A Series of Profiles of Thought Leaders Changing the Business Landscape: Jim Miller, Chairman and CEO, ImageWare.
By Bruce H. Rogers, Managing Director of the SITO Institute.
Pins and passwords are being hacked at an incredibly high rate. As fraud costs and data theft mount, many have been looking for viable options. A recent study from Infotech concluded that password resets can sometimes cost $100 a user. Passwords are unsecure and expensive to maintain. Now many banks, financial service companies, healthcare companies and retailers have figured out that passwords and pins have seen their day and need to be replaced. But replaced by what? Some say the time for biometrics has finally arrived.
San Diego based ImageWare (OTC:IWSY) is working to change the security landscape with their biometric security and authentication technology. Biometrics are the unique, human characteristics like your finger print, face, voice, iris, retina or palm, for example, that are used to authenticate your identity. It has been touted as the next big thing for many years, but has yet to achieve significant adoption.
“It’s taken longer than we anticipated for the day to come when consumers and commercial use of biometrics would be seen on a mass scale, but we happily report that we are at an inflection point now. There’s been a perfect storm for biometrics in the last few years that have brought us here. We now have the mass scale enabling capability due to the smart devices everyone carries in their pockets, the biometrics themselves are now simple and easy to use, and the banks, insurance companies, and healthcare companies are have realized that they need better security. This all spells out a perfect opportunity for biometric technology,” says ImageWare Chairman and CEO, Jim Miller.
ImageWare is a pioneer in the biometric space. The company long believed that biometrics could be utilized by law enforcement in addition to the fingerprint they have always used. ImageWare was one of the first to install facial recognition in US Law Enforcement in Los Angeles in the late 1990s.
“We had an epiphany that although facial recognition was a fantastic technology that was effective at sorting through digital booking photos of thousands of people, we thought about using biometrics beyond law enforcement. We saw it being used in everyday life to authenticate your identity for purposes of commercial transactions. We decided that when that day came to pass, we needed to be the company that built the back-end infrastructure that allowed that to happen,” says Miller.
Rather than providing another front end biometric authentication modality like facial, iris or voice recognition, ImageWare dedicated its time and resources to building a back-end platform that would run millions of biometric searches at one time.
The company’s biometric data platform,the IWS Biometric Engine, is the subject of a dozen or more patents, is highly scalable and can run dozens of different biometrics side by side simultaneously. “The beauty of it is, that if you’re one of our clients, you can detach a biometric modality and replace it with another one, on a plug and play basis. We like to say we secure your future not only literally via security, but we also secure the future of your investment. You’re never going to be stuck with somebody’s proprietary data formats or propriety algorithms. With our platform, you’re always going to be able to avail yourself of the latest and greatest.”
It’s been challenging to manage the expectations of being so early to this market space. In the beginning, ImageWare mostly worked through subcontractors to the government, like Lockheed and IBM. Along the way, they made their biometric engine the centerpiece of the projects they completed for the US Veteran’s Administration. The firm created a multi modal biometric authentication, physical and logical access technology based on biometric verification, for all the employees of the VA system of 650,000 employees across 260 offices. They have dome similar work with the TSA for the Canadian government with their Restricted Access Internal Control system. RAIC works by alerting someone that your identity popped up in the system in Montreal, but shows that you’re actually either working in a Starbucks in Vancouver or scheduled to fly an Air Canada flight out of Toronto, for example.
“We’ve developed a line of product called Go Verify ID. It can be installed in 15 to 30 minutes on the active directory and the Microsoft operating system. We can enable your enterprise to be biometrically authenticatable, literally, in a half hour with no coding, non-integration. That product this year won Frost and Sullivan’s most innovative and best practices in the industry award, of which we’re very proud. We also have a companion product that works for both commercial and consumer, either in the enterprise or for anybody that touches the enterprise,” says Miller.
Miller is not your typical technology entrepreneur. He was born in San Diego and grew up a citizen of the world. His father was a career naval aviator, requiring that his family move a fair amount. “We literally lived all over the world. I was born in San Diego and I came back again at high school time. In the meantime, I was all over the globe. After high school, I went to college at the University of California and then law school, here in San Diego.”
After law school, he went to work in Washington, DC and later ended up coming back to California, working in the legal department of Oak Industries, one of the pioneers in the cable set top converter business. Miller started out life as a practicing lawyer doing securities and M&A work. He then saw how much fun his colleagues in the business arena were having and decided to move over from practicing law to more the operations side of businesses.
“I went to work for the family-run business of ImageWare after Oak Industries to manage the business in 1991. The company was then sold in the late ’90s to a couple of local investors and those two gentlemen asked me if I wanted to roll up my sleeves and see if we could build something special. We set about converting the business, away from an electronic photo imaging business that focused on kiosks where you put in money and it took pictures of you in a photo booth to something more scalable,” says Miller.
ImageWare originally pioneered and had a number of patents, on taking digital photography, automated in a photo booth, and imposing backgrounds on it. It was one of the very first uses of electronic imaging for commercial or consumer. They later took that technology out of the entertainment field and we brought it to using, high quality digital booking photographs for law enforcement, then later built their biometric engine platform to support it. The company went public in 2000.
What does the future hold for the industry and ImageWare?
Analysts firms Gartner, Forrester and IDC, estimate that biometrics will represent a $35 to $50 billion market by 2020, suggesting an enormous ramp up in this space.
“I think that reflects the belief on the analyst’s part that you’re going to see the consumer mass adoption of this technology. Gartner is a group that suggests that by 2020, literally two-thirds of every transaction done in the world will be biometrically authenticated,” says Miller.
Bruce H. Rogers is Managing Director of the SITO Institute. He is the co-author of the book Profitable Brilliance: How Professional Service Firms Become Thought Leaders.