Throughout November, we at FindBiometrics have been turning our eyes to the border control market as part of Biometric Border Control Month. As part of our month long conversation about the technology protecting national boundaries, FindBiometrics president Peter O’Neill interviewed Peter Went, the CEO of WCC Search & Match.
The discussion begins with an overview of how WCC is helping address the challenges in border control, moves on to the role of multi-modal biometrics in this area, and finishes with talk of why 2014 has been extremely good for Peter Went’s company.
Peter O’Neill, President, FindBiometrics (FB): We are taking a close look at Border Control at FindBiometrics this month, what are some of the challenges in this area and how does your company help solve these?
Peter Went, CEO, WCC: Border Control is focusing very much on control, and I think the trend in the industry is to be preventive. What I mean by that is, first and foremost comes better identification of people travelling. In the past we had focused on biometrics and that is where the whole industry is focused . More advanced projects include multiple biometrics, which is referred to as multi-modal biometrics, and what we have seen recently is a strong increase in interest for biographics.
There are several reasons for this increased interest in biographics. It is driven, for example, by ICAO and their focus on better breeder documents. In order to have a good identification, your identification documents are only as good as your breeder documents that were used to obtain the identification documents. So ICAO is strongly focusing on breeder documents.
Also, API (Advance Passenger Information), PNR (Passenger Name Record), pre-travel screening is all based on biographics. ID documents are biographics, API is biographics, PNR is biographics, ESTA is biographics – so, I think there is a growing appreciation for the role biographics play in border security and border control.
Last but not least, I think, NSA has been in the news recently partially because of their eagerness to use public sources: Facebook, LinkedIn and what have you. I’m not going to judge whether that is good or bad, I think they are trying to do their job, but in order to link travel information with public data sources, of course, you need biographic data as well. My point is that we see a growing interest in biographics in order to perform pre-travel clearance typically done on biographic identification.
FB: You mentioned multi-modal, for our readers not aware of your multi-modal Fusion, can you please describe it for us?
WCC: Absolutely. In the past, when the population of people to be identified was relatively small, it surfaced to use a single biometric trait: a fingerprint, or face, or iris, to identify a person. With growing databases – US-VISIT for example is in excess of 200 million for example, UID in India is close to a billion at the moment – with these huge volumes of people in databases, a single biometric is not sufficient anymore. So now you are combining multiple biometrics.
Another reason for is inclusion is that some people don’t have usable fingerprints. You still want to identify them – to allow entry into a country or entitlement or what have you – so inclusion is a second important argument for multiple biometrics.
That means there is a need for platforms that are able to combine multiple biometric traits into a single identification process. WCC is one of the vendors in the industry that supplies its Elise platform to do precisely that. What we add to multi-modal biometrics is our unique capability of adding biographics into the mix. Biographics can be as simple as your ethnicity, your gender but also name. Names are highly undervalued but are actually very good identifiers. At the same time is very complex to do name matching. Mitre not long ago has done a comparison study and found that our name matching component, which is part of the Elise platform, is the best in the industry.
FB: Can you describe a recent deployment in the border control area for us please?
WCC: Some of the deployments are confidential or we are not at liberty to mention them but one of the opportunities that we have closed recently is the counterpart of US-VISIT, EU-VIS (European Visa Information System) where they are using our platform for biographic identification which talks to the point that I was making just recently that there is a big trend towards pre-travel clearance. Pre-travel clearance being something like ESTA also API and P&R.
Another example is in Finland. We have recently closed a contract with the Finnish police. In Finland border guards are part of the police organization so we are currently implementing border security in Finland as well.
FB: Peter, can you tell us has this been a good year for WCC?
WCC: This year has been extremely good for our company. We have more than doubled, close to tripling our revenue. We see a lot of demand for technology like ours and if we limit our discussion to border we see the demand coming from mainly three drivers.
Allow me to elaborate on that. First is IT-modernization. At the border many systems exist, archaic systems often. There is a need, driven by the IT departments, to clean up the legacy systems to modernize their IT landscape while at the same time integrating all these legacy systems into a single advanced modern system. The other driver for IT modernization is connectivity. More and more government organizations are allowed to share information although on a limited basis and on a need to know basis but there is a growing desire to share information to execute their task. Connectivity was difficult with legacy systems so that also drives the need for IT modernization.
The second driver is threats. There are different types of threats. For example, IS or ISIS is an important threat where we want to reduce the ability of terrorists to travel around the globe. But another threat is Ebola, health risks; we want to know where people are coming from, where they are going to, to contain health issues that we are concerned about.
The third is maybe a very interesting one because IT modernization is probably not a surprise to you and your readers, the threats are probably not a surprise to you and your readers, but the third one is economic drivers.
What we see happening is that governments are competing more and more for natural resources. That drives the need for skilled workers. Many countries have a lack of skilled workers, so what you see when you look at the visa application process that there are possibilities for skilled workers to apply for a visa to supplement the skilled workforce in a particular country. Selection of the right skilled workers is becoming more and more important for the economy of a country.
It so happens that WCC is active in two industries: one is large scale identification of people, goods and services and the second industry or market we are active in is the labor market. We serve most of the departments of labor in Europe where we help unemployed people find work and companies find unemployed people. We also have most of the large staffing and recruitment firms of our clients, where we help match temporary labor to jobs and jobs to temporary labor. We have many large multinationals as clients – for example: Lufthansa, Roche, Daimler, Frankfurt airport just to name a few – and we help them to select the right candidates for onboarding for the hiring process.
The last example is very similar to a country, for example Australia. Just to give you some perspective on size Lufthansa has more than a hundred thousand applicants applying for jobs each year. It is impossible for a person to qualify all of those resumes and sift through the good ones and the bad ones so we help them present only the suitable candidates for the recruitment process which is highly similar to what nations are more and more inclined to do as well. I hope that is clear.
FB: Peter, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. Very happy to hear that this has been a very positive year for WCC and that you are expanding and growing to handle the need.
WCC: Thank you too Peter.