When we think of biometric identity being used as part of a physical security solution, it’s typically tied to access control. For employees who work at a building with a biometric access control system, it means never having to carry around keys, a fob, or even a phone to enter or move between secure areas. For security management, it means never dealing with inadvertently locked-out workers, canceling and replacing lost credentials, or access cards being shared or used by the wrong people.
Leveraging biometrics to improve the visitor experience is an application that is much less frequently considered but a solution whose time has come. As building owners and facility managers upgrade their properties to accommodate the touchless, seamless workplaces envisioned as the post-Covid ideal, there are just as many reasons to deploy biometric identity systems for handling visitor management as for controlling employee access.
In recent years, sign-in sheets and hand-written visitor badges have mostly been replaced by software solutions that log visitors and print badges. Visitors are greeting by a security officer who checks their ID, makes sure they’re expected, issues a badge, and informs the host employee of their guest’s arrival. Technology has improved the credentialing process, but the identity management piece is still archaic. A human operator is necessary to verify that visitors are whom they claim to be by matching their face to their photo ID, and then use software to issue a badge.
Biometrics can automate this entire process. Think about what happens as travelers navigate international border crossings. They insert their passport into a reader to confirm its authenticity, while a camera with AI-driven facial recognition (yes – that’s biometrics!) matches the traveler with their passport photo. In office buildings, fully automated kiosks could employ the same process for visitor identity verification, using a passport, driver’s license, or other official ID.
At the kiosk, at the same time the visitor’s face is captured for comparison with their ID, an iris scan could be taken. This second, extremely unique biometric identifier could then be used as an access credential for each visitor, providing a means to quickly and accurately authenticate their identity without ever again seeing their ID. Once that happens, the magic can begin!
A Seamless Visitor Experience
After a visitor’s identity has been verified and entered into the visitor database, along with their encrypted face and iris biometrics, the visitor’s permissions are set. Depending on who they’re coming to see, they can be granted access to just a specific floor, wing, or conference room. Readers within the building’s elevators, stairwells, and mounted outside doorways ensure the visitor can only enter permitted locations. For example, if they push the wrong button in the elevator, it won’t work.
We can divide visitors into two categories – The “one and done” folks and recurring visitors. While integrating biometrics within a visitor management platform can speed up and automate registering first-time and one-time visitors and make their movement through the building more convenient and secure, its benefits are magnified each time an enrolled visitor makes a repeat visit.
Once enrolled in the system, these returning visitors no longer need to wait in line at a registration desk, present ID, explain why they're there, or wait for an escort. As they glance at strategically placed biometric readers, their presence is logged and their ability to move about the building is controlled appropriately. They can head straight to their meeting, or make a pitstop in the restroom to “freshen up” without requesting a key.
Hours for their approved access can be set. If the visitor has a standing appointment every Tuesday at 4:00 pm, their permissions might be programmed for Tuesdays from 3:45 to 5:30. Any other times, access will be denied.
Should permissions need to change – for example, a vendor relationship ends or a meeting time is altered, employees responsible for those visitors simply inform the building’s system administrator, who quickly modifies or deletes the individual’s profile in the software. From the visitor’s perspective, the experience remains friction-free. Assuming they show up when they’re supposed to, in they go, hassle-free.
While integrating biometric identity management into visitor management platforms delivers a more convenient, welcoming, and open experience for visitors, it actually hardens security. Several weak links exist in systems that rely on badging or temporary physical credentials. Biometric identity solutions eliminate them.
For example, with traditional systems, once visitors are escorted to the site of their meeting, there is no guarantee that they stay there. People “step out of the room” to take a private phone call, use the restroom, or find a vending machine. Or, when their meeting is over, they may be permitted to head out without an escort. Once visitors are on their own and free to roam, the building’s security is easily breached. There’s little stopping them if they accidentally, or purposely, wander into areas where intellectual and physical property should be secure from outsiders.
Hallway security cameras equipped with facial recognition, and doors secured by iris readers, create an unobtrusive but highly effective barrier. Iris readers keep doors locked, while hallway cameras automatically alert security if a visitor is heading where they shouldn’t, allowing security personnel to intervene in a friendly manner and escort the visitor out.
Security guards are expensive. Automating the visitor management process can significantly reduce the human guard hours needed to handle lobby security. It can also effectuate greater employee productivity. When workers don’t need to disrupt their activities to head to the lobby each time a visitor arrives, more work gets done.
In terms of the out-of-pocket price tag, biometric identity solutions have come way down in the past few years. Depending on a company’s budgets and preferences, payment plans can be structured as a CAPEX or OPEX. And, the enhanced security provided by such systems can result in savings elsewhere, like reduced loss or liability incurred due to poorly supervised visitors.
Ease of Integration
Adding biometric identification to visitor management processes doesn’t mean starting from scratch. The software that drives these systems offer robust APIs and SDKs that simplify integrating the biometric piece into an access control or visitor management platform. Installing the hardware, like readers or cameras, can be done by a systems integrator in a single visit. Despite the sophistication of their underlying technology, biometric identity solutions are straightforward to integrate and deploy.
Until now, the security industry has approached visitor management solely from the perspective of the business or company that wants to regulate access to its visitors. The visitors themselves have paid the price for each restrictive process and procedure designed to better monitor and manage their movement. Biometric identity solutions upend this equation, creating a physical environment where visitors feel unencumbered and welcome, while security is heightened. In a post-COVID world, where customer experience and physical security are dual top priorities, making biometric identification a part of standard visitor management solutions is a win-win for all involved