The future of biometrics in commercial real estate

The future of biometrics in commercial real estate

Building managers in the Middle East are leveraging biometric systems as part of their security protocols, to make commercial real estate easier to manage and ultimately a more secure prospect says Mohamad Tohme, Business Development Manager for Princeton Identity.

The World Bank forecasts that the MENA region’s economies will grow faster in 2022 than they have since 2016. This news bodes well for the commercial real estate sector, whose health typically mirrors that of the overall economy. It also represents expanding opportunities for the security industry to support the commercial real estate market. This is certainly the case in the UAE.

In Dubai, despite reduced building occupancies throughout much of 2020 and 2021, demand for commercial office space rose. In 2022, it has started to exceed supply according to Mordor Intelligence. Now, as most workers return to the office, a record number of developers and building management organisations are tasked with leveraging touch-free technology to improve health and safety protocols throughout their properties. Biometric identity solutions are poised to deliver, while also creating a premium experience for tenants seeking state-of-the-art security, efficiency, automation, and convenience.

A head start

Pre-pandemic, commercial properties throughout the Middle East already embraced biometric identity solutions, much more so than in the US or Europe. Many buildings’ access control systems and time and attendance systems had transitioned from using proximity cards to fingerprints. In the wake of the pandemic, iris and face are replacing fingerprints as the preferred modalities because of their touchless nature.

UAE residents welcome the use of this technology for its convenience and reliability. They’ve likely interacted with iris and face identity solutions when travelling. The Dubai airport, which uses such a system, offers a seamless experience that eliminates the need for enrolled residents to present boarding passes, mobile apps, or passports. While participation in the program is optional, the vast majority of eligible travellers choose to participate as it whisks them past long lines at multiple points throughout the airport. The same conveniences will soon be part of many workplaces. With a glance at a reader, workers will be free to enter their buildings, access elevators, unlock offices and conference rooms, and swipe in and out of their shift.

The growing popularity of facial recognition

The use of iris-based systems is particularly appealing as its accuracy is not hindered by traditional face coverings or, in today’s environment, covid masks. For this reason, as Middle Eastern countries sought to integrate biometrics within their government databases over the past decade, iris was the predominant choice.

However, advances in facial recognition (FR) technology are leading to a surge in its popularity. First, many FR systems no longer require the use of specialised readers. Instead, standard IP security cameras can be used to essentially perform double-duty as access control ‘readers’ and surveillance cameras. Reducing or eliminating special hardware delivers tremendous cost savings for companies wishing to deploy biometrics at many access points throughout their property. Second, improved FR algorithms offered by some biometric identity solution manufacturers can identify individuals even when the lower half of their faces are covered. While the iris remains superior at processing masked subjects, FR’s performance is sufficient for many environments. Finally third, while glancing at an iris reader is nearly effortless for system users, FR systems are often even more seamless as they can identify people who are not directly facing the camera.

Multimodal touchless biometrics

Best practices dictate the use of dual authentication protocols to protect a building’s most sensitive assets. Data centers, utilities, clean rooms, research labs, and other highly secure areas should require individuals entering to verify their identity in two different ways.

Often, this is accomplished by requiring workers to present an access control card or mobile credential and a match to enrolled biometric data. A superior solution uses two biometric modalities instead. Systems that leverage both iris and face provide the security of dual authentication and the benefits of a more convenient, touchless, hands-free solution. There are no cards to carry or misplace.

Such systems can also be surprisingly cost-effective. Depending on the manufacturer, a single reader may screen for both modalities. These specialised readers should be placed outside high-security areas, while lower-cost security cameras provide face-only identity verification elsewhere throughout the building.

Single-vendor versus integrated solutions

Some access control lines, as well as time and attendance systems, now offer fingerprint readers and facial identity in addition to more traditional proximity and Bluetooth readers. These end-to-end systems are easy to install and can be managed from a single administrative interface. Similarly, some biometric identity solution manufacturers are adding access control capabilities to their software and hardware, and are partnering with other physical and logical security companies to create turnkey solutions.

Sometimes, integrating biometric technology with third-party systems is the best option for obtaining the desired results. Most biometric identity software links with other security and operations software using an open API. One biometric solution can be connected to multiple systems throughout a facility, providing continuity of data and simplifying security and operations management. Multi-vendor, integrated systems eliminate duplicate data entry for administrators, and software can be easily scripted to automate appropriate responses within each platform whenever a biometric reader identifies (or fails to identify) an individual. Such systems also offer HR and IT departments the security advantage of keeping biometric data siloed from their other personal user information, most notably, the list of users’ names.

Leading by example

Emaar Properties, one of the world’s most valuable and admired real estate development companies, is introducing iris and facial biometrics at several sites. Emaar’s management is passionate in its commitment to excellence and innovation. Leveraging biometric identity solutions at its hotel and residential properties is consistent with its industry-leading vision.

However, opportunities for biometrics are not limited to the largest and most elegant of commercial projects. Smaller companies can benefit too. Like a growing number of security solutions, many biometric systems are sold as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), positioning their price within the budgets of more modest entities. Hardware is purchased or financed upfront, but licensing and ongoing software support are paid for as a monthly, quarterly, or annually recurring fee. Software updates occur automatically, keeping clients operating with the latest release.

Hardware has also dropped in price and is easier to install and maintain. Furthermore, certain applications, like time and attendance, require minimal hardware investment to serve an entire workplace.

Modelling the future

Middle East countries are home to some of the most magnificent commercial properties in the world. These nations are also early adopters of the latest tech solutions, with governments prioritising investment in digital infrastructures that can support a wide range of cutting-edge systems. For example, the UAE boasts the world’s fastest mobile network, with Etisalat.

These factors position the region to be a leader in the deployment of biometric identity solutions throughout commercial office space. It’s already happening with access control and time and attendance applications. Building managers find leveraging biometrics in combination with such systems makes them easier to manage, more reliable, and more secure. Soon, their use will extend to visitor management, point-of-sale, resource usage and tracking, logical access to network systems, customised climate control, and other facility operations.

Technology offers a future where security protocols don’t slow us down but power us forward. The Middle East will show the world how it’s done.