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Changing an industry: Integrated Biometrics Steve Thies reflects on identity technology

Changing an industry: Integrated Biometrics Steve Thies reflects on identity technology

Biometrics is still in its infancy as an industry, and just beginning to evolve beyond being driven by government demand, says retiring Integrated Biometrics CEO Steve Thies.

“The commercial enterprises of the world are still trying to figure out how to make it work for them in a fashion that creates benefits for them,” he observes in an interview with Biometric Update.

With his newfound freedom, Thies is planning to travel America in a sprinter van and spend time with his wife. He will consider writing a book to help young people pursue their business dreams.

Looking back on the evolution of biometrics since IB was founded, Thies notes that the timeline for the premise of perfect biometrics promised after 9/11 was off.  A lot of progress has been made in the past 20 years, however.

We now have good-guy databases, such as Clear, and biometrics are more and more frequently used to help deliver social benefits, the right to vote, and other necessities. Of course, these benefits are balanced against privacy considerations, tech issues, and issues inherent to the mobility of people.

“It’s a big stew that’s mixing around,” Thies says.

Modality ping-pong and persistence

Thies is optimistic about the future of biometrics in general, but also about the future of fingerprints. He notes that Touch ID expected to return to an upcoming iPhone as an under-display feature, in part of a broader market trend of modalities “playing ping-pong.” This includes finger, face, voice, iris and other biometrics, all of which, he believes, here to stay. Contact-based fingerprint enrollment, Thies believes, is a permanent fixture within the field of biometrics.

Opportunities are still abound within biometrics for businesses that can offer a differentiated product, that provides real value to customers. Those businesses must be persistent, however. Building a business, even in a rapid-growth environment, takes time, Thies says, and biometrics sales cycles are often long, especially for government contracts.

Integrated Biometrics’ core technology remains highly differentiated within the market, Thies says, some 13 years after the company started in 2008 with a team of five. Now up to 90, IB is still making the electroluminescent film scanners that have been its signature all along, though some companies have begun moving into thin film transistor scanners.

For those that bring real value, the biometrics industry’s potential is enormous, Thies says, noting market growth projections that seem hopeful, but may be muted.

“I know the ten or fifteen percent is true, because our CAGR’s way over that.”

The human side

Thies has been writing letters to some of IB’s long-standing partners and customers, telling them the news and thanking them for their collaborations over the years.

“It’s amazing how those companies that have stuck with and tried and kept at it, many of them are still out there,” Thies says. “So it’s not for the weak of heart, and not everybody’s going to be successful, but it’s a trip that’s worth taking if you in fact have something that’s different, in fact you can differentiate yourself and create value for the customers.”

Thies emphasizes the role of not only every employee, but all stakeholders in building a business for the long haul.

“Our investors were very, very patient,” he states. “Our suppliers have been very, very creative. Our employees have worked very, very hard. Our customers have been good customers, for the most part,” he adds with a laugh.

One of the letters drew a reply, shared with Biometric Update, that gives insight into the accomplishments of IB over Thies’ tenure.

The reply refers to conversations at the dawn of Integrated Biometrics about how to turn the company’s LES (light-emitting sensor) film, saying “The vision you and your team had, and executed, essentially change an entire industry, which previously was built on optical and CMOS sensors.”

That change, according to the biometrics industry insider, has made a “real difference to the betterment of our country and our people.”

The role of personal relationships in making that change is also made clear in the note.

An important mission

While there are important concerns to be addressed in the proliferation of biometric identification, just one generation on from 9/11, acceptance of the technology is strong, Thies says. While there are “radicals on both sides of the bell curve” who do not want to use biometrics, he believes that “different modalities will help close that gap.”

Biometrics have now become normal for many people doing many things, and that normalization process will continue.

The achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of universal legal identity by 2030 (SDG 16.9) is a tall order, Thies believes. He refers to the pace of COVID-19 vaccination, which shows that while crisis can inspire fast action, it does not necessarily inspire it from everyone.

But is identity a crisis?

“It is if it stands between you and some benefits that you need,” Thies says. “It is if you’ve been selected as a terrorist and you’re really not. It is a crisis for people sometimes today.”

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