With offices resuming, workplaces will now have to replace their current fingerprint-based biometric attendance systems to contactless authentication as part of measures to stave off the COVID-19 threat.
While contactless attendance system such as facial recognition is necessary, it is also giving rise to challenges such as privacy and scalability, said experts.
Easing of lockdown
With the lockdown being eased in phases, companies and factories can now work at 100 percent capacity, according to a recent Ministry of Home Affairs order. With more employees, taking attendance is going to be challenge for companies, who are now doing away with fingerprint-based biometric attendance system.
Fingerprint-based system was adopted by majority of offices across the country.
This was a major blow to firms in the space, whose business came to a standstill. Bharat Kumar, founder and director, eSSL, a company that makes biometric attendance system, said its business came to a standstill as its customers are replacing them with alternatives such as facial recognition. Majority of eSSL's customers use fingerprint bases system.
Facial recognition uses facial features to recognise an individual.
What is the issue with fingerprint?
Using a fingerprint, at least till the time vaccine is found, might not be advisable. Diksha Deo, Founder, Incubsence, a startup which is into contactless attendance system, pointed out that it is would be quite a hassle to sanitise it.
"Especially, when the there is no certainty on how long the situation would continue," she said.
Kumar said that in the recent times the company has seen huge traction for facial recognition devices to replace fingerprint.
His company has a 60-70 percent market share in the attendance market and sold 1.5 million devices across sectors. Of these 1.5 million, 80-85 percent account for fingerprint and 10 percent facial recognition.
"Now we are seeing huge demand for our facial recognition devices," he said.
The company's business came to a standstill since the lockdown came into place in March.
"Just before lockdown, we had commissioned large volume of fingerprint devices that are unlikely to be sold now. Even the ones who had placed an order have withdrawn due to COVID-19," he said.
He had invested close to Rs 3-4 crore for those devices. But with offices opening, Kumar is now seeing demand for alternatives with demand recovery of about 10-15 percent. “Our customers want to replace fingerprint with facial recognition and we have got order for 3,000 devices,” he said.
However the challenge is in procuring them. While eSSL designs the software, hardware comes from Taiwan. The company is now paying a premium to get the devices air-shipped. Even so getting all the 3,000 in go would be tough.
Another issue is pricing. Unlike fingerprint, cost of facial recognition devices are high. For instance, if fingerprint costs Rs 15,000 per device, facial system would cost Rs 30,000. Investments could easily run up to Rs 5-6 lakh for installations across campuses.
At a time when firms are struggling, not all firms might invest. An expert pointed out that some of them will go for manual attendance or access cards that are cheaper.
Facial recognition technology also has its drawbacks. Unlike fingerprints or iris, the identification is not accurate. There have been cases where the technology has made inaccurate identification when it comes to people of colour, especially transgenders and ethnic minorities.
At this juncture, wide implementation, especially by the enforcement personnel like police, could result in inaccurate identification.
Deo pointed out that privacy is another major concern. There will be need for more clarity on how the data collected will be used and for what purpose.
"There is a need for stronger regulation before it is adopted widely," she added.
Apart from access cards, some firms like Incubsence that are into app-based attendance devices, are seeing rise in demand.
These devices also come with mobile apps and all the attendance information is stored in cloud. The attendance is recorded by scanning the QR code generated in the app or by tapping the device.
The company saw huge spike in demand for its products since post COVID-19. For instance, if number of enquiries the company got before the pandemic was 75 with 10 percent conversion to business, post the pandemic it increased multifold. The company has seen 1,700 enquiries and almost all of them were converted to business.Follow our coverage of the coronavirus crisis here