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Biometrics solutions still searching for identity in channel

As health care enterprises put biometrics security products under the microscope, VARs find that better, safer systems is at the top of their demands.

The potential for biometrics technology as part of identity management solutions in certain niche applications continues to intrigue VARs and systems integrators, especially those involved in the health care industry.

But actual deployments and service opportunities for IT solution providers have been slower to catch up. The low numbers are in spite of the inclusion of technologies such as fingerprint readers and palm-print scanners in notebook models from manufacturers including Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo.

The slow uptick has a lot to do with cost, but it also highlights concerns about the “false positives” that fingerprint scanners or palm-print readers can sometimes yield, according to security VARs and systems integrators.

“There are a lot of things that can happen if a biometrics method fails,” said Michelle Drolet, CEO of Towerwall Inc., a security solution provider in Framingham, Mass.  “If it doesn’t work, you can’t log on. What happens if a false positive occurs when you are on the road? Most people aren’t ready to deal with this.”

Many security solution providers have been watching biometrics technologies for years, as they seek viable methods of identity authentication.

Rocky Gregory, information security solutions engineer for Accuvant Inc., a Denver-based security solution provider, said that the health care sector is clamoring for credible secondary security authentication methods. That’s because solutions that require a health care professional to log on to a computer using a typed password are at odds with the physical requirements of some health care settings.

“We have to get to a secondary authentication system that is easy for the masses that puts us into a more secure environment,” Gregory said.

Types of biometrics validation systems
The most commonly understood and widely used biometrics authentication method is fingerprint scanning, although Gregory said there remains a “fine line between false positives and negatives.”

Other methods cited by solution providers and integrators evaluating this market are palm readers (think PalmSecure from Fujitsu Frontech North America) and retinal scanners, most often associated with military or government settings. RFID readers, in certain applications, could be considered security devices because they can track movement of, for example, a patient.

A forecast by Acuity Market Intelligence states that commercial solutions that use biometrics could match public sector deployments by 2014. Overall, the market could generate $11 billion in 2017, compared with slightly north of $4 billion this year. That’s one reason some of the highly visible vendors in this segment are fine-tuning their channel partner programs.

Training for resellers
In mid-September, Fujitsu Frontech of Foothill Ranch, Calif., launched a new partner program, called PalmPartner, to train VARs and systems integrators on creating applications that build on the Fujitsu PalmSecure biometric technology. The thrust of the program is to help train VARs for specific, customer-focused applications, notably in health care.

Christer Bergman, vice president of the Fujitsu Frontech biometric solution group, said Fujitsu provides the reader and a simple software development kit that uses PalmSecure as the biometric engine. “We need to provide the technologies and then work closely with partners to get the sales and business developed,” Bergman said.

Today, the biggest installed based for PalmSecure is in health care settings. Recent implementations include a patient registration system for the New York University Langone Medical Center and a patient registration and records management system for the George Washington University Medical Center.

Health care security systems are also the top focus for BIO-key International Inc., a Wall, N.J.-based company that has invested in courting VARs and systems integrators as a sales and solution channel for its technologies.

Scott Mahnken, vice president of marketing for BIO-key, said the company’s technology is integrated with products from many of the top vendors supporting single-sign-on solutions including CA, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle. “People have been inconvenienced by passwords,” Mahnken said. “Hospitals, blood banks, they want to do this for compliance reasons, but they also want to do this to help tame administrative costs.”

Jim Russell, vice president of sales for Matrix Systems, a biometrics integrator in Miamisburg, Ohio, said another key selling point for biometrics solutions is convenience.

Doctors in surgery don’t want to have to carry proximity badges to enter certain secure areas, but fingerprints aren’t an option because of surgical gloves, so iris scans could work well, Russell said.

About the expert
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist in the New York area with more than 20 years experience. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. Clancy was previously editor at Computer Reseller News, a B2B trade publication covering news and trends about the high-tech channel.


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