Getting Buy-In on Biometrics

March 14, 2016
A look at evolving technologies, target applications and sales techniques

For years, biometric access control seemed only to exist in Hollywood thrillers involving secret agents. Few in the general public were likely to ever even see such a system, as they were reserved for use by high-tech, high-security organizations. Few could imagine that it would one day be used by businesses of all sizes for everything from tracking employee attendance to controlling access in healthcare facilities.

“Biometrics were initially implemented by national research labs and nuclear power plants to protect high-tech secrets and dangerous materials,” says Samir Tamer, Advanced Technology Leader – Disruptive Innovation at Allegion. “Today, they are proving to be a great solution for clients all over the world, in any number of challenging environments.”

Unlike other forms of security, biometrics can never be forgotten, lost or copied, making it an effective way to bridge the gap between clients’ desire for convenience and their growing need for security. As the technology has improved, overall prices have fallen, allowing it to achieve what is essentially the holy grail of security — a system that is convenient, customizable, affordable and incredibly accurate.

Customizable Security

Since the late 19th century, biometrics have been used to identify individuals. The first hand readers were purely mechanical, using physical springs and other gears to identify criminals and for personal identification on civil contracts.  Today’s biometric technology encompasses a wide variety of identification systems and an even broader array of applications. They can measure the shape of a body, fingerprints, the structure of the face, DNA, hand geometry, iris or vein patterns and others, depending on the system and the level of security required.

“Biometrics are an upgrade in peace of mind,” Tamer says. “This is because biometrics allow a level of personal identification that no other solution can match.”

All security systems rely on at least one of the following to grant access:

  1. Things you have. These are typically metal keys or proximity cards which can be lost, stolen or duplicated without authorization.
  2. Things you know. These are passwords or PINs. These are hard to steal, but can be forgotten or intentionally shared.
  3. Things you are. This refers to biometrics — that is, identification based on a person’s unique physical characteristics. These characteristics cannot be duplicated, misplaced or shared with others.

The “things you are” — or biometric identification — provides the highest level of security, especially when paired with another credential like a PIN, password, or card to provide multi-factor authentication, Tamer says. This is an ideal option for companies that require display of a smart card or badge for entry. In many cases, a biometric system is an add-on to an existing access control solution, particularly in highly sensitive and secure areas—such as data centers, bank vaults and pharmacies – that often requires multi-factor authentication in order to ensure a higher level of security.

Choosing the Right Biometric

Although biometrics can fill a variety of roles, it is important to understand the drawbacks and benefits of each to ensure the appropriate solution is used for each client.

  • Hand geometry reduces privacy concerns because it relies on the size and shape of a user’s hand — something that cannot be duplicated. It is larger in size but is ideal for production and industrial environments because a user’s hand does not have to be clean or sterile for the reader to work.
  • Fingerprints are the most commonly used biometric because of the reader’s compact size and low price point. Fingerprint technology, however, generally only works in clean or sterile environments. Fingerprint technology has a tendency to fail if a user’s hands are dirty or dry. Additionally, since fingerprints are easy to lift and duplicate, there are privacy concerns with this technology.
  • Iris recognition is a contactless biometric technology, often used in high-end environments or government buildings. It uses mathematical pattern recognition techniques on video images of an individual’s eyes. Iris readers must be installed and used at specific heights. They also tend to be more expensive than fingerprint and hand geometry technologies.
  • Facial recognition is priced comparably to iris recognition and is widely used in banking, labs and clean environments due to its accuracy; however, it is important to note that lighting can affect readings and impact reliability.
  • Vein authentication is among the newest biometric technologies. It uses the vascular patterns of an individual’s hand as personal identification data. Vein biometrics can be used for computer log-ins, POS authentication and physical access control.

Target Applications

Even in the most demanding workplaces, biometric access control has proven to be extremely effective. In facilities that employ thousands in each shift, the ability of biometric systems to process people accurately and quickly — in as little as two seconds per person — is incredibly beneficial.

Modern systems are also able to overcome environmental challenges like ambient dirt, cold temperatures, overly bright or overly dark lighting; as well as employees wearing masks, goggles or other eye protection. In these settings, a biometric reader that does not have to be touched is important, so iris readers are often the solution of choice. In other settings, hand geometry can be used to not only verify the identity of the user, but also to track time and attendance.

The flexibility and convenience of these systems provide have made them a popular choice for hospitals seeking to prevent unauthorized access and increase security for both patients and staff. With hundreds or even thousands of employees to manage, it is vital for these facilities to have a security system that can be quickly reprogrammed to lock out former employees and add new ones, even at remote locations.

Because new hospitals are built so infrequently, existing facilities are continually growing, shifting departments, repurposing space and adjusting their security needs. As a result, open platform security products that will integrate with technology from many companies are ideal, as they provide increased flexibility for future upgrades and expansions.   

Specifying Long-Term Solutions 

Each location, facility and application will present unique challenges that will need to be addressed. Discussing the following can help determine which solution will best fit a client’s needs:

  • What’s unique about the environment? (i.e. industrial, sterile, etc.)
  • Will readers be placed inside or outside?
  • Do you want contact or contactless technology?
  • How important are aesthetics?
  • Are there privacy concerns?
  • Are there cost limitations?
  • What are the top priorities? (i.e., reliability, convenience, cost, privacy, accuracy)

Listening carefully to customers’ answers to these questions will lead to better intelligence about their true needs. It is vital to have a clear understanding of what the customer is really trying to accomplish, as there is often a significant difference between what the customer desires and what they require.

“People want to feel confident that they are choosing a solution that will stand the test of time,” Tamer says. “We encourage our customers to look at who is producing the product, how long that company has been around, and what they offer. What is their lifecycle of producing new technologies and what happens when they do this? Do they upset the integration or do they integrate smoothly into a legacy system? These are important issues to consider in order to avoid future conflicts.”

Minu Youngkin is Integrator Marketing Manager for Allegion. To learn more about biometric technologies available from Allegion and the aptiQ Alliances, visit or request more information at

About the Author

Minu Youngkin

Minu Youngkin is Integrator Marketing Manager for Allegion. To request more information about the company, visit