NEC seeks new markets for ID tech

Reaching a sales plateau with buyers of law enforcement technology NEC Technologies has begun targeting new markets for the company's fingerprint identification technology.

The primary target of the new market thrust for NEC is commercial operations such as hotels that could use fingerprint technology for room access or banks that could use the technology for automated transactions. But a newly formed NEC unit also will focus on federal agencies that traditionally have not been heavy users of automated fingerprint identifications systems (AFIS) said Jim Menendez manager of sales and marketing for AFIS business units at NEC.

Crime investigators from the FBI and the Secret Service down to local police departments have been the core users of AFIS technology in the past couple of decades but growth in the law enforcement sector has slowed down. So last month NEC formed the Advanced Identification Solutions Group to sniff out emerging markets.

"A lot of it is just market-driven and a need to have a better form of identifications " Menendez said. "[The law enforcement business] is almost reaching a plateau where it's almost saturated."

Since the early 1980s AFIS technology began emerging as an indispensable tool for criminal investigators who use the systems to match up fingerprints found at crime scenes with fingerprints already on file and to make sure suspects in custody are who they say they are. But NEC and other makers of AFIS products have flagged new uses for their technology from building access control to verifying the identity of people involved in medical or financial transactions.

NEC has begun to angle for opportunities in sectors that touch on the federal government: correctional facilities such as those run by the Bureau of Prisons and health care operations such as those run by the Veterans Health Administration. Menendez said he also sees applications for AFIS technology to verify the identities of people collecting federal benefits and for workers' access to federal buildings.

The federal market is beginning to warm up to new uses for AFIS technology. Liza McClenaghan the chief information officer at the State Department said her agency has begun to use fingerprint technology to control access at its embassies. Menendez said NEC will try to tap into that agency as its AFIS use evolves. Likewise NEC will target federal agencies whose mission does not revolve around law enforcement.

"We're looking now to going into the intelligence community even for some applications " Menendez said.NEC's turn to new markets comes as most states are wrapping up their AFIS implementations. "We're within a year or so probably of all the states in the union having their own [AFIS] or a shared one " said Peter Higgins a biometrics consultant and the head of Higgins & Associates International Washington D.C. "[AFIS vendors] need to find other venues to sell."

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