Worldwide biometric market to thrive in 2004

Poised to grow to US$1.2 billion in 2004 up from US$719 million in 2003, the worldwide market for biometric technology is going to see some major growth through 2008, according to a soon-to-be-released report from the International Biometric Group LLC (IBG).

On Thursday, IBG’s New York-based director of special projects, Michael Thieme, presented a sneak peek at some of the findings from the “Biometric Market Report 2003-2008” during a Web cast and conference call with industry insiders and media.

Fingerprinting is currently the most widely-used biometric technology, accounting for US$350 million in revenues in 2004, IBG projects, with facial recognition technology increasing to US$800 million by 2008 due to the U.S. government requirement for biometric passports. IBG expects iris-scanning technology to exceed US$350 million by 2008, and voice recognition technology to exceed US$200 million by the same year.

Most biometric technology employed is in the area of criminal identification, followed by access control and civil identification.

While the US$719 million garnered by the worldwide biometric sector in 2003 fell about 20 per cent short of IBG’s initial predictions of approximately US$900 million for 2003, Thieme said several market inhibitors cropped up over the last 12 to 18 months, thwarting initial forecasts.

One major concern Thieme has heard from both his company’s commercial and government clients is about the lack of standards in the biometric industry.

“Potential deployers really fear being locked into a proprietary solution. It’s important they don’t pick a biometric modality like fingerprint or face recognition, or pick a specific algorithm, which they can’t migrate or won’t be viable in the future,” he explained. “And often, the need to deploy biometrics isn’t quite so urgent that they simply have to do it today.”

While standards are being addressed through standards bodies with emerging formats such as Biometric Application Program Interface (BIO API) and Common Biometric Exchange Format Frame (CBEFF), there is still not a common framework in place to process information derived from biometric data, Thieme said. Middleware vendors in the biometric space are also addressing interoperability issues, but this market is not yet mature, he said.

Also inhibiting adoption is the fact that biometrics has moved out of the realm of novelty — where people were willing to try it out simply because it was new — and now potential deployers are taking a more rigorous look at what biometric products can offer. Other considerations include how they will interoperate with current networks, and the privacy and security implementations of such deployments, Thieme said.

This ties into the ubiquitous phrase of the past year — return on investment (ROI). While IT budgets still haven’t increased substantially, organizations are still examining the business case for implementing biometric solutions, Thieme added.

Despite this strike against biometrics, the industry continues to grow due to factors such as U.S. government mandates involving biometric passports. While this hasn’t pushed the industry as much as expected, Thieme said, government mandates are nevertheless a driving force in the industry.

Also, Thieme said firms are trending towards centralized identity management, employing a combination of both physical and logical access parameters to gain access to different types of resources.

“We’ve definitely seen an upswing in people looking for that sort of identity management solution, which does not require biometrics, but often implies the use of biometrics,” Thieme explained.

Thieme said other drivers include the fear of identity and device theft, with companies showing an interest in using fingerprinting technologies to allow users access to devices such as cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs).

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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