ImageWare has been a prominent name in the biometrics industry for decades, but over the past year the company has been in a phase of renewal that has demonstrated a new dynamism and pointed toward revamped growth. And that’s thanks in large part to the appointment of Kristin Taylor as ImageWare’s new CEO in February of 2020. Since taking the reins, Taylor has taken dramatic measures to overhaul the company, including a number of strategic executive appointments, deals to bring in considerable new financing, and a major rebrand of ImageWare’s flagship solution, now called ImageWare Authenticate.
Naturally, all of these activities entered the conversation when Taylor spoke with FindBiometrics Founder Peter O’Neill in a new interview. The two started off by delving into ImageWare’s rich history, which was a big draw for Taylor in her decision to join the company; and from there they went on to discuss ImageWare’s ongoing technological innovation, its strategic efforts in targeting its solutions, the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic – which struck right around the time of Taylor’s appointment – and more. Taylor also wasn’t afraid to touch on some of the more sensitive issues facing the biometrics sector, including the tension between military and law enforcement biometrics, and civil rights and the Black Lives Matter movement. Read on to get key insights from one of the most active executives in the industry…
Peter O’Neill, Founder, FindBiometrics: You joined ImageWare a little over a year ago after working for tech giants like IBM and Qualcomm. What drew you to the company?
Kristin Taylor, CEO, ImageWare Systems, Inc.: As a history buff, I was drawn to ImageWare because it has a rich history. It was originally founded by two women and received early funding from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. C.S. Mott was the co-founder of General Motors, and an important US industrialist. We were one of 15 portfolio companies that the foundation invested in and the only tech company. I’m fascinated by the fact that the financial support that grew the seed of this business came from such an instrumental US engineer, entrepreneur and philanthropist.
ImageWare also had a number of industry firsts. Before working for the company, I learned that we developed a unique software in the mid 1990’s that allowed non-artists to work through a script with witnesses to assemble a full-color photo-realistic image of a suspect. This product was called SuspectID and widely used across the US by state and local law enforcement agencies. Another first was our work with El Hongo prison in Tecate, Mexico, which was the first digital cross-border exchange of criminal booking information between public safety agencies in the US and Mexico.
We created SIRLI, which in Spanish stands for ‘Sistema de Identificación de Restos y Localización de Individuos,’ and translates to ‘System for the Identification of Remains and Localization of Individuals.’ This was the first product to incorporate four biometrics into a single integrated platform, which helped to identify the deceased remains of Mexican nationals who were found in the U.S. Lastly, ImageWare was instrumental in creating the US Navy’s tactical biometric collection and matching system, which was a first of its kind handheld used for multi-biometric capture and identification by the Navy and Marines in the course of interdiction and patrol at sea.
After 34 years in the biometrics space, we have a long history of developing technology that serves public agencies with rapid and accurate biometric capture and identification of individuals.
Peter O’Neill: Since taking the reigns as CEO, you’ve made a lot of changes, including several new executive appointments. Can you talk a little bit about your overall strategic vision for the company?
Kristin Taylor: There are two main initiatives that are part of my vision — one is innovating and the second is improving the customer experience. We just relaunched ImageWare Authenticate on February 1, 2021, which was formerly known as GoVerifyID (GVID). This is our multi factor authentication product designed for the enterprise security space. We decided to rename the product ImageWare Authenticate to more closely align with what the product does. To make the product compelling for today’s market we developed new client applications for IOS and Android, an intuitive, easy to use administration portal, and most importantly support for SAML 2.0 and OIDC. We are reinvigorating our law enforcement and biometric smart card business units as well. Our history is to heavily support the public safety community and we have been busy renewing the law enforcement software platform. It’s Cloud-based with an option for on-premise. The solution brings powerful capture, identification, and investigative functionalities to fixed stations or mobile devices – giving them immediate access to critical data about perpetrators. The first iteration of this product was delivered in 1998, which was the first booking and facial recognition platform for a US state law enforcement agency in the U.S. This was for Los Angeles Police Department incidentally. Improving the customer experience means imagining ourselves in the seat of the customer. Is the journey easy? Does ImageWare software improve the way someone lives? These are important questions that we have answered as we created a smoother UI/UX for our clients.
I closed on a round of private placement funding, a series D convertible preferred stock, in December of 2020 for a little over $12 million. All the work that we’ve done behind the scenes in the last year has been a tremendous effort.
Peter O’Neill: Well, thanks Kristin, we’ve been reporting on a lot of those announcements over the past couple of months. I’d like to spend a little time digging deeper into your flagship biometric solution, the GoVerifyID and as you mentioned, rebranded as ImageWare Authenticate. What markets and use cases will you be targeting with that?
