Researching my recently-published report on Biometrics for Mobile Devices revealed much about this intriguing market. Perhaps the most important learning was this: Use cases rule. Consumer device shipments do not make a biometric market. Cool technology advances do not make a biometric market. Use cases – specific to an industry, even specific to a company – drive biometrics forward.
This novel approach to technology – putting the problem first – is refreshing. And it’s easier to talk about solving problems that have already been identified – the use cases – than wondering whether or not a given technology will get traction. Biometric use cases go beyond the usual fare of return on investment (ROI) or net present value (NPV). My personal favorites are those that enable more people to participate in an economy. Examples include voter registration programs and charitable aid tracking. These use cases enable many to participate equitably in situations where previously they could not.
Biometric modalities are democratic: having a voice, a finger, or an eye is not restricted by race, religion, literacy, gender, or age. This is the first market I’ve researched where vendors speak passionately about the opportunities in developing economies. Voter registration and fair distribution of aid are substantially enhanced by biometric programs that can identify people quickly and confidently, without the need to fill out forms. Eliminating paperwork is vital in economies with reduced literacy rates. Likewise, biometrically tracking distribution of non-governmental assistance can reduce fraudulent attempts to receive multiple aid packages at different distribution points.
Even ROI and NPV have a place in developing economies, where rates of fraud and theft are often higher than normal, in part due to poor existing IT infrastructure. Biometrics can mitigate many forms of fraud, to the point where systems quickly pay for themselves, especially in financial use cases.
Not all biometrics use cases are rosy, to be sure. As this blog noted several months ago, most biometrics vendors do not yet fully understand in-the-field use cases for local law enforcement agencies, often offering solutions that might improve biometric capture but reduce officer safety. For now at least, sales to local law enforcement agencies remain lower than vendors would like. In time, those vendors are likely to learn what works in the field and offer appropriate solutions. Until then, no amount of cool technology is likely to override officers’ understandable concerns for their own safety.
My final benefit of use cases is admittedly slightly selfish. My current research project is forecasting the entire biometrics market for the next decade. Use cases give me a solid platform on which to base the forecasts, to understand how individual biometrics markets – whether modalities or industries – are going to perform. And portends the holy grail of market research: actionable numbers!