IBT Returns: TSA PreCheck biometrics pioneer stars in sequel
Like a hit movie birthing a sequel a generation later, Integrated Biometric Technology (IBT) has relaunched with bold ambitions for the future of biometrics in the consumer realm. The company’s ambitions start with the fan experience, but even there take a broad interpretation, beginning before the fan arrives at the event.
One of the major contributions of the first round of IBT was expanding biometrics from what CEO and Founder of the reborn company Charles Carrol refers to in an interview with Biometric Update as the “applicant market,” or “non-law enforcement.”
Non-law enforcement back then meant going to the FBI to complete background checks, improving on the wait times from Sheriff’s departments that were the only ones previously offering the service, which would sometimes stretch to over half a year. Prompt background checks were often all that stood between convicted pedophiles and new victims, Carrol explains.
The infrastructure, however, was nascent, and the FBI prioritized criminal matters over civil ones, even though federal and state laws required the checks.
“The FBI was kind of pushing back,” Carrol says. “They didn’t want to take a lot of prints.”
Carrol had to find the right developer. He had developers on his team already, but “nobody with really deep knowledge into biometrics and identity.”
He found one in Lockheed Martin, developer of the FBI’s IAFIS. The startup approached the $40 billion company, Carrol recounts, and said: “I’ve got a commercial application for some of your software that you use with your AFIS, and I want to be my developer, and I want you to be my integrator, and we’ll co-develop with you.”
The result was the rollout of the first internet-based software to allow the biometric templates collected on devices like the Crossmatch Livescan to be shrunk down, encrypted, and sent over the internet. In what was than an unusual business arrangement, IBT asked for a per-click fee instead of an up-front payment.
“Before that, nobody was using the traditional transaction model,” says Carrol.
IBT won the RFP, and the first biometric check came back in 20 minutes, compared to waits which before that would often stretch to 6 weeks. The benefits to school systems and the safety of students were energizing to Carrol and his team.
“I have to feel like I’m doing something that makes the difference.”
IBT had 10 full-time staff at the time, and collected fees on that project from 2002 to 2012.
TSA called MorphoTrust, which had acquired IBT, around 2004 to implement a Patriot Act mandate to screen truck drivers transporting hazardous waste.
Eventually, IBT technology would enroll the biometrics of the first wave of TSA PreCheck members. The volume of TSA PreCheck enrollments went from 200 to 18,000 a day by May of 2016. The system bent but did not break.
“I’ve been successful,” Carrol assesses. “My team has been successful. I kept everybody together because they understood that this is not just a job; it’s something that has an impact on people. Now we’re helping people be safe in airports. We’re doing it in the schoolhouse. So, I believe most of my people bought into the purpose and the cause, not just making money.”
IBT was sold to L1 Identity Solutions, and eventually ended up a part of Idemia. In 2019, his last year with Idemia, Carrol says he “was generating over $600 million in gross revenue and over $100 million in profit.”
The potential for biometrics and the other underlying technologies to improve people’s lives and experiences is much broader than is being realized, however, according to Carrol.
Many fans of convenience
“I believe we haven’t even scratched the surface with identity management and all the different ways that biometrics can be used to impact people’s lives,” he says.
One area where it could help further is large events. In 2015, Carrol signed the first deal with Live Nation to provide PreCheck at events.
The motivation for this deal was different, he says, than for Clear, which used to use technology developed by IBT, and is looking to add value for its $180 annual membership fee. TSA PreCheck costs $85, or $17 a year for 5 years.
Carrol has met with sports franchise owners, GMs and presidents to find out what their top priorities are.
“They all would say ‘safety and security,’ which is at the top of their list,” he shares. “But they don’t want to spend any money on it, not unless they have to, because it doesn’t generate, it costs money. They’re all concerned about people. But when I just peel back the onion, multiple layers, every organization today, their number one objective is to improve the fan experience. The reason being; they’re competing against each other.”
Carrol studied the fan journey for ways to improve the fan experience, and identified the most common points of friction within it.
“I designed a system to overcome all those friction points, including standing in line at the concession stand,” he states. “How did I solve it all? Biometrics.”
The San Francisco 49ers said they would buy membership for all club seat holders as an incentive, which makes the offering more attractive, and also prevents people from sharing the wristbands they use for access to exclusive areas.
Carrol says 5,000 Boston Red Sox fans signed on to the program in around 45 days, and estimates the over the course of full a season, the company could have signed up half of all attending fans.
“When you know who people are, there are things you can do,” he explains. “You can establish driving patterns, if they want to get lower insurance rates.”
The same model can be applied to different kinds of events, and some of the same technologies can be combined in different ways to address other kinds of uses cases.
“Maybe sports, maybe law enforcement, it may be all sort of different marketplaces; it’s the integration of other technologies together,” Carrol emphasizes.
The integration of existing technologies to offer novel services and solutions for biometrics and identity management is IBT’s mission, and the company will develop software to complete them. Big incumbents in biometrics like Thales and Idemia started off as product companies, Carrol points out, and are structurally better equipped to produce and sell them than to design new integrations, Carrol suggests.
“The problem is they’re all so stove-piped and towered off that they’re struggling to provide integrated solutions today.”
Like the fan experience solution that includes GPS and geofencing technologies, Carrol says IBT is “looking for integration across the board with other technologies.”
It also operates in a different environment than other companies, he says. The team so far is small and includes people with a lot of experience working together, but it could grow quickly.
“I’m going to build a very high-performing internal team, but we’re going to do mergers and acquisitions,” he says. “That’s one of the advantages of being around for a long time is I’ve done a lot of work with a lot of people.”
Carrol professes he has a lot of experience with high-functioning smaller companies that “just don’t have the capital.” As with individuals, he says you have to pay to get the right one, and that the skill level and quality of individuals are both important.
If all goes well, Carrol mentions he may be open to moving on to a board position in a few years.
“We’re on a mission, so there’s a level of intensity that we operate under right now, because we don’t feel we have got a lot of time.”