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Biometric commercial deployments require human factor engineering expertise

Categories Industry Insights

Biometrics as a global industry is evolving rapidly. With each passing day, more news sprouts up about countries adopting biometric identification technology to secure borders, establish free and fair elections, or tighten airport security. Countries like India have embarked on massive identity campaigns to develop documentation that helps facilitate more equitable social benefit distribution and eliminate government waste and corruption. Governments all over the planet are increasingly evaluating and choosing to adopt biometric identification technology to boost security, eliminate fraud, and establish societal parity by ensuring that entitlements reach those for whom they were intended.

However, using biometrics for identification and authentication reaches far beyond tightening security and eliminating fraud and waste. As biometric deployments spill over into the commercial sector, companies are starting to leverage the technology’s power to encourage employee accountability, lower liabilities, increase efficiencies, and strengthen compliance. Biometric used in business vs. government deployments has fundamentally transformed the dimension of using the technology for security only to using it for convenience in addition to security and other concerns.

In order to achieve success in the new commercial landscape, biometric technology vendors who were once solely accustomed to government specs dictating the parameters and scope of a biometric identification project where end users (most often citizens) had no choice on what biometric modalities to use had to become experts at “human factor engineering” – that is, biometric tech vendors had to more closely study the intersection of people, technology, policy, and work across multiple domains using an interdisciplinary approach that drew from cognitive psychology, organizational psychology, human performance, industrial engineering, and economic theory to design and implement biometric systems that are acceptable and successful in a commercial environment.

Using a variety of observational techniques, research, interviews, simulations, and inherent knowledge of work practices, some biometric technology vendors started to approach effective design of a commercial identification/authentication project based on understanding what makes a task easy for employees and what makes it hard in order to ultimately develop biometric tools that would support company goals. Deployments became more about identifying solutions that would cut down on “human error” and providing biometric hardware and software systems that fit employee need and workflow and less about deploying a solution that used the most popular and well known technology and relied on traditional conventions. Ergonomics started to become more influential in system design, and training curriculum was refined to reflect the sources of expert performance, and how employees acquire expertise in working with biometric identity systems. And perhaps most importantly, biometric deployments based on human factor engineering are designed to make systems more resilient in the face of shifting demands.

Biometric technology vendors who had previous experience shepherding successful governmental deployments couldn’t automatically be characterized as poised for success in the commercial marketplace. Success in commercial deployments was instead largely built on the ability to select a vendor skilled at using human factor engineering to design solutions unique to the conditions of each individual situation. The complex nuances of each commercial deployment dictated that a biometric vendor have experience in crafting systems from initial idea through to design, testing, sales, and support. Biometric recognition systems were no longer vanilla solutions that could be used in the same capacity across individual or collective markets; instead they became customized, dynamic entities built on the capabilities and limitations of human performance.

Take for example, using biometrics for workforce management employee time and attendance. Commercial biometric technology vendors who offer a solution based on factors like:

• Climate
• Hardware sustainability based on throughput environments
• Ensuring that 100% of employees can be reliably and consistently authenticated
• Providing technology that allows companies to leverage the best biometric technologies as they continue to evolve

are much more likely to achieve user acceptance and overall deployment success. In a governmental setting, deployment parameters may be dictated based solely on budget constraints, lobbying, and influence but these factors may unnecessarily delay or limit the overall effectiveness for each deployment, defeating or diminishing the goals and purpose of the project itself.

Successful commercial biometric technology deployments that achieve the goals they are designed to accomplish tend to be constructed based upon the body of knowledge about human abilities and characteristics that are relevant to design and the application of this knowledge to the design of systems for safe, comfortable employee use. Identical governmental biometric systems simply can’t be automatically used in a commercial environment and companies that excel in human factor engineering will continue to be the leaders in biometric technology innovation.

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