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Considering Biometrics for your organisation?

August 9, 2018
Posted in Resources
August 9, 2018 GraemeH

Many organisations that rely on paper-based records, simple clock-in systems or access control cards to monitor staff attendance. They then come up against issues; Staff clocking their friends or colleagues IN or OUT, people losing their cards or just forgetting to bring them are examples of such problems. These traditional methods will not only be a security issue but will cost a company a lot of time and often a lot of money too.

This concise introduction to Time & Attendance capture options will give you the background information you need to enable you to be more informed of the various options that are now available. The most effective solution is biometric identification


Biometric identification takes unique physical characteristics and uses them for identification of an individual’s identity. These can be profiles of your physical geometry, vascular patterns, hand geometry, finger print patterning, iris markers, and even your voice can be used to ensure that you are who you say you are. The most common are Finger Print and Facial Recognition technology.

Biometric technology allows an employer an unparalleled means of knowing the person who attended at that date and time, was in fact the right person.


Information used by biometric Time & Attendance solutions can be used in two ways. It can either:

  • Identify the individual, by comparing the biometric sample with all the other samples, and finding a match or,
  • Verify the individual by cross-referencing it with another piece of information (such as a swipe card or a unique reference number typed at a keypad), looking that record up, finding the associated biometric file, then comparing the sample supplied with other samples in a database.

Identification is the strongest way to ensure your staff are who they say they are. Verification systems are often less sensitive or ‘tuned down’ and so accuracy can be in question; something to be aware of when thinking about this technology.


As with anything, an organisation must look at what its requirements are to be able to identify the specific biometric option that is most beneficial for them. Different sorts of biometric technology are suited to different environments, and each type of technology has advantages and disadvantages which may be acceptable or unacceptable depending on the way it is to be used. Factors such as cost ease of use and implementation (including workforce acceptability) must be considered. You should also consider location of the clocks. Facial recognition technologies can suffer from too many lumens if you put their camera’s facing bright lighting or windows. Make sure you test this for your specific requirements. Fingerprint readers can often suffer from sensor damage in heavy or industrial conditions. There is always a good solution for each set of conditions, so don’t try to find one solution to service all needs. Pick a supplier who can offer you a variety of clocks all connected to the one software platform.

Other considerations

A biometric system must be able to adapt to permanent and temporary changes for the employee using it. For example, growing a beard or cutting a finger should not prevent someone clocking in at work despite the change in the physical appearance of the body being measured.

Verification systems tend to be less reliable as we have already noted. Many on the market simply offer a ‘match’ or ‘no match’ condition. That is to say, this person is a 0% match, or is a 100% match. This then gets de-sensitized to read a lower percentage, but this is too often a blurring of the biometric markers making them easier to fake.

However, it is important to note that biometric identification tools use information which is never perfect. The technology is generally able to tolerate the nuances of change that occur day to day. This tolerance to daily variation is related to the quality of the biometric information being captured and compared. It is still necessary to set threshold limits of what is acceptable but the amount of biometric points being tested typically exceed what you will find in a verification system.

Facial Recognition

Face recognition software measures a number of points on a face, and often in 3D (three dimensions), including the distances between key characteristics such as eyes, nose and mouth, angles of key features such as the jaw and forehead, and lengths of various portions of the face. Using all of this information, the program creates a unique template which may then be compared to enormous databases of facial images to identify the subject.

This technology is fast becoming the go to technology for leading technology companies to include in TVs, Smartphones, Laptops and Tablets, Access control systems (both domestic and commercial), and is commonly used for Border agencies to rapidly transport you through customs gates.


  • Is increasingly acceptable to the public.
  • It is increasingly more cost-effective rivalling Finger print these days.
  • There is no physical contact with any technology or units so;
    • making them more hygienic
    • making them less susceptible to dirt or debris fouling the unit’s reliability
  • 3D measurement is only possible with this technology versus the other technologies in this article, making it harder to spoof.


  • Reader units are sensitive to factors such as lighting, position, and some to facial expression
  • Most readers cannot differentiate between identical twins or identical triplets, so look for ones which can.
  • Reader units can be sensitive to changes like beards, glasses, piercing, surgery etc. Again, this is not true of all manufacturers to test this with each unit you are considering.


Fingerprint biometric technology refers to the use of a person’s fingerprint characteristics for that person


  • It is argued to be the most tested technology. It has certainly been around for a very long time.
  • It is the most recognised and most accepted biometric option the general public will tolerate. From your smartphone to Border agencies, it is common place.
  • The relatively small size of the reader means it can be integrated into many various applications, making it more popular.
  • The reasonably low cost of the readers means most hardware that includes it is lower cost.
  • The technology is generally very efficient, and data is processed quickly meaning less time at the clocks booking in and out.
  • The system can identify as well as authenticate employees


  • Fingerprint technology is associated with law enforcement and the security services
  • There is a need for the co-operation of the user, i.e. putting the correct finger in the correct position. The better quality the reader, more often the less cooperation required, but some accuracy is always required.
  • Although most readers only accept living fingers, a small minority can accept a molding of a finger or a fingerprint replication.
  • Cuts, residual dirt or a scratched reader all impact the ability of Finger print reading units to perform as required.
  • The reader (sensor) can be exposed and may be damaged in public areas or if located outside a building.

