Biometrics Benefits, Challenges Aired

Early adopters explain how they implemented biometrics technology at their facilities and operations

"The first day or two, everybody thinks it's going to be a disaster. You sort of have to ride that wave a bit," Higgins said. It didn't take long for employees to adjust.

Getting employees acclimated to using biometrics equipment was a challenge discussed by those at the conference.

Clarendon Insurance Group in New York installed fingerprint readers both for entry to the building and for logging on to computers. The insurance company was helped by identity management software vendor Daon, which made sure users were prepped for the shift to biometrics.

Working with Clarendon's human resources department, Daon put together "welcome packs" for users, said Leo Ring, vice president of business development at Daon. The pack contained little stuffed koala bears - because they are the only animal with fingerprints - and wipes for keeping the fingerprint readers clean.

Before getting buy-in from users, buy-in from top executives is paramount. Scott Sykes, group manager of strategic technology at Capital One in McLean, Va., encountered a lot of resistance to his ideas for bringing biometrics technology into the financial services firm.

The fundamental point of resistance was whether the reduced risk, cost savings and increased efficiency outweigh the expense, Sykes said. A lot of the potential benefit is hard to quantify. But the cost is easy to measure: $5 million over the first two years, tapering off to $400,000 per year for maintenance and operation.

While one could argue that biometrics provides security benefits over a password system, are the benefits that much greater?

"Getting security folks to release the use of a password is very difficult," Sykes said.

Single sign-on can be difficult to integrate with biometrics systems. Biometrics readers aren't built into laptop or desktop computers, making the readers a hassle to add into a network. Privacy concerns are also an issue. Until these hurdles are overcome, biometrics will have a hard time getting a foothold in most enterprise companies, Sykes said.

"There's really no pull. There's really no push. It's kind of in 'levitation' right now," he said.