TECH5 is one of the fastest-rising vendors in the biometrics industry today. Offering solutions based on facial, fingerprint, and iris recognition, the company is active across a number of sectors. In recent months, TECH5 achieved very strong results in National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) testing, attracted $2.5 million in financing from Yinda Infocomm, and opened a new subsidiary in the UK.
That all points to strong growth for the private firm, and Rob Haslam is helping to steer the company through its ascent. He was appointed as a strategic advisor to the company last summer, and, in a new interview with FindBiometrics Founder Peter O’Neill, attests to TECH5’s growth during a particularly strong year, asserting that sales “essentially doubled” in 2020 over the previous year. In a wide-ranging discussion, Haslam also touches on his longstanding relationship with TECH5’s founders, digital national ID programs, new opportunities in the healthcare sector, and much more…
Read the Full FindBiometrics Interview With Rob Haslam, Strategic Adviser, TECH5:
Peter O’Neill, Founder, FindBiometrics: When you joined the TECH5 team mid last year, what was it about the company that attracted you to them?
Rob Haslam, Strategic Adviser, TECH5: It was really a combination of things; it was a combination of people, some of whom I knew from before, of technology, and strategy direction, but most of all, I guess it was the point at which TECH5 finds itself in its evolution. A company that comes very much from a biometric base, now really taking a bit of a new direction with its platform, called IDencode, in mobile ID, which I think just brings huge opportunities for the company. Very strategic, as I say, somewhat differentiated, actually.
I think a lot of what TECH5 has to offer isn’t the run-of-the-mill solution type stuff that you read about from other companies. And technologies, that together have a huge range of applications as well.
I’ve got to tell you, what attracted me was that it’s a smaller, agile company where decisions can get made quickly, where you have the ability to pivot, adapt your solutions. I’ve spent pretty much all my career up to this point with fairly big companies. And speed of decision-making in bigger companies is a totally different undertaking to something like what would happen in TECH5. Now, to be honest, when you’re in government-focused areas, as I have been most of my career, maybe speed in decision-making at the macro level isn’t a massive issue, because we all know governments take time to take decisions. And TECH5, at its size and where it is today and everything else, and especially with what’s going on in the world right now, quick decisions are pretty essential and also make for a very, very interesting time.
Peter O’Neill: Yes, especially this year. And just to follow up on your earlier comment about what drew you to TECH5, I also know some of the members of your senior leadership, and they have a long history and wealth of experience in national ID programs. Can you tell our readers a little bit more about that part of it?
Rob Haslam: So, as you say, you know the founders Machiel and Rahul were former colleagues of mine, along with other people in TECH5 and a lot of us were at L1. I was at L1 from ’08 to 2012, around the time Machiel and Rahul were there although we were in different divisions. They were in the biometric division and I was in what was called the ‘secure credentialing division,’ we came across each other and knew each other back then. And we all have a long history in national ID, as you say, but from quite different standpoints. They are very much from the ABIS side of things, supporting the deduplication of national IDs, supporting the biometric base from which you issue a document, and I am very much on the document issuance side. I’m sure everybody is aware, but just in case, L1 is the company that back then was itself a company built up from about, I think, 13 different acquisitions, half of them biometric, the other half in the document space and that eventually got bought by Morpho and which, of course, now is part of IDEMIA. So, everything moves on.
A lot of us have a history in national IDs. Rahul, for example was one of the architects of India’s Aadhaar program, the biggest biometric ID program ever undertaken in the world to date. And our technology is behind some of the other big ones around the world, as well, such as Indonesia. And actually, not only national IDs, but our technology is behind some of the largest criminal ABIS systems, as well. In fact, the largest one we can’t mention unfortunately as we are tied on our ability to talk about that reference at the moment.
So, lots of heritage, and looking to build on that experience on a whole variety of projects, as we move on and bring together biometrics and mobile and digital ID.
Peter O’Neill: And speaking of that growth, we just posted your latest news announcement, you have new offices in the UK with the goal of developing a digital strategy for UK citizens. Can you tell us a little bit about that expansion?
Rob Haslam: So, the UK is one of many key markets, of course, in this industry as IDs go digital. But all the more so, if you think about it, because, actually, we don’t have a national ID here in the UK. And depending on who you talk to, but I think consensus generally agrees here across the political spectrum, we’re not likely to any time soon.
