One technology that is currently flying under the radar in the manufacturing enterprise resource planning (ERP) space is biometrics. Biometric solutions aren’t currently getting as much press as say the cloud or big data. But, when properly integrated with an ERP system, biometrics can help an organization reduce costs and improve operational efficiencies. And best of all, a company doesn’t need a huge budget to take advantage of these technologies. In this article, we’ll give you some insight into what biometric capabilities exist and how taking advantage of biometrics can help you manage and track costs in ways that only military thriller writers might think possible.
Nov 2013, 9:47 pm PST, San Francisco Bay, CA: Only the brightest street lights are still shining through the fog on this November evening as John moves to the door of the building known only as Deodar. John lays his palm on the screen adjacent to the door and a message instructs him to say the phrase that was recorded with his handler more than a month ago at a remote office outside of Palo Alto. He waits while the cold bites through the threadbare Giants jacket that has been his only companion during these late night sorties. The control console goes green, indicating that his palm and voice print match those in the system, the locks hiss, and John is inside Doedar. In another part of the building, the lights come up on the newly acquired KUKA robot that is powering up to prepare for John’s arrival. John takes off his coat, taps his thumb to the screen of the KABA B-Net terminal and his instructions for the night appear on his screen. 9:59 pm, shift on. It might appear that John is working for a secret DARPA lab. But, what John really does is build some of the best hardwood doors in the world, made of Deodar cedar.
As you can see, biometric solutions are not just the property of high-tech companies and military organizations anymore—many companies these days want and need high levels of security, and can benefit from biometric technologies, particularly when biometrics is integrated with a company’s ERP system. Some of the key areas where biometric systems are currently being used today include:
• access control
• time and attendance
• shop floor data collection
Biometrics is defined by Merriam-Webster as the measurement and analysis of unique physical or behavioral characteristics (such as fingerprint or voice patterns) especially as a means of verifying personal identity. Thus, biometric solutions help us solve the problem of authenticating a person’s identity when they log into or perform operations on a computer system. The different solutions available today primarily use fingerprint, palm, eye or retinal, face, and/or voice recognition.
Access control applications to ERP systems are often initially employed to replace user IDs and password access to computer systems or networks. However, even with the best efforts of an information technology (IT) organization, integrating all applications used at a company via a single sign-on solution is rarely achieved. And so with the seemingly ever-increasing number of user IDs and passwords required these days comes the need for people to remember them all somehow (many people write down their IDs and passwords, thus increasing the risk for password or identity theft). On top of the security risks inherent with having employees use and store a multitude of passwords, the IT organization often has to employ people at a help desk who spend much of their time resetting passwords. However, there is a solution—biometric device integration can provide more secure and auditable access to computer assets and reduce help desk personnel costs significantly.
Time and attendance tracking is another area where biometrics is being widely adopted. Relatively low cost yet rugged fingerprint (or other) biometric readers are rapidly replacing time clocks and punch cards on the factory floor, in restaurants, and across many other service industries. The biometric device virtually eliminates the “buddy-punch” problem and also gives management more accurate and real-time information on the status of an employee.
Shop floor data collection including the tracking of OEE (operational effectiveness events) has often been little more than a dream to many manufacturers. One of the reasons that manufacturers are not able to track actual time a worker takes to perform an operation is because the time and effort it takes for the worker to log their time would actually be too disruptive to their work. With the advent of low-cost touch screen devices with integrated biometric readers, a worker can now punch in a job code and log the exact time spent on a job with just a press of their thumb.
The biometric devices on the market today range from personal devices that can be attached to a PC using a USB cable to ruggedized, exterior devices that can be used on the shop floor to support time tracking. Biometric devices for fingerprint recognition can be purchased for as little as $25 for a personal unit. Inexpensive apps are now available for Apple and Android mobile devices. Also affordable are biometric devices that function as fully capable touch screen computers that can be integrated (via Java, HTML, or other programmatic interfaces) with an ERP system for full shop floor control and automation—these can be purchased for the price of a personal computer, in the $500-$700 range.
In addition to the various devices that can be integrated with an ERP solution, some human resources (HR) solution and ERP vendors have their own labeled biometric solutions to provide one-stop shopping for an organization looking to purchase biometric solutions. Other vendors have direct partnerships with biometric device manufacturers and/or incorporate APIs (application programming interfaces) into their solutions for biometric device support.
So, the price and the integration of biometric devices should no longer be a barrier to companies who want and need safer ways of securing their information systems and enabling operational improvements in their existing ERP operations. However, like any technological undertaking, adding biometrics to an IT environment is not a one-off undertaking. An organization should think not only about the short- and long-term technical implications but should also consider the corporate personnel management implications of implementing these solutions.