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SA’s Biometric Industry Under Threat From Cowboys

by Sam Wakoba
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biometricMisinformed service providers, fly-by-night operators and ‘buck-chasers’ continue to pose a threat to the development of South Africa’s Biometric Identity Management industry by fuelling negative perception of products and undermine the value of legitimate offerings.

Leading experts in this market believe the country faces an uphill battle against ruthless suppliers who vaguely understand biometrics and are driving sales targets without providing adequate after-sales service. There are also many posers who have no genuine track record in the market or sufficient expertise to add any real value.

“This impacts on customer experience”, says Marius Coetzee, Managing Director, Ideco, an established leader in the application of biometric technology and Southern Africa’s primary distributor of Morpho fingerprint biometric solutions.

“Manufacturers from around the world are flooding our market with every possible biometric option. With the typical DIY culture in SA, every developer thinks that by ordering a biometrics unit online and downloading the development tools makes him an expert in the field. Every biometric modality (fingerprint, facial, iris, voice, etc) is available in our market and sold on the gimmicks. Some readers talk to you, some read under water and some see it all’,” Coetzee explains.

The truth is that currently only one modal (fingerprint) is regarded as mature and available for large scale commercial deployment, and there are only a selected few brands that are tested, proven and chosen for the South African conditions.

Ideco has established a leadership position in the market and has contributed substantially to South Africa’s long-time dominance in the world market in the adoption of biometrics for access control and time & attendance applications.

However, this dominance has ebbed away as a result of being saturated with offerings and the rapid increase in the number of competitors – many of whom do not have the credentials to live up to their promise or look after the customer.

In a frank discussion about the state of the industry and the challenge faced by legitimate operators, Coetzee says that whilst there are global standards, these don’t guarantee quality, or service. “The reality is that even a sub-standard biometric offering can be made to comply with certain standards,” he explains.

“The best advice is to follow global leaders and make sure what your purchase meets their expectation. FBI approval on biometric readers is not a North American specific approval, but an international benchmark of quality that meets law enforcement and judicial requirements. This means that biometric evidence submitted from the FBI approved reader in a forensic investigation or a HR dispute will be accepted as irrefutable identity proof by judicial and law enforcement departments. If readers are used in environments such as Interpol, FBI, Scotland Yard and our SAPS you can be assured of its quality,” he adds.

The application of biometric solutions in the legal process is one of the primary areas where technology is truly put to the test.

Ideco management says the company has come across numerous case studies from frustrated customers who have been disappointed with the results of biometric evidence that could not be used or did not live up to expectations as an effective security mechanism.

Against this background, Coetzee believes the solution lies in collaboration between all stakeholders.

Suppliers need to realise their responsibility towards the market to only deal with products that comply with FBI standards.

“Customers need to realise that biometrics is regarded as personal information which is subject to many regulatory and judiciary requirements. Consultants need to realise that no biometric solution operates in total isolation. At some point customers may be required to use the transactions as evidence in a court of law, or to link to the Criminal Record Centre of SAPS or to verify Identities against the Department of Home Affairs,” he concludes.

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