The case for biometric technology post COVID-19

by FM Media
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facial recognition tech

Necessity is the mother of invention. This has never been more true as we navigate our businesses into the future and manage the repercussions of COVID-19, says Geoff Cropley.

Social distancing and low- (or ideally no-) touch requirements are forcing a rethink of many of the technologies used on a day-to-day basis to manage what were previously thought of as fairly straightforward administrative transactions. Given the core responsibility for facilities managers is to know who is accessing their building, processes such as access control, time and attendance should be top of their list to review. With the best will in the world, simply introducing hand washing and sanitiser to a process based on physical contact isn’t going to cut it.

Here’s why.

Consider this. From the time an employee or visitor arrives at your facility’s front door to the time they get to their workstation, asset or meeting location, they will have likely touched between five and 10 different surfaces. The front door, the sign-in PIN pad or touch screen, swipe passes, finger scanner, elevator door and floor selection buttons, an access device to a secured space, even the humble pen and paper to sign the site or reception register – the list goes on. Each one of these surfaces is touched by many people every single day and no amount of cleaning will keep these areas truly safe, because as soon as they are disinfected, a whole new group of people repeats the process. So where does that leave organisations trying to do the right thing?

The answer lies in the realms of biometric technology, which has revolutionised the way businesses manage entry to buildings and is also increasingly being used for time and attendance monitoring. Market data released earlier this year predicted the use of biometric technology will increase five-fold to US$70 billion by 2030. Until recently it’s fair to say that a significant component of all biometric technology in use may have been contact based (think fingerprint or hand scanners) but, looking to the future, this just isn’t viable.

In March, New York City municipal workers were the first to publicly protest against the fact they had to sign in and out of work using hand scanners, expressing concern about the risk of spreading germs. The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority stopped using its fingerprint-scanning time clocks because of similar concerns. Yet, while fingerprint scanners and other contact-based biometric technologies may now be relegated to the redundant technology pile, there are many other forms of non-contact biometric identification that can offer a level of security and flexibility ideally suited to our newly evolved work practices.

Some of these, such as gait recognition (yes, technology that recognises the way an individual walks) may be a tad future forward for the majority of organisations, but others such as facial recognition is already easy, secure and relatively inexpensive to deploy. It’s not too long ago that facial recognition was more science fiction than fact but, in recent years, rapid technological advances have fuelled its proliferation.

Using biometrics to digitally map an individual’s facial ‘geometry’ – such as the distance between an individual’s eyes, between their forehead and chin, and the width of their nose – facial recognition offers facility managers a straightforward option in a range of commercial contexts and it’s well on its way to becoming a ubiquitous aspect of our daily personal and business lives. After all, many of us already use it to unlock our smartphones and access our bank account apps and are getting comfortable with the convenience and utility it provides.

Beyond the obvious advantage of frictionless entry and authentication, facial recognition in access control applications can also enable a raft of beneficial occupational health and safety outcomes for FMs. This may involve anyone wanting to enter a particular space being required to acknowledge specific safety policy or to confirm that they are wearing the required safety attire at the point of entry to each building or zone. At an even more granular level, facial recognition access control can allow facilities managers to automatically secure confirmation from an individual that they have the appropriate training levels to operate machinery before they enter the space to complete the work. While this brings obvious benefits to the employee or visitor in terms of personal safety, it also ensures a facility is applying a valuable additional level of compliance awareness.

Facial recognition is also being used to add considerable benefits to traditional time and attendance solutions. It can help accurately capture information about staff working across multiple work sites to enable accurate job costing and complete traceability of staff working on a job; and it can be used to accurately capture details of hours worked by staff who are paid on an hourly rate, reducing the potential for human error.

Additionally, facial recognition technology can be used to help businesses comply with new Fair Work requirements for staff on annualised salaries across a range of industries including mining, retailing, manufacturing, hospitality, local government and even wool storage, sampling and testing. The changes to the Fair Work Awards that came into effect in March this year include compliance with a raft of new record keeping requirements, most of that can be addressed with facial recognition solutions. The bottom line is that while the central task in facilities management is to keep a company’s physical properties operating smoothly, it also requires the flexibility to adjust to fresh demands and security challenges. So take the opportunity to consider how the necessity to move from physical to contact free could underpin innovation or a reinvention of your existing processes.

Geoff Cropley is CEO and founder of NoahFace.

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