Kristin Taylor: We’re going after several industries, addressing the common pain points of remote customer onboarding and fraud mitigation. This means that we’re combining several capabilities to ensure a seamless, frictionless, and secure experience. We are focusing on banking and financial services. These customers want an end-to-end solution for identity proofing along with easy-to-use biometric authentication for their employees versus using simple, vulnerable passwords. ImageWare Proofing paired with ImageWare Authenticate is an easy-to-use solution that lets bank employees prove identities, onboard, and log in seamlessly from any location. We are also working with these same customers to provide identity proofing and biometric authentication to bank customers, ensuring a true KYC (Know Your Customer) and AML (Anti Money Laundering) approach. There is a similar story in the telco space for activating SIM cards with a true KYC mentality; telco companies around the globe are presented with a common problem of not knowing who is activating a SIM card at any given point in time; our Proofing and Authentication solution is helping to address the activation for a seamless customer onboarding, and also putting customer’s mind at ease with regards to protecting their account and data with Authenticate, leveraging their biometrics easily. This is a recurring theme that we see in higher Education (which has a large turnover each year), Insurance (protecting against insurance fraud), and even in the Healthcare space too, ensuring the right person is accessing the right data, following HIPAA compliance.
Peter O’Neill: Recently, ImageWare worked with Safe-T to deliver the first ever biometric based Zero Trust Network Access solution. What motivated this collaboration and how do biometrics enhance Zero Trust?
Kristin Taylor: Zero Trust is an important area, especially with remote work. With applications and services being sourced from multiple providers, both on and off premise, and users now having a mix of employees, contractors, vendors and other user groups, it is clear traditional VPNs fall short of securing modern enterprise systems. We have seen a 300 percent increase in cybercrime since COVID-19 struck last year, and 80 percent of those breaches are related to passwords. So, there’s a tremendous cost annually, 1 percent of the global GDP. It’s absolutely staggering!
We partnered with Safe-T as they are a market leading Zero Trust Network Access Solution provider, and we enhance their solution with the use of biometrics. So, it made sense for both companies to unite with a comprehensive solution. I think we will recognize tremendous value from this partnership.
Peter O’Neill: You’ve been steering ImageWare through really an unprecedented global crisis, pretty much since the beginning of your appointment. How have you adapted to the circumstances of COVID-19? How has it changed your thinking? You started to talk a little bit about this when describing some of these vertical markets that you’re focusing in on – education, insurance, telco, financial services – all have seen quite dramatic growth spurts due to the pandemic.
Kristin Taylor: I think that the biggest challenge with the pandemic is that we had to quickly adjust to permanently working as a distributed management team. We had a portion of our team working remotely to begin with, but then we were forced into becoming a completely distributed workforce virtually overnight. We’ve had to create a new corporate culture based on not seeing people in person. How do you motivate and unify staff? How do you bring new people into the company without meeting with HR in person or their colleagues? The whole onboarding experience and tactical execution as well as, keeping the company culture high, and making sure the team is paddling together to ensure we are unified and building together. In our case, we’ve been restarting, rebooting and rejuvenating. So, I’ve had to find a way, as a leader, to keep us very closely connected as a team, feeling like we’re one, and we’re on a mission to promote the use of biometrics for identification and authentication.
Back to remote work, this has been a huge shift for the brick-and-mortar companies; cybersecurity is turning into a huge problem and it will worsen. And so, I think that ImageWare can help those companies, to keep them safe by leveraging biometrics. Authenticate, as well as some of our emerging solutions, over the next couple of years, will be pivotal. Now is truly the time for biometrics. We can use the unique traits of the body to validate who we are.
Peter O’Neill: Well, I couldn’t agree more. We just finished our 18th Annual Year in Review, where we asked the industry what some of the challenges and opportunities are. Typically, we would get maybe 250 responses, this year we had 900. I think that indicates the importance of what we’re seeing right now and again, the trends that we had all seen in these industries really, really ramping up. But as we move beyond the pandemic, what do you think the biggest challenges are and what are some opportunities that lie ahead?
Kristin Taylor: One of the things I think that came out of the pandemic was a spotlight on civil liberties issues. We need to help drive solutions that will better inform police officers, military personnel and public safety, of who’s in front of them. I see ImageWare as pivotal to this.
Peter O’Neill: Well, I’m really glad you brought that up because it is an absolutely critical issue. And congratulations for raising that as a significant challenge. It’s also an opportunity to make things better.
Kristin Taylor: Yes, definitely.
Peter O’Neill: This is obviously a really important time for your company. Please tell us what’s next – what does the future hold for your company?
Kristin Taylor: As I mentioned a few moments ago, we’re launching this next generation of our law enforcement platform. This will push the platform to new heights, making the lives of officers, safety personnel, and military personnel, much easier and safer, and also thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement which I just mentioned. I think with all of these changes, we’re primed for huge growth over the next couple of quarters. We’re going to continue to work in MFA, multi-factor authentication, and in the proofing area, and in onboarding. I just think that in the long run, we’re working on some very cool things, as we have been for 34 years. Finally, I think we’re going to sort of materialize our place in this market that we’ve always deserved to be in.
Peter O’Neill: Well, Kristin, as you mentioned earlier, the history behind ImageWare is long and very rich, and congratulations on taking over the reigns as CEO. I wish you continued success and congratulations again on pivoting nicely during this crazy pandemic year.
Kristin Taylor: Thank you very much, Peter. I appreciate your interest in wanting to talk to me and to us and know what we’re doing.