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New biometrics industry leaders on taking over in unprecedented times

Idemia, Idex Biometrics, ImageWare and Ipsidy CEOs discuss navigating teams through COVID-19 disruption
New biometrics industry leaders on taking over in unprecedented times

Most areas of the biometrics industry have not been hit as hard by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic as the economy as a whole. Some businesses, like those serving the aviation sector, have had to adjust to dramatic market shifts, but the consensus seems to be that the fallout for biometrics and digital identity is an acceleration of pre-existing trends.

Whether from disruption, adaptation, acceleration, or some combination of factors, almost every company has had to face unprecedented challenges.

Several new executives took the lead at biometrics companies immediately before or during the wave of lockdowns that has yet to fully subside everywhere. What do they do when some of the things that worked for the company before are no longer even possible? How have they managed amid such strangeness?

Biometric Update asked several new leaders in the digital identity and biometrics space.  Here are their answers:

What is it like taking over an organization just as a global crisis hits (or in its midst)?

Idemia CEO Pierre Barrial notes the unprecedented global economic slump that has accompanies the pandemic, and says that his company’s preparation for the handover was the key to a successful transition. He lauds the dedication and hard work of Idemia employees, which translated to organizational resilience.

Vince Graziani took over as CEO of Idex Biometrics at the end of February, with the global disruption already begun. He visited both the U.S. and UK offices of the company prior to lockdowns going into effect, and everyone in the company was working remotely by March 16. It was an adjustment, he says, meeting team members for the first time over Zoom, but expresses pride at the team’s transition.

ImageWare CEO Kristin Taylor says the pandemic touched off weekly changes for the company as it sought to adjust. The company managed to delay some vendor payments and keep business moving, and was able to take “the time to really focus on re-starting our 33-year-old public company in need of new ideas and approaches.”

Taylor writes that she has worked many long days on ImageWare’s path forward, and that as a pioneer in biometric authentication, the company has yet to achieve its full business potential.

Phillip Kumnick made determining the impact of the pandemic on the company and its ability to interact with clients and partners his first order of business on being named Ipsidy CEO and Deputy Chairman in May.

“As a small company we have several people who wear multiple hats and it was important to me to make sure everyone was able to continue to work with clients and each other and if necessary make changes so we operated as optimally as possible within the constraints of our new normal,” Kumnick tells Biometric Update in email exchange. “We implemented several standing meetings that were limited to specific topics – operations, strategy, product, technology for example to make sure we were focused on these items and that our separation didn’t create conversation and decision silos.”

Market demand increased and large enterprises went from curious about deploying identity solutions to committed to them. Ipsidy has adapted by changing the way it sells its solution, which has strengthened its team, according to Kumnick, and also relaunched its brand to better position itself for the anticipated increase in demand.

Kumnick says the company has continued to innovate, and lauds Ipsidy’s team for being patient with him as he transitioned back out of retirement.

How was your organization affected by the lockdowns? What did your organization do to adjust to the lockdowns?

“Since the pandemic started in Asia back in February, we have managed the crisis following 3 priorities we put in place: protecting our employees, protecting our customers and protecting our company,” Barrial writes. “I would like to stress that authorities around the world have classified IDEMIA as a government and business supplier of ‘essential services.’ That’s why our 50+ production centers have carried on working throughout the crisis with new staff safety rules. During lockdown all our staff stepped up and did their bit to continue serving our customers. For example, our engineering and R&D staff met key project milestones on time while working from home. Also, the resilience of our businesses reflects the relevance of our offers corresponding to our customers’ needs.”

Idex Biometrics established a virus response team the same day it switched to remote work for everything except specific roles that needed to be fulfilled within an Idex facility. This allowed the company to avoid incurring any additional costs.

“In particular, our technical teams, led by Chris Ludden and Guido Bertocci, have become incredibly creative within the restrictions,” writes Graziani. “When COVID hit, the team anticipated that they wouldn’t be able to work and test products in the traditional lab environment, so they found a way to access a remote tester to probe and test products at the wafer level before they were even available in packages. This meant teams across the world could run tests throughout the day and night, resulting in 24/7 coverage and faster complex device verification than ever before.”

New customer acquisition was the only area of Idex’ business affected, according to Graziani. The company already had partnerships in place with major smartcard customers, however, and it has experienced “a steady stream of new customer engagements” since June.

ImageWare closed offices in Portland, Oregon and Tokyo permanently.  The company also experienced some attrition, in both employees and clients, and gone through a process Taylor describes as “creative destruction.”

“We turned inward and focused intensely on how we needed to re-shape this business, which was critical for our success,” she writes. “The pandemic has caused us to learn how to work in a distributed environment, and for many of us, balance the very long work long hours. We had to figure out how to make a difference, alone, yet, as a collective team. We have become a stronger organization and have been more creative in how our company should be thought leaders in the biometric identity and authentication space. We have created new technologies to secure company data for remote workers with biometric authentication and as well as revamping our law enforcement platform.”