So, there are various initiatives going on in the UK around things like, and here’s some of the jargon that starts popping up, “attribute stores” and platforms to remove friction as you assert your identity, etc., and trying to remove that need to constantly re-enter data and reassert your identity, when there are ways of leveraging something you’ve already done that proves who you are, to make it easier next time.
So, yes, there’s lots of that going on in the UK. A great example is a recently-closed tender that you may be aware of, in Scotland, specifically, a tender that’s going to be awarded next month with a view to being actually under contract by April this year for a two-year development and rollout. So, it’s with a view to supporting that and all these other sorts of initiatives that we’ve taken a strategic decision to open the UK office.
Peter O’Neill: TECH5 is a true multimodal company; you have face, you have fingerprint, you have iris. And actually, face and iris are some of the really hot modalities out there right now with touchless everything. Why was the decision made to move in that multimodal direction?
Rob Haslam: A good question. And I think the answer hopefully shows that it’s a relatively sort of obvious thing for TECH5 to do, as the technical heritage of the team in all three of those modalities from the origin means that we have that deep expertise from the start. So, it’s not like we started in one and went off and decided to develop the other. We have that expertise across the team that came into the company already as experts in all three of those areas, separately. So, not one person being an expert in all three, but key people in the team being experts in each of those three domains. Having our own IP in all three, as well. So, it means that, actually, we’re one of the very few players, and I think I’m safe in saying certainly the only one of our size, with core competence in all three modes, which means we really do, to some extent punch above our weight on some of the world’s— Not some of the world’s largest programs, but actually THE world’s largest programs.
The other thing to point out, I guess, is that the AI focus of the company means that the neural network-based R & D that we do is always bringing improvements. So, technologies, they’re constantly keeping up, getting better all the time. And that’s, I think, also reflected in our NIST performance, that I’m sure you’re aware of. We’re developing new competencies to apply this heritage. It’s not just about those three modalities, it’s, what next? What’s next, at the moment is the IDencode platform for digital and mobile IDs. But, as we say in some of our statements, we’re always looking as well to add new modalities. A good example might be voice biometrics as market requirements change.
Peter O’Neill: We just completed our 18th annual year-end review. Can’t believe it’s been 18 years. And this year we had over 900 responses to our survey. That’s the biggest by far. The pandemic sped up many of the identity trends we had been seeing in our market, including a very important growth period for the healthcare industry. We see the healthcare industry quite far behind when it comes to identity, as compared to let’s say, financial services. Can you tell us about TECH5’s involvement with healthcare, please?
Rob Haslam: Sure. And you touched on it just now. Obviously, any mention of healthcare these days pretty much means vaccinations. And yes, what a statistic you just mentioned – 900 responses, the largest ever. Clearly, also driven by the trends we’re all aware of, touchless this and contactless that, and tracing and identifying people. And that’s only going to become, or is already becoming very much a focus in the news, in the mainstream news, not just in the technology news.
We do have a focus on healthcare. At the moment, I think it’s safe to say that the focus is very much driven by the pandemic. Although, it’s not our only focus, but we are making big efforts in vaccination solutions. But in terms of healthcare in general, we have offerings across the board in healthcare. For example, if you think about access to healthcare from an eligibility point of view, whether that be access or abuse of access to private healthcare, proving that you’re a paid-up member, or, and exactly the same thing, as well, for government-provided healthcare, proving that you’re entitled to care, proving it biometrically.
We have solutions for that and solutions for patient management, telemedicine verification, securing prescriptions, both the provision of them, right through to the delivery and acceptance of them by the right person that’s verifiable biometrically. Solutions around biometric health record access. Even verification of experts for remote diagnostics and report submissions. So, if you think about the outsourcing, as it’s happening, of diagnostic reports, it could be anything from an x-ray, through to a blood sample. Outsourcing the diagnostic service to experts who might be anywhere in the world, how do you make sure that the diagnosis you get back was carried out by the expert that you hopefully want to be paying for? So, we have biometric solutions to make sure that’s done safely and properly. So, yes, lots of focus on healthcare.
