roll out of these solutions."