business, fingerprint, government, integration

Biometric deployment winners and losers

This article describes a fingerprint system implementation that isn’t going too well.

Northtown is one of 20 child-care centers in central Mississippi taking part in a Mississippi Department of Human Services pilot program. DHS administers the state’s child-care assistance, or certificate, program for poor families and pays providers like Kay who accept the certificates. Starting Sept. 4, parents and guardians of children receiving a subsidy must scan their finger when dropping off or picking a child up from day care.

Kay and other child-care center operators say implementing the new system has been nothing short of nightmarish and that the problems are eating into revenues. Although DHS trained workers on how to use the machines, training parents is left up to the individual centers, meaning that a member of Kay’s staff must remain on standby at all times to help people work the machine. Also, because the system relies on unique finger scans, staff members cannot override the system or check the kids in and out when parents forget. When that happens, providers might not get paid.

No analysis of why state subsidized day care centers are being asked to prove that they are actually providing the service for which they are paid (using a parent fingerprint). No analysis of why it is a burden to have someone on standby to facilitate/control/monitor who picks up and drops off children. No explanation of how or why parents are allowed to forget to check their children in and out of the child care facility.

A system as lax as the one obliquely described in the article is, of course, likely to become a magnet for fraud. That’s bad. What is much worse is that a situation where no one is keeping track of who is taking children away from a child care facility is a tragedy waiting to happen.

If the subsidized day care system in Mississippi was ticking along flawlessly, it’s hard to imagine someone deciding that it would be a great idea to implement more rigorous identity management measures. That’s just not the way things work. Frequently, biometric systems are brought in to shore up flaws in a system.

The costs and benefits of shoring up flaws in a system, however, are unlikely to fall upon/accrue evenly throughout an organization. For example: The return on investment of a biometric time and attendance implementation is paid by those who benefited from a more lax system and accrues to the firm’s owners. The people who lose out in the transition aren’t necessarily right, but they aren’t necessarily without power, either.

Without significant insight, it’s easy for managers to get caught off guard by push-back from those whose interests are undermined by more efficient operation. This is where a good biometric system integrator can really do themselves and their customers a favor by understanding their customer’s business and helping the customer to anticipate and mitigate obstacles to a successful implementation. It’s not enough that a solution succeed on its technical merits as if deployed in a vacuum, though it must do that. It must also succeed operationally in support of the people who carry out the organization’s objectives. Successful integrators meet customers where they are and leave them better off than they found them.

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