TECH5’s subtle but fundamentally different approach to biometrics for inclusive identity
It may be difficult to remember, amidst international expansion on the heels of a major asset acquisition and deals to deploy its technology all over the world, that TECH5 is a business built with a social purpose. The name TECH5 is derived from its goal of creating technology for inclusion.
“We founded TECH5 with the goal of developing inclusive technologies that facilitate the participation of everyone in society in government programs and enable them to access their benefits. Our aim is to help bridge the gap between the developed and under-developed countries,” says Co-founder and CEO of the company Machiel van der Harst.
The company says its technology falls into four offerings, consisting of contactless capture, biometric identification (including deduplication), digital ID issuance, and verification and authentication of a digital ID holder, or any other citizen or customer of a government or a business entity that uses TECH5’s technology.
Co-founder and CTO of TECH5 Rahul Parthe tells Biometric Update that the expansion of TECH5’s portfolio with the T5-Digital ID brings the vision of a biometrics as an enabler for inclusion to the other side of the lifecycle of an identity: “Once you’re issued an identity, how can it be used by anybody in society?”
Parthe and the rest of the executive team see decentralized digital identities as the way of the future and sought to align their approach with the standards in development.
“How do we fit into this ecosystem where everybody is moving towards the W3C digital identity world – decentralized digital identity?”
The company arrived at the T5-Cryptograph, which in W3C terms is an identity wallet which stores digital attestations and claims in a way that can be electronically read and verified. TECH5’s digital ID stored in a T5-Cryptograph is currently “very close to compliance with the W3C requirements,” Parthe says.
The difference is that TECH5’s digital ID is purpose-built for non-ideal environments, meaning use offline and without a personal device, while also supporting peer-to-peer transactions. Such “non-ideal environments” are still very much prevalent worldwide. “To properly implement a fully compliant identity wallet you don’t need all those (capabilities),” Parthe explains.
“Now when you add that to, let’s say, a decentralized digital ID concept which is compliant with W3C, you make a very powerful solution. Not only for people, but also the governments. Because now they can issue a credential that is not only W3C compliant but also extends the reach.”
If a country decides to implement W3C-compliant infrastructure, TECH5 can provide an additional option for a credential that is not device-bound.
Real-world implementations expanding
The partnership with ZKTeco and PassiveBolt provides an example of TECH5’s biometric T5-Cryptograph being deployed in the real world as a W3C-compliant digital ID.
T5-Cryptograph and biometric technology are integrated into an app that hotel guests use for room entry.
“The implementation itself now enables people the comfort that none of their information is going to be stolen or lost, it’s only used for the purpose of the transaction,” Parthe explains.
The initial implementation is now live with 80 hotel rooms, and the partners are looking to expand the technology throughout the hotel industry. Parthe says the importance of the application for TECH5 is in its demonstration of the technology in a novel application.
“As TECH5, we’re not focusing explicitly on access control business; it’s just one of the use-cases. This concept can be applied to a national citizen registry and implemented as an ID which you can use for financial transactions or any other use case.” There are tens of Digital ID implementations in TECH5’s portfolio, including the recently-announced Student IDs in DRC, Gun permits in Colombia.
Accordingly, the company’s contactless biometrics are being deployed to the field in various applications, says Head of Sales Ameya Bhagwat. They are drawn from around 50 target markets and verticals, he says, encompassing national ID, foreigner IDs, student IDs, payment authentication and more.
TECH5 relies on partners to develop end-to-end solutions, however, and is therefore continuing to invest in its partner network to unlock new markets, Bhagwat says.
“From a sales point of view, we are looking at locating our teams and offices where we see the most traction,” Bhagwat explains. “So, Middle East and Africa is definitely one of them. We are expanding in Europe, with the presence of the team in Portugal, now, and we are also looking at the Americas with the recent Imageware asset acquisition. And we continue to consolidate our position in the Asian market. That’s the home market for us.”
Taking biometrics in a different direction
As TECH5’s partners develop end-to-end solutions, the company, as a core tech provider, is focusing on the “race to zero error in non-ideal conditions.”
That means it must work on inferior infrastructure, with lower-quality data.
“AI is coming to the rescue,” Parthe says. “What we are also learning is you don’t have to stick to the traditional biometrics. There are other modalities that can be extracted from the information that you collect anyways.” A picture of a hand, for instance, can be used for contactless fingerprint biometrics.
This kind of direction also differentiates TECH5 from other ABIS providers offering finger, face and iris modalities. TECH5 is a challenger in this space.
