Last month, we spoke to Suprema UK & Ireland’s leader, Jamie McMillen about his career in the security industry and the fundamental rise of Biometric Technology as a game-changing solution within the sector.
Jamie offered us his insights into the developments of this technology and the marketplace over the last 20 years since Suprema was born. We discussed the relative speed with which COVID has fast-forwarded acceptance of these newer access control methods, along with the pitfalls and knee jerk reactions he has observed, particularly since March 2020.
1. How did Jamie first come to understand the potential behind Suprema’s biometric technology?
Jamie joined Norbain back in 1999 as a Stock Control Executive and before long was promoted to Team Leader, which is where he first took an interest in a new Korean-based access control supplier, Suprema Inc.
After several moves both internally and externally, he finally took on responsibility for growing Norbain’s access control business and soon came to appreciate the potential of Suprema and their Biometric products. This exciting new technology gave him the opportunity to speak with installers about options outside of traditional access control and demonstrate the advantages it had to offer to end users, such as its potential to make authentication dramatically faster, easier, and more secure than traditional passwords.
The technology uses complicated algorithms to systematically recognise human physical or behavioural ‘biometric’ identifiers. For example, matching faces, fingerprints, or voices to control access to a secure area such as an office, or to access a travel network only if you’ve paid the correct fare.
But the UK Market was not quite ready for biometrics. There were countless reservations about data privacy, costs, security of the data and theft implications and reliability of the authentication process.
2. How did the move to Suprema – and a significant increase in responsibility – come about?
In 2014, Suprema appointed BioConnect – their partner in North America – to represent them in the UK, beginning the process of a committed UK presence for the technology giant. The BioConnect team visited Norbain to outline and discuss their plans.
At the time, Suprema’s UK revenue was still relatively low due to two important factors:
Firstly, the Biometrics UK market was still seen as very ‘niche’, with low awareness of fingerprint technology as an access control solution. It was viewed as something the police used to catch criminals by matching samples to a massive database of records.
Secondly, up until that point Suprema had no physical presence in the UK to comprehensively drive awareness. As part of their move to rectify this, Jamie joined BioConnect as UK Business Development Director for Suprema. Based on the success of this decision, Suprema Systems UK became the first global regional office of Suprema Inc., with Jamie as Managing Director for UK and Ireland in 2016.
In fact, as of today, there are now eight regional offices around the world, based on the successful UK model of having locally resourced sales, technical, stock management and customer service functions to fully exploit the global market opportunity.
This has proved particularly important in recent years, because access control and the security market as a whole have seen a huge influx of competition and success lies in having local resource who truly understand each markets’ nuances and prospective.
3. During his 20 years in the security industry, and more specifically in Biometric Security, what changes has Jamie seen, to both the technology and the marketplace?
According to Jamie, local market technical support has become key – the UK industry consumes tech support like no other. Manufacturers get fully involved, particularly in larger projects, where there is often open communication between the Manufacturer, Distributor, and Integrator to deliver best practice security architecture to end customers.
Whereas 15 years ago, distributors such as Norbain handled the majority of tech support enquiries, now that responsibility is shared with the manufacturer. This is because of the increasing complexity of technology and, therefore, the products and solutions, along with the growth in the number of operators in the security marketplace.
In this environment, Jamie believes that allocation of budget to the technical support function is crucial. “There is little point getting 100 customers buying only once from you, the aim is to get 10 engaged customers buying every month”.
Suprema’s technical support goes above and beyond expectations and the company believe it is an element they must ‘get right’: servicing customers is their number one priority.
It’s important to Jamie that Suprema’s customers are fully comfortable with biometric solutions, so the team work hard to ensure they educate the marketplace on how the technology works.
Even as recently as 2017, there was a lot of resistance to Biometric Technology. When Jamie first took on the role of MD for Suprema in the UK, he relied heavily on his old Norbain customers who were prepared to hear him out about the potential of Biometrics and fingerprint technology. Others were far more sceptical and cultivating their business was hard.
It took 18 months to two years of hard slog before customers began to call him.
The tipping point was when mobile phone manufacturers saw the potential that biometric functionality offered for mobile device security. Once the technology gained traction within our mobile phones, a key shift in acceptance started to take place.
It is interesting to note that once Apple put touch ID into their iPhones, they became the world’s biggest biometric manufacturer overnight.
By this time, several major brands had entered the marketplace as adoption in the commercial arena gained traction and the Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure began approving biometric solutions.
Now, if biometric technology is in place at an entrance for access control, we accept it and are not surprised. In fact, the market is changing so swiftly that even if an integrator is reluctant, the chances are their customers will expect to be offered a biometric solution.
There is a convergence of convenience and security that has become acceptable. It has removed arguments that were based on privacy, storing of information and GDPR. The adoption of biometrics makes sense once you get past these reservations.
And the new, upcoming generation of installers are more open to these solutions, having grown up with such contemporary instruments.
4. What impact has COVID-19 had on the Access Control arena and how do you foresee the ‘new normal’ impacting the technology/sector ultimately?
Whilst facial recognition biometric technology has been around for 15 years, pre-pandemic sales levels were relatively low. However, the onset of covid-19 drove a sharp increase in demand for both mobile credentials and facial recognition solutions due to hygiene concerns and the need to reduce ‘touchpoints’ in access control. The team still saw an increase in sales of fingerprint biometric solutions, but facial recognition solutions outperformed this by a factor of more than 3-1.
This is interesting, because unless you also install automatic doors at access points, entrances are not completely touch free. But Facial Recognition is certainly where it’s at right now for Suprema and their competition.
The biggest impact that the pandemic has had on the access control industry is actually the necessity to demonstrate how these solutions offer analytical information to security and business management. This maximises the return on investment generated for customers.
5. What would you highlight as pitfalls to be aware of for both integrators and end-users?
Jamie believes that it’s essential to educate their audience and their customers and help them to understand the importance of taking a considered approach. Access control is comparable to security – the quality of it must match the level of security required by the client.
Consequently, it is vital for manufacturers to educate customers on what they are buying into and the process behind it all. Those with responsibility for security solutions within organisations are looking to maximise what a product can do for them, so analytical benefits and management tools are a key aspect.
Customers are now demanding these sorts of features as standard within their purchase. Biometric solutions within access control can be combined with occupancy control (and often are as standard), which will be key to managing the infection risk as economies re-open, reassuring consumers as they emerge from their homes and satisfying insurers too.
So, integrators need to be fully clued up on the benefits of each solution, and manufacturers like Suprema Inc., with a proven UK record of investing in technical support, will be key to facilitating this knowledge.