Biometrics, an automated technique that identifies or verifies the identity of an individual by measuring his/her physiological or behavioral characteristics has benefited wide range of applications, such as financial institutions, law enforcement, health and social services. Additionally, the use of biometrics foresees a huge potential in new applications, such as education, retail, school lunch programs, physical access to night clubs, and amusement parks.
Fingerprint, face, iris, hand geometry, voice, and signature biometrics are the foundation of an extensive array of highly secure identification and personal verification solutions in the government vertical. The increasing number of fraudulent and criminal activities in the world makes it necessary to adopt security solutions across the government enterprises.
The market share of this vertical is growing year-on-year and its potential is expected to dramatically increase in the coming years. Governments all across the world plan to implement biometrics in transportation, border control, and immigration. These initiatives are moving at a rapid pace in the United States as well as in some countries in Europe and the Asia Pacific.
Strategic Assessment of the North American Market
The North American government biometrics industry is growing at a steady rate in all technological applications. Security being of prime importance in the government sector, local, regional, and national government organizations are purchasing biometric systems because of their high accuracy, convenience, and time-efficient features.
In order to authenticate or identify a person, a user is first enrolled into the database by creating a reference template of the biometric feature. The biometric algorithm then converts biometric data into a mathematical template that can be compared with the biometric data stored on a centralized database or on a smart card. A match that meets or exceeds a predetermined security threshold for that application allows the subject access to the application.
Currently, automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) fingerprint recognition technology dominates the market and is expected to continue to be the leading biometric technology in the long term. Face recognition biometrics market is growing rapidly to emerge as the next largest biometric technology, following the fingerprint biometrics market. Additionally, there is a growing emphasis on implementing high security solutions in North America today and iris recognition technology is well positioned to capitalize on this opportunity. An enhanced degree of awareness and acceptability for iris recognition technology would boost the market and help it enter into high growth stage in the medium and long terms of the forecast period.
The U.S. mandated Visa Waiver Program (VWP), the border management control programs, the national ID programs, driver's license, and the physical access and logical access control programs for buildings have all provided opportunities for the biometric vendors. Furthermore, key drivers such as government regulatory standards, increased emphasis on security, and initiatives by the biometric vendors to offer the most accurate and affordable products are expected to further enhance the market conditions for biometrics in North America in the coming years.
Some of the recent most successful government-funded large-scale projects are mentioned below.
* In December 2008, GTSI Corp. (GTSI) and Sagem Morpho, Inc. (SMI) provided The Port of Miami with fixed biometric readers integrated with a Physical Access Control System (PACS). The readers authenticate Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC) smart card holders through a contactless interface. This solution enhances the safety of the Port's cruise passenger terminal and expedites the verification of dock workers entering secure areas around the ships.
* In October 2008, L-1 Identity Solutions, Inc. was selected by the state of New York to provide the state residents with convenient facilities for fingerprinting, background checks and processing of other data required for applications to certain jobs and state licenses.
* In September 2008, Retica Systems, Inc. was awarded a contract from the U.S. Army to identify enemy threats for Homeland Defense using iris recognition technology.
* In May 2008, Unisys Canada Inc. was awarded a contract by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) to supply, integrate and manage a new identification management system, using fingerprint and iris biometric technology. This contract was awarded to verify the identities of airport workers at 29 airports throughout Canada.
The Road Ahead
According to a Frost & Sullivan study on the North American government biometrics market, the market size in terms of revenues was valued at US$260.7 million in 2007, and it is expected to reach $944.7 million by 2014.
It is evident that biometric companies are poised for enormous growth for the foreseeable future. However, there are key industry challenges that need to be addressed as follows:
* Government projects are prone to bureaucratic procedure, lengthy sales cycles, and budgetary constraints. The slow decision-making nature of governments needs to be taken into account and built into company sales cycles.
* Privacy concerns regarding misuse of biometric data and biometric data integrity still exist and cannot be disregarded. As biometric technologies are increasingly deployed in government verticals, issues regarding the benefits of the technology and how to use the technology effectively will need to be addressed.
* Government application requires interoperable systems and standards-based biometric technologies to curb fraudulent activities. The industry has worked on creating standards. However, a lot of work still needs to be done including the compliance of these standards by all vendors.
At present, the biometrics industry is highly fragmented; however, recent mergers and acquisitions suggest consolidation is inevitable. Strategic alliances and acquisitions will lead to deployment of multimodal technology or the concept of using two or more biometric technologies for a particular application in the government vertical. This multi-factor authentication will provide stronger security by collectively overcoming the limitations of individual technologies.
Additionally, with prices declining even further, and competitors investing on research and development to introduce new products with enhanced features to meet the industry's current and future requirements, it is anticipated that biometric technologies will be an integral component of national security and defense strategies in near future.