As an ABIS and digital identity provider that entered the market when the law enforcement ABIS market had already matured, TECH5 offers its matching technology in large part to support other sectors, like civil registration. TECH5 is already involved in national-scale projects.
“These are technologies in which efficiency is proven, not only in real-world projects, but some of the largest in the world,” Strategic Advisor Rob Haslam points out. “These are national level programs managing hundreds of millions of identities.”
Potential implementations, therefore, are as varied as countries. This makes the company’s partner network particularly important.
“At the end of the day, when we talk about a specific use case and a specific geography, we believe that the best approach to addressing customer problems is partnering with companies who have the local knowledge, and the capability to implement it,” Bhagwat says.
A vision for the future of digital ID
TECH5 recently completed a review of its five-year strategy, which Haslam describes as “essentially built on top of the belief that digital ID is the future of the biometrics industry. So, everything we do plays into digital ID in some way or another.”
This is why TECH5 is in the unusual market position of selling an ABIS and a credential engineered to support W3C standards and decentralized identity, that can be fully electronic or paper based. However, TECH5 also plays in the law enforcement market, especially in the U.S. – with its portfolio of newly acquired products and customers.
“There is a very subtle but fundamental difference in the approaches of how biometrics are used today versus what we envision,” Parthe says.
In TECH5’s system, biometrics is the key that controls access to the individual’s claims and the data that supports them.
Explaining that vision will require TECH5 to share knowledge more actively with the market, says Head of Marketing Yulia Thomas. For many people who could benefit from biometrics, the technology is still associated with either “Big Brother” or unlocking a phone, she points out.
“That needs to be changed. People need to realize and understand the benefits and challenges of the biometric and digital ID market: what is possible today, and what is not, what can be dangerous, and what serves to their benefit. We will be influencing the market, so you will see us speaking much more about digital ID and really sharing our vision. It’s not just marketing we all know; it is thought leadership and influencing.”
Building the company
As this is happening, the team is growing, Haslam says. So is TECH5’s product portfolio and partner base, and it is expanding into new geographies and vertical markets.
The acquisition of Imageware’s assets is a departure from the company’s organic growth strategy, carried out for strategic reasons. TECH5 will integrate those assets and reach an operational basis for the U.S. in 3 to 6 months, according to U.S. Head of Operations Steve Kelly. He says the strategic step is a good move for TECH5 to accelerate its entry into a new market.
The North American market is being kept “somewhat separate internally for this year” in order to integrate it properly, Haslam says.
There will be cross-fertilization of technologies between the North American and global teams, and Kelly says there is good synergy between the assets acquired and those in development.
“There are elements that they had which we didn’t and vice versa.” Kelly believes that the acquired technologies could be added to TECH5’s platform later this year or next year.
The integration will not take as long as it might have, Kelly says, since the North American part of the business “came from very established roots.”
“I will at some point get back to doing the full operational role, which is really putting structure into the whole organization, making sure we have common practices and procedures across the organization so we can all work well together,” Kelly foresees.
The route to market through partners gives TECH5 scalability, Head of Commercial Operations Neil Rudeforth says.
TECH5 is building offices in different regions, but “for us to scale properly we have to reach those markets and those customers, and we do that through our partners,” Rudeforth explains. “So that partner network is really important to us, and selecting and certifying the right partners to work with is critical.”
It is the key to ensuring the company’s technology is used for inclusion. At the same time, TECH5 seeks to “sell to the customers, and then deliver through our partners,” Rudeforth says. “So, there’s an element of taking our partners with us into the projects to understand what the bigger picture is.”
When asked about how closely TECH5’s partners had followed the development of W3C’s DID specification, Rudeforth says there is a big range of experience and understanding among partners. That, in turn, makes the company’s local offices and support important.
Expanding the partner program is Rudeforth’s objective for this year. That means not just identifying partners, but “making sure that we onboard them properly, train them properly, support them properly, not just technically, but with marketing and collateral, but importantly with that thought leadership that you’re getting from somebody like Rahul. Who is leading the thinking on where you can take this technology.”
Case studies of what TECH5 and its partners have done in Ethiopia, for example, help, he says.
Those projects are clear examples of TECH5’s mission.
“We are not making a jump from centralized ABIS approaches to this futuristic W3C decentralized ID, which is taking shape,” says Parthe. “What we believe is that it’s going to happen, and we are taking very pragmatic steps towards that.”