Vaccinations are clearly the biggest focus at the moment. Our whole thing on vaccinations is: we think that the market is missing the point. That it’s one thing to turn up at an airport, or a sports stadium, or a concert, or whatever, with, whether it be a piece of paper in your hand or an app on your phone with a QR code or whatever. That’s all well and good and probably better than nothing, but how is it proof that the person showing it is actually the person who is either vaccinated, or at least negative-tested? So, when we talk about vaccinations, we’re of course at the moment, also talking about negative tests in the absence of vaccines in other countries, but let’s call it vaccinations for shorthand. So, there’s that. By linking it biometrically to somebody, I think we’re missing a trick if we don’t use the technologies that we have on hand for something so important.
And then, the other thing I think the industry is sort of skirting around, but it doesn’t have much of a solution to, which we think we do, is the social inclusion part of it. The inclusiveness, and privacy around it. So, when we talk about inclusiveness, we mean not excluding people who don’t have a smartphone, for example. We can all think of examples of people who don’t and who will never have a smartphone, can’t use one, possibly. So, our solution allows you to print out, using what we call a cryptograph, the biometric credential, as well as show it on the smartphone screen, but be able to verify it using the camera on a verifying smartphone against the person. So, always be sure that it’s the right person presenting the credential, whether printed or in electronic form.
Private, because you’re only sharing that cryptograph, your biometric data stays with you. So, you’re not sharing your very private biometric and biographical data. All you’re sharing is a device which allows somebody to know that you have the medical status that you claim in order to do what it is you’re trying to do. I guess the thing that goes over all of that is interoperability. People say, “Well, that’s all very well. But if it’s not interoperable, how’s it going to work?” Well, our answer to that’s been very straightforward. We are making the verification software free-issue to anybody. So, anybody who wants to verify a vaccination credential can download our software free of charge and do that.
Now, I would like to add one other thing in here that nobody seems to be talking about, which is what I’ll call the disentanglement of ID from vaccination status, or from health status. There’s a lot of debate and a lot of assertions being made by people who don’t seem to have thought the argument all the way through. In some scenarios, it’s obvious and logical to link vaccination status to an identity. International travel almost goes without saying, if you need a passport to travel, it makes sense to start the health credential from a basis of establishing who somebody is by virtue of their passport, because they need that to travel anyway. But if I need to get a health credential in order to go about my day-to-day business here in the UK, or for you in Canada, or wherever else anybody might be, we have a strong belief that, actually, you don’t need to start with identity.
If I am being vaccinated, or if I’m given the status of negative COVID that has a certain lifespan, in many scenarios, the person needing to know my status to allow me access to something doesn’t and shouldn’t need to know anything else about me. So, if you can present a solution, as we can, where I can show you something that proves that I have the status you’re looking for and show you that it’s me, you can verify that it’s me, beyond that, you’re don’t to need to know my name, my date of birth, my address, nothing necessarily. And we have a solution that covers all those bases.
Peter O’Neill: How else has the pandemic affected your business?
Rob Haslam: It’s funny. We had to answer a tender recently, which started with something nobody could have ever predicted a few years ago. The tender response started with a few questions around, “If you win this tender, how will you launch the solution, deliver the solution in a world where we can’t guarantee that when the contract starts, you’ll even be able to come and meet us, the customer?” And our answer was fairly straightforward. It was, “Well, that’s interesting, because at TECH5, a lot of this is business as usual for us.” We’re a small company, but we’re highly, highly international. We’re based in, I think at last count, about 15 countries. And the “pandemic ways of working,” that a lot of people have discovered this last year, have been the norm for all of us at TECH5. We all come from these big multinational companies, where we were dealing with projects all over the world. And so, I guess, yeah, the short answer is, business as usual, and we’ve adapted in that way.
Now, in terms of our solutions, it all comes back to what we mentioned before. It’s about touchless and contactless, EKYC, onboarding from the comfort of your own home, not going to bank branches, not going to government offices, etc. And of course, a lot of the solutions that we have and we’ve developed are very much focused around solving those problems in any case.
Peter O’Neill: What are the milestones for TECH5 in the past year?
Rob Haslam: There is quite a lot, it’s been a very, very busy year. Our strongest year. We’re a private company, so we don’t publish our financial results, but our sales essentially doubled last year over the previous year. We have a strong partnership network that’s really, really growing rapidly. We’re now operating with formal partnership agreements in 18 countries around the world and growing all the time. I think, on a monthly basis, we’re probably going to add this year another two or three as we go each month.
