Interview with Peter Went, CEO, WCC Smart Search and Match

INTERVIEW: Peter Went, CEO, WCCIdentity goes beyond biometrics, and in the global identity management industry we are beginning to see a shift toward a broader, more accurate understanding of who an individual is. This is thanks, in large part,  to the reemergence of biographics as an important identifier. FindBiometrics president Peter O’Neill recently had a chance to speak about this major industry shift with an expert on the topic: Peter Went, CEO of WCC Smart Search and Match. The conversation begins on the topic of the shift toward biographical identification,  goes on to discus the nature of true multi-modal fusion, and finally touches on the vertical markets where WCC is seeing the most growth.

Peter O’Neill, President, FindBiometrics (FB): Our industry is moving so quickly now – so many changes – and one of those changes is a shift to biographical identification. Can you talk about this shift for our readers please?

Peter Went, CEO, WCC: Of course Peter, and it’s interesting you mention this shift towards biographical identification – it’s one I’m very excited about. The identification market has been focused on biometrics for so long. For many good reasons of course, but historically, identification always was done through biographics.

Biographics hold so much relevant information about a person and there are so many benefits to biographical identification! First and foremost, biographical identification is a very natural way of identifying people – I know your name, but not your fingerprints. Another reason biographics are so very relevant is that most legacy systems hold biographic data on people. By collecting biometric and biographic data in an identity system, it is possible to establish links to legacy systems.

To me, the way forward is combining biometrics and biographics for identification purposes. And as you may recall Peter, WCC has always focused on the combined strength of biometrics and biographics. We have always argued that ‘multimodal fusion’ is not solely combining multiple biometrics. Multimodal fusion is combining all modalities, biometrics and biographics, to identify a person. Equally important is that we hold on to three-factor authentication, as recently highlighted by the theft of the fingerprints of 54.6 million people in the OPM hack.

FB: Well you know it is interesting, because at this year’s Global Identity Summit, the biographical data aspect was stressed quite a lot. So, I think you are definitely on the right track. Also, the industry is starting to respond to the fact that often you do need to have both. Especially looking at the amount of data that is out there. As that amount increases, how does one go about searching different databases to achieve the best result?

WCC: Before I answer that, allow me to make another comment. Typically the industry is expected to lead innovation. So, does that imply that this is a new trend, or is the industry following a government lead here? You may recall that the US Federal government, through Mitre, did an extensive study on multi-cultural name matching about 5 years ago. It was a huge test conducted over a period of 6-9 months with about 50-70 vendors participating, including the big names. We at WCC are very proud to have won that challenge. The point is that the US Federal government already saw biographical identification coming.

Linking back to what you asked, biographical identification is also about performance. If we talk big databases and identification, for example UID [the Unique Identification initiative in IndiaEd.], the typical approach is biometrical identification/de-duplication. As we all know biometric matching is more complex and therefore more CPU-intense than biographic matching. So, what we are discussing with UID is to first de-duplicate through biographics, to remove unintentional dupes, and subsequently de-duplicate on biometrics.

What is the business case here? Many people in India inadvertently register with the UID multiple times; for example, once at the town hall, once at the police station and once at the mobile registration station, because they did not realize it was all the same program. These people registered multiple times in good faith, and so would supply the same biographics.In this example of just a use case, there is also a very practical benefit to using biographic data.

Another great use case for biographical identification is breeder documents. Typical breeder documents contain biographic data about a person on an official document. This document is used in modern biometric identifications systems to register a person. There is a lot of fraud with breeder documents. For example, a breeder document for Peter O’Neill could be available on the market and used by many people to enroll in a biometric system. Even if that system performed a de-dupe on biometric data, people could still enroll with your breeder document without the system noticing. But extending the new system with a de-dupe on biographic data would capture such fraud.

Looking at the broader question you asked, we indeed see rapidly growing issues with legacy systems, data replication, and big data. What many vendors do is replicate data into a big data environment to make that data queryable. There are many tools, including open source products, which can do that at virtually no cost. However, this does not solve the problem – it only replicates data into another environment where it becomes better searchable. We at WCC believe this approach increases chaos as it lacks vision.