Hand Geometry

Hand geometry is the measurement of the of a person’s hand, and many argue this is the second most common type of biometric recognition system. Arguably, with Apple, Google, Microsoft and others now widely using facial recognition technology, this is no longer true.

With Hand geometry the shape of the hand is scanned in, and parameters such as the length of the fingers, their thickness and their relative position are extracted from the image and are compared with the database in the same way as fingerprints.


  • Not having a law enforcement connotation, the technology is usually acceptable to users
  • It is very simple to use. You often only have to squeeze pins between your fingers to make them take your image.
  • It is immaterial whether fingers and hands are wet or dirty


  • The units can be very large as you have to have a size that can accommodate large hands, and which allow for cleaning as the hand area can get dirty.
  • They are very tactile, so they quickly get dirty and need to be cleaned to be effective.
  • They are almost always ‘verification’ rather than ‘identification’ technology requiring you to enter a PIN then have your hand image matched.
  • There is a risk of false acceptance for members of the same family.
  • Recognition can be corrupted by ageing or injury.
  • They have been historically very expensive devices to install and maintain when compared with the lower cost fingerprint and facial recognition technology.
  • This technology is less and less used given the advent in popularity of alternative, neater technology.

Voice Recognition

This should perhaps be called speaker recognition because it is not the interpretation of the words spoken, which is fairly common in automated telephone systems, but the recognition of the person saying it.

That is to say, each employee is recorded, and the sounds are measured for their frequency, intensity and tone. The computer tries to take into account distortions related to the equipment used, so the voice can be recognised, for example over a telephone or radio transmitter. This technology is not widely used but is sometimes a consideration.


  • It is easier to protect the sensor than in other technologies because it is generally located behind a grille. This technology often relies on existing telephone infrastructure.
  • It is impossible to imitate another person’s voice exactly, so if you find a reliable version of this technology, you should be safer from fraudulent activity.


  • It can be sensitive to the physical and emotional state of the individual.
  • Voice changes with ageing, the seasons illness such as colds, coughs and on occasion with conditions like Hay Fever.
  • It is possible to defraud the sensor by recording and playing back another person’s voice.
  • It can be sensitive to background noise and distortion.
  • The technology is not known for its reliability or cost effectiveness.

Iris Recognition

Iris recognition is a method of biometric authentication that uses pattern-recognition techniques based on high-resolution images of the irises; an individual’s eye or eyes. There are more than 200 separate variables in the design of the iris that can be counted, meaning it is unlikely that two users will be confused.

The legend of many a spy movie or action flick the technology does not fires lasers across your face, or across your eyeball but is much more sedate and considerate to your health.


  • Each iris is almost as unique as a fingerprint. This biometric factor is another reliable way to identify an individual.
  • The iris is easily visible and cannot easily be replicated or photographed.


  • The process is considered invasive, because of having to place the eye close to a special camera. Many are nervous (thanks to Hollywood) about potential damage to such a sensitive body part.
  • Lighting conditions can cause reflections and distort the ability to identify an individual.
  • The technology is notoriously expensive and complicated to install, and given the alternatives, is often disregarded as a genuine choice.
  • In commercial settings, it also has a reputation for poor reliability.


Retinal Scanning

Retinal scans use infrared light to survey the unique pattern of blood vessels of the retina, which is the nerve tissue that lines the back of the eye.

The arrangement of the blood vessels in the retina, are as varied as fingerprints – their relative positions remains unchanged throughout a person’s life.

Although it is considered the most reliable biometric system, it is unpopular because of its invasive nature in order to work users must permit light beams to be shone directly into their eyes for 10 to 15 seconds. This is closer to the Hollywood experience.

The sensation is unpleasant and intrusive enough to make widespread acceptance among the general public unlikely.


It may be easy to forge a signature, but it is nigh on impossible to sign a signature with the exact stroke order, pressure and speed as its rightful owner.

One benefit of signature biometrics lies in the low false acceptance rates associated with this biometric. Similar to voice biometrics, signature biometrics is perceived as non-invasive. We’re all used to signing on the dotted line, but to eliminate the risk of signature forging, this technology has emerged.

This technology is used by some banks for withdrawing money at the counter, but not for time and attendance yet. Sadly, it appears that robotic signature replication devices are a tool in the ascendancy, so we might well see Banks and others pulling away from this altogether which may commit a destiny to Signature biometrics altogether.

Other techniques: just for your interest

Other systems that are still being developed include, amongst others:

  • ear or lip geometry, which is akin to Facial.
  • the way you walk, but this is unlikely to be for commercial applications like Time & Attendance
  • body odor, and finally
  • heart beat

It is difficult to predict which of these technologies will be practical partners for time & attendance systems but unless they get adopted by the mainstream technology providers, it is unlikely many will find their way in to a business case as the most cost effective. Want to see how Innovise can help you innovate effectively? Why not call us now to arrange a free initial consultation.