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Issue Date: January 2000 (es)

Biometrics - now an accessible option

1 January 2000

Less than 10 years ago there were relatively few biometric manufacturers around who had a saleable and reliable product. According to Steve Crutchley, GM of AST Business Integrity Solutions, a division of Advanced Software Technologies-Abraxas (AST-A), nowadays, there are literally dozens of organisations offering either a product or systems-related services in conjunction with biometrics, such is the pace of change.
Similarly, the end user perception of biometrics has changed significantly. At the start of this decade, a typical reaction would have been one of fascination with the technology, but little thought of implementing it in an everyday situation.
Now organisational areas far removed from the technology side of things are fully aware of what biometrics is and how they might use it to their advantage. In the public sector also, real cost savings and operational advantages are now being realised via a technology which not so long ago would have been the butt of many jokes about James Bond and Big Brother in the workplace.
Another most noticeable change has been in the costs involved, both at device level and in real terms when implementing either a pilot system or actual application. Unit costs have dropped from the thousands to the hundreds or less.
In addition, any systems integrator worth their salt will be easily able to integrate biometric authentication into a given process without charging for a ground-up design solution. This is good news for the potential user organisations which may now expect much higher value for their money equation when considering the business case for a biometric solution.
Evolution of the solution
The products themselves have changed. Although the fundamental operating methodologies remain similar, the packaging and connectivity seems to have improved fairly dramatically in some cases.
An example is the workstation access application. Most biometric devices could have been configured to perform this function from day one, but only with some difficulty for both the integrator and user. Now there are several devices that you can take out of the box, plug straight into your PC and in a few minutes configure a secure biometric logon routine for your PC or LAN workstation.
Part of this transformation has been provided by the much improved software tools, which are considerably more robust and intuitive than was previously the case. It is also easier for an independent systems house to write custom software for biometric devices as most manufacturers have some sort of software development kit available for their product, often at no charge.
Integration of biometrics
The integration of biometric technology is no longer a black art to be practised by a chosen few. Biometrics has become simply another tool in the organisational tool kit to be employed where appropriate.
This does not mean, however, that the design of a biometric system is to be taken lightly. There is still a high level of expertise required, particularly in understanding the human element and whether an automated process is necessarily the best approach for a given situation.
Upon implementation, there will also be training and communication issues to consider. This is where the experienced vendor or systems integrator can help you most.
The important thing to remember is not to fall into the 'which is the best biometric' trap, but to take the time to really understand your existing process and what you are trying to achieve before considering which device or system is best for your particular project.
Although extremely important, biometrics is still only one component of a security infrastructure that needs to be incorporated into an overall security policy of an organisation. The sooner an organisation takes action to safeguard its information on a holistic basis, the cheaper and more effective it will be for it in the long run.
For details contact Denise Stanton of AST-A on tel: (012) 663 0310, fax: (012) 663 9388 or e-mail: denise.stanton@ast.co.za


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