Taylor says the company is continuing to adjust to what remains uncharted territory. ImageWare team structures have been adjusted to optimize member skillsets, and Taylor sees other possible advantages to distributed workforces, such as in recruitment and customer service.

Many of Ipsidy’s employees already working remotely. The company now uses more secure virtual meeting and instant communication tools. International offices such as in Colombia and South Africa, where lockdowns have been very stringent, have been more affected, but have also adapted quickly to maintain high levels of productivity, Kumnick writes.

What does the biometrics industry need to keep front-of-mind as the pandemic continues?

Barrial cites KBV Research’s estimate that contactless biometrics will grow by 19 percent year-on-year until 2026, and says the technology will be used for payments, border processes, airport access and to manage the flow of people generally. He also notes the dramatic impact on aviation.

“Our role is to shore up trust by coming up with new ways to keep airline passengers safe and step up border security even more,” Barrial states. “We believe that seamless passenger digital controls are now a must in the new normal. Producing and using a rock-solid digital identity underpinned by touchless biometric tech will help bring about contactless controls.”

Barrial also says Idemia is addressing a range of other use cases for remote identity verification that have emerged from the pandemic.

Graziani has begun going beyond card manufacturers and issuers to speak to retailers about how their payments have been affected by COVID. While contactless payments adoption has lagged in the U.S., he says prominent retailers in the market he has spoken to have seen 150 percent increases in the technology’s use. Consumers are motivated to go cashless, he says, but the industry must focus on collaboration, because of the biometric payment card market’s size, he argues.

“We must help to educate the industry on why biometrics is so powerful,” Taylor argues. “The federal government has known and used this method for decades. We want to bring it to the masses. We want to help to curb the security threats to companies that are on the rise. We see biometrics being a necessary part of securing companies, both from a physical and logical access perspective.”

The expansions of fraud into areas newly dependent on remote trust, and the gaps that can be exploited in solutions rushed to market will have to be born in mind by the industry, Kumnick posits.

How do you anticipate the second half of the year going for your organization?

Barrial says Idemia’s outlook is mixed due to the uncertainty. “However,” he continues, “we believe that our second-half revenues will exceed first-half revenues fueled by growing demand from governments and businesses for our essential and highly relevant solutions.”

Idex is hoping to be back in the office during the second half of the year, and “will continue to leverage our creativity to keep the team culture strong,” Graziani says. The company is anticipating more design wins and commercial order growth, and will look to build on its successful partnerships with Idemia and Zwipe.

Taylor expects the second half of the year to be more predictable and manageable than the first half of 2020, with greater opportunity for ImageWare, particularly helping clients navigate remote work challenges.

Ipsidy is seeing an expanded pipeline and reaching new agreements due to the increase in demand for digital identity solutions, according to Kumnick.

“While digital access to a broad range of services and networks is not new, the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating demand for verifying identity seamlessly during remote onboarding as well securing ‘touchless’ interactions and digital transactions,” he says. “Accordingly, we are experiencing strong interest by companies who are seeking answers to new identity fraud and account takeover schemes.”

What is your advice to the industry at this time?

“The last few months have shown how crucial it is to ramp up society’s digital transformation,” Barrial argues. “More generally, it has highlighted how both physical and digital uses need to be secured with more and more emphasis on everything that is ‘contactless.’ This is why our industry needs to rise to the challenges that this crisis has brought about to come up with novel ways to tackle COVID and protect peoples’ identities whenever they connect, authenticate, pay, access a building, travel, etc. We need to address these concerns by tapping into our expertise in biometrics, data security, connectivity and identity management to ensure that our clients as well as end-users can thrive in this hyper-tech era in total trust. I believe the success and the sustainability of this transition both in the digital and physical world will be made possible thanks to our longstanding expertise in credential management and biometrics.”

“The biometric card industry must all pull together,” declares Graziani. “Some of the players in our market see things as ‘us against them’ whereas I firmly believe there has to be more than one successful fingerprint biometric provider to really drive the market. There can’t be only one supplier of technology for an industry of this magnitude. With billions of cards shipped every year, this will become a battle for market share.  May the best solution win!”

“Biometrics offers a way to maintain counterparty trust and assurance in this new remote and contactless world,” Taylor writes. “Driving biometric innovation and use cases to enable organizations and individuals to leverage this capability in a safe, transparent, and cost-effective manner will benefit the markets and people we serve and bring biometrics to the fore front of cybersecurity.”

“The identity solutions market is experiencing a strong growth trajectory,” Kumnick notes. “Identity providers must continue to innovate so that we deliver services to our customers that allow them to deter identity fraud and offer accurate but low-friction identity experiences that increase security and drive mutual trust between an enterprise and its customers. As an industry we were well on this path over the past 5 years, though the adoption of biometric solutions were ramping slowly in terms of their presence in everyday business. I am certain that as things are now accelerating, you will continue to see both Ipsidy and the industry in general respond to that challenge.”

This post was updated at 6:54pm Eastern on Thursday, September 24 to clarify Idemia’s expectations for the second half of the year.

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