Keep up with the digital identity landscape.
Until 2018, the Central Bank of Nigeria had a fraud problem.
To combat log-in security breaches, the Nigeria Interbank Settlement System conjured the Bank Verification Number system, a centralized database of biometric information tying user’s physical information to their financial information. Resolute in theory, the onboarding process for the BVN was faulty, with wavering hardware solutions and minimal access for rural citizens. The Nigerian government sought a solution and eventually landed on American biometric hardware company, Integrated Biometrics, to provide for their enrollment.
As of March 2020, the company and Nigerian government have enrolled over 41 million Nigerians.
The close-knit team at Integrated Biometrics is now, however, undertaking a new endeavor, this time local. In June they announced the appointment of their new CEO, Shawn O’Rourke, a veteran in the identity space. With a decades-long career in sensor-tech, O’Rourke’s appointment to the role of CEO of the company is as sound as it is topical.
“Prior to joining IB,” says O’Rourke, “I worked for a medical sensor company that used the technology very similar to the platform that IB uses for its LES (light-emitting sensor) technology for fingerprint scanners.” Vision-wise, the transition was a match—”I saw a lot of really good fits with the technology they’re doing and where they’re taking the company over the next several years,” he adds.
But the products differ completely. IB sets itself apart with its novel hardware structure, an alternative to silicon-based fingerprint tech.
“If you ever see typical’ fingerprint sensors,” says David Deady, IB’s marketing lead, “you put your hand down on it, and you’ll typically see them there’ll be a piece of glass. There’ll be glowing green or blue underneath. It basically uses that light to take a picture of your fingerprints. And then it processes that image.”
Instead, Integrated Biometrics sensors, of which there are seven on the market of late, use a light-less method.
“We have this film, and you can’t see through it. And when you put your hand down on it, it actually electrifies the film and on the bottom of the film, which again, you can’t see because it’s got the camera there. But your fingers glow through the film,” says Deady.
Lacking a light or glass prism, the film method provides for a lightweight sensor body and low power-consumption.
“It’s made our technology really popular right now […] So you can put them into a phone and go out all day long and capture fingerprints, where other people would have to have batteries or an electrical plug,” he adds.
The hardware is even slowly gaining interoperability and the ability to be coded with. Having signed a deal with Sciometrics LLC, a patented object recognition technology, IB is working on building smartphone-specific software algorithms into its hardware. O’Rourke is looking to expand that process.
“Partnerships like [Sciometrics] are basically the next step in growing the company, and that next platform that we’re growing,” he says.
Indeed, O’Rourke’s central focus is simple: unfettered growth.
“We’re a distributed company. We have locations not only in South Carolina, but Arizona and South Korea,” he says. Under his guidance, that list should swell. “We’re going to basically have a world class team that can grow the company 10 to 15% or more, year after year,” he hopes.
That road, however, is not without bumps. IB often deals with governments, whose bureaucracies can be taxing on product roll-out timelines.
“As I’ve come into the industry,” says O’Rourke, “I’ve looked at the field overall, and what I found is that the demand cycle in government acquisition, or government funded acquisition of biometrics, can be long. What we see now, though, is this under swell of increasing interest from the commercial sector.”
A difficulty is maintaining the governmental and commercial balance. “The growth for biometrics overall is basically continuing to build on that government business that we have with identity verification. The universal legal identity by 2030 initiatives will be a huge part of that. But also the base as to where we go in the commercial sector, and where we can build up on that,” O’Rourke says.
And as for the external debates regarding digital identity, misidentifying algorithms and privacy infringements notably, Integrated Biometrics, according to O’Rourke, strikes a safe niche.
“What we hope to do is that you can see there’s growing acceptance of fingerprints as the clear choice for biometric identification, because it is a conscious choice,” as opposed to the wider known and lesser-conscious facial scans. “And it is being used for so many beneficial projects around the world. We’d like to be on the good side of that debate.”
Though relevant, the debate doesn’t hold a candle to another identity-centric issue.
“There are one billion people who have no identity at all in this world,” adds David Deady. “They’re just out of the picture altogether.”
The perspective ties directly into their involvement in the Nigerian digital identity schema.
“They’re [using] IB fingerprint biometrics to identify their citizens so that they can start providing them government services, so that they can get them into the banking systems, and so that they can have jobs and identity,” says Deady.
Only months in, O’Rourke has a firm pulse on the direction of the identity industry. Unsurprisingly, it’s upward.
“The linkage of your fingerprint to your mobile device, your cell phone, that basically verifies who you are, how you bank, how you purchase, right?” he asks.
“There’ll be this tie in of your biometrics to your overall digital world. And I think that it’ll all kind of come together. I think you can see traveling is where it’s happening first in the United States.”
But the US is not the center of the biometric adoption movement, O’Rourke duly notes.
“You can see [biometrics] in Africa with banking and the distribution of aid. That’s where it’s happening. For South America, banking is starting to basically gain a foothold, but national identity is starting to get an uptick there.”
IB and the hardware market, similarly, will evolve under O’Rourke’s watchful lead.
“We have a lot of fantastic new products in the pipeline that you’ll see announced over the next 12 months,” he says. “And they’re not just the new versions of existing products, but completely new products all together, to grow our portfolio overall.”
Growth-minded, his conviction in IB’s future is unmissable.
“I think you’re going to see that if our hardware is great today, it’s going to get greater,” he says.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Olivia Baker is a tech editor and journalist at Identity Review, where she writes on tech policy and national digital identity technologies.
Contact Olivia Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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