Our mobile technologies actually have been integrated into a mobile app in India, in Gujarat State, a state of over 60 million people, by a partner called Maharajah Associates. That was an app to help the municipalities and the enforcement agencies there provide safety to citizens by updating health conditions, as well as allowing citizens to confirm proof of presence. So, something that’s going to help lead into our offerings around vaccinations and health status, establishing credibility there.
Back in October, with a partner called Innovatiview, we launched a facial recognition-based exam ID solution for the Indian market. Obviously, strange times demand new measures and the solution helps with all of the practices such as impersonation and ensuring that the right person sits the exam and gets the qualification.
Another thing is NIST. In December, our fingerprint recognition algorithm was benchmarked second most accurate in the PFT III test. It was also shown to be the fastest template comparison time of all the vendors participating in the databases used as well, as the one of the smallest template sizes. And we became a top 10 technology in NIST testing for facial recognition with masks. So, again, highly relevant, highly useful, highly important at the moment.
Also in December, we launched our latest software solution based on what we call our T5-Face with built-in facial mask detection. And we’ve integrated that with hardware manufacturers, such as WYSE Biometrics in India and a company called AndOpen in South Korea. And their systems today are tested and successfully operating at various access control points in various locations – that’s access control and time and attendance. So, lots going on last year.
Peter O’Neill: What other vertical markets are you focusing on? We’ve talked about big national ID programs and about healthcare. Where else do you apply your focus?
Rob Haslam: Would you believe that, as part of the strategic work we’ve done looking at mobile and digital ID, we have identified 40 different vertical markets that can benefit from our portfolio? They run from education, through to payment, and transport, and various verticals that I’ve already mentioned, such as banking, FinTech, healthcare, etc., etc., and right through to, for example, notarization. So, you think about legal notarization of documents, which today, in most countries, however advanced, is still very much an ink and paper type exercise. This is a hugely interesting area where, because of how we’ve developed our mobile ID offering using this cryptograph, which is a visual technology, we’ve come across lots and lots of opportunities to deploy it on, for example, legal documents, such as a contract, an ownership document, a document of sale… A whole range of other legal documents, whether they’re stored in electronic form or printed out, depending on local regulations.
So, the cryptograph can contain, as I mentioned, the biometric template of one or more of the signatories to any legal document, plus a host of other data images, essentially whatever you want to put on there. And basically, the more you want to put in, the bigger you print it. So, not really a problem if it’s on A4-size documents. But the crucial thing is that at any point, you can easily match biometrically. You simply couldn’t do that with paper documents until now. Using a mobile phone with our software you can biometrically match the biometrics of the signatories to that document of either the single owner of the document in the case of, let’s say, a property ownership document, or two signatories in the case of a contract or a proof of sale or something else. Very interesting use case.
Peter O’Neill: It does not surprise me that you have found that many verticals. After 20 years in this industry, I also keep discovering new ones all the time. What can we expect to see from your company in the coming years?
Rob Haslam: Well, knowing the pace of things, certainly, and knowing how close we are on a number of projects we’ve been talking to partners and customers about in recent months, I would think certainly some announcements about new project wins. I’m sure you’d agree, we won’t be slow to publicize them when they happen. I think undoubtedly wins in the mobile ID and the digital ID space, which will, of course, be relatively new for TECH5, as I say, proving that that evolution from pure biometrics into ID is making progress. And I think on some pretty sizable projects of that nature, as well, knowing what we have in the hopper.
I think, also, potentially some announcements, interestingly, on more key financial investment into TECH5 by groups who see the potential in TECH5 and are keen to help us accelerate our growth trajectory. The interest level is going up all the time from outside. You have seen the press release about our recent investment from Singapore. Well, we are not surprisingly focused on other sources of investment where interested parties can help us accelerate our growth, not only financially, but in terms of access to their own networks throughout governments and other industrial verticals. So, I think you’ll be hearing a lot from TECH5 as the year progresses.
Peter O’Neill: Well, thanks, Rob. It’s always such a pleasure to speak with somebody with your years of experience in the industry. I’m sure we could talk for hours about what’s going on these days. It’s so exciting. And a lot of it pandemic-fueled. Thank you again for carving out some time to speak with us today.
Rob Haslam: You’re very welcome and thank you Peter.