At the Finnish police, we are engaged in a project that we consider visionary. They have some 200+ legacy systems. In phase, I they replicate these legacy systems 1:1 into our product ELISE with updates and deletes converted into inserts. This allows changes over time to become searchable as well. In phase II, records are linked, a process also known as ‘golden record’ creation. In phase III, abstract objects are created based on the universal police data model (POLE – People, Objects, Locations & Events). These four object types are inter-linked, offering unique benefits.

This project makes optimal use of ELISE’s unique features. Golden record creation is done using our advanced multi-cultural name matching capabilities, biographic identification, demographic identification and biometric identification. Don’t underestimate the complexities of this process.  For example, if Peter O’Neill is in one system and P. O’Neill is in another system, how do we decide that Peter O’Neill and P. O’Neill is the same person? By combining additional information like date of birth, place of birth, and probably biometrics, we can ensure a correct link.

FB: Now the next change I’d like to discuss with you is one that we have been talking about for several years: the shift from a technology-focused industry to a solutions-focused industry. Can you talk a little bit about this and specifically what WCC is doing in this regard?

WCC: I personally, and consequentially WCC as well, have always tried to understand business problems and solve business problems. What surprises me is that most vendors in the industry offer point solutions, either hardware or software, that solve a specific problem. You then need system integrators to glue those components together into bespoke solutions.

With a maturing market you see customers looking more-and-more for COTS (Common Off The Shelf) solutions. The dilemma customers traditionally face is having to choose between either a highly customized solution developed via a system integrator, or a rigid COTS approach. The first option creates vendor lock-in, the second can cause expensive customization to address application-specific requirements.  At WCC we have a different approach to developing a COTS capability. We built a framework of identity application functionality on top of our award-winning COTS ELISE Smart Search & Match platform.  We built functionalities like de-duplication, risk assessment, watchlist matching, and operational analytics, while providing APIs and configurability that enables application-specific customization. This allows our partners and customers to take advantage of the efficiencies of a COTS product, while cost-effectively addressing application-specific requirements.

Many customers underestimate the need to have a strategy for addressing identity management issues that typically arise in a project. Our platform and data experts can assist customers with data migration, data modeling, search optimization, operational analytics, and dashboarding.

With our ELISE Software platform, our application module framework, and data experts, we can cost effectively meet the requirements of any identity application.  We are cloud capable as well, so setting up an identity service is very doable with our platform. Please interview me again in a year’s time, and I will be able to tell you more on this particular topic.

FB: Speaking of the customer: in which vertical markets are you seeing the greatest growth?

WCC: We focus on three markets. The first is Civil Identity: large groups of people that need to be identified. One example is the UNHCR, where our software is used to register and subsequently identify people in camps. With an identity, they can get benefits such as food and shelter. The second is Justice & Public Safety. An example here is the Finnish police that do all their searching with our technology; biographics and biometrics. And the third is Border Management. For example, the European Visa Information System (VIS). People applying for a visa or passing the European border go through our system and we check them against watch lists and so on. We see most short-term potential in the border area, of course related to the social unrest and migration issues globally.

FB: Well, that certainly is a very hot topic right now in terms of world politics, so congratulations on that focus, it is certainly a good one. So this has been a good year for WCC?

WCC: Absolutely. 2014 was a stellar year: we nearly tripled our revenue with very healthy EBITDA. This year we will grow further, at a somewhat slower pace. We are heavily investing in growing the organization, not just by hiring people but also by streamlining the organization and developing solutions as touched on in the previous question.

FB: You and I have stayed in touch over the years and you have been involved in this industry for at least as long as I have. It is nice to see this kind of growth for a company that is as focused on the future as WCC. Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us today.

WCC: Thank you very much for having me Peter, and if readers are interested, I would very much like to invite them to check out to see our current job openings.