Selling Biometrics to Your Employees

Biometric solutions offer a number of benefits, but misinformation may limit widespread adoption of biometric technologies. Some of common myths surrounding biometrics are debunked by Jon Mooney, a 12-year veteran of Ingersoll Rand and General Manager of Ingersoll Rand Security Technologiesˇ Biometric Business Unit.

When installing any system, it is important that the ultimate users are educated. Nobody likes change. That is particularly true when it comes to biometrics, as there are several urban myths about biometrics that refuse to die.

These concerns include the potential for invasion of privacy and hygiene. Neither should be a concern, given that biometrics provide employees with increased security in access control applications, and improved record-keeping in time and attendance applications. Below is a look at each concern in more detail.

Biometric Readings Are Private

People confuse biometrics with the systems they see on TV crime shows. When considering the privacy concerns associated with biometrics, an important distinction must be made between identification, a one-to-many match, and authentication  a one-to-one match. It is vital that users understand the difference.

A system designed to identify a person compares a biometric presented by a person against all biometric samples stored in the database. The system identifies the individual if the presented biometric matches one of the many samples on file. This is called a one-to-many match. This type of system is used by the police to identify criminals, and by governments to identify qualified recipients for benefit programs and registration systems for voting, licensing drivers and so on. This is the type of system seen on TV crime shows.

The authentication process, however, involves a one-to-one search. A live biometric presented by the user is compared to a stored sample, previously given by that individual during enrollment, and the match is confirmed. The hand geometry or fingerprint of the user is not stored in a database or on an ID card. Instead, a mathematical equation, or algorithm, is performed with points measured on the finger or hand. The template that results from this equation is all that is stored.

When the user presents an ID card or enters an assigned PIN, only that template is transmitted. When the employee presents his/her hand or finger, the reader runs the authentication process to determine if the template that is stored matches the biometric being presented. If there is a match, the person is authenticated.

Regarding privacy issues, most companies will find that hand readers are easier to sell to employees than fingerprint readers. After all, hand readers are never used in crime shows. Whether a hand geometry or fingerprint system is employed, an explanation of how the biometric authentication system works will calm fears.

Hygiene and Doorknobs

It is true that users frequently touch objects or surfaces, which may provide risks of contamination. Initially, some hand geometry and fingerprint reader users show an opposition towards this technology, using hygiene concerns as a starting point. The bottom line is that a user is no more likely to pick up germs from a biometric reader than from other common objects or surfaces, which he/she may touch, including doorknobs and counter tops.

Nonetheless, to avoid a perception of hygiene problems, Ingersoll Rand suggests the biometric unit be cleaned and disinfected more than a doorknob would be and that organizations provide a dispenser with liquid hand sanitizer by each unit. Such measures help increase the confidence of the users for the system.

The new Schlage hand readers address this problem. To be introduced later in 2008, they will feature an advanced plastic technology that reduces the spread of microorganisms. A special silver-based material, using BioCote silver antimicrobial technology, is embedded into the plastics used to create the hand readers, providing a hygienic finish that resists bacterial degradation and reduces bacteria levels on the reader's surface.

Biometrics Increase Security

In today's world, employees should welcome the increased security that biometrics provide. It seems that, too often, there are media reports about disgruntled employees rampaging through the workplace. That is a very good reason to implement biometric access control. The biometric provides additional safety for a workforce.

More Accurate Time and Attendance

Hand readers are used to record payroll hours quickly and accurately. Such biometric systems ensure that payroll information is transmitted correctly to the payroll department, and that exact time worked, including overtime, is recorded properly.

With a biometric system, the company eliminates the costs and mistakes inherent in manual data inputting. Among the costs and mistakes eliminated are those that can affect an employee's paycheck  input errors can shortchange an employee's pay, wasting both the employee's and the employer's time in correcting the mistake, to say nothing of the frustration on the part of the employee. Most importantly, any concerns about accuracy disappear after the first pay period when employees see that all times have been accurately processed.

In addition, with the biometric system, employees are provided increased flexibility. They can view up to 24 information fields to immediately review punches or find out about their schedules, total hours worked, and other important information.

Most Complaints Are Really Concerns over the Unknown

Employee concerns generally disappear after a brief system introduction. The personnel manager might say, "This new biometric reader uses the size and shape of the hand to verify an individual's identity. You punch in a short user ID code, and then the hand reader looks at the length, width, thickness and surface area of your hand, identifying unique features from a projected image that resembles the shadow cast by your hand."

Following this up with a clear description of how biometric verification works  at the very beginning  demystifies the device and helps users feel at ease.
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