Interview With Jim Miller, Chairman and CEO of ImageWare Systems

Peter O’Neill, President, Mobile ID World (MIDW): Can you please provide our readers with a brief background of your company?

IWS-NewsletterJim Miller, Chairman and CEO, ImageWare Systems (IW): ImageWare started business as a pioneer and inventor of identity management systems for use in law enforcement. We took those electronically captured images and put them in a database with biographic and fingerprint data, and used facial recognition against the photographic database to identify criminal suspects. Our company has the distinction of having put in the first working facial recognition system in US law enforcement in Los Angeles in late 1997. With our experience in creating these booking records, which were very detailed, sophisticated identity cards and documents, we moved into the identity card and document business with a series of products, EPI Builder and EPI Suite, which design, create and put biographic and biometric information on smartcards and documents that include: visas, passports, voting cards, health cards, etc.

Shortly thereafter, ImageWare took a radically different approach, which was based on a view that biometrics need to be situational. By that I mean, the end-user may need/want to use one biometric in one environment and another somewhere else. Or, one may decide to change out biometric vendors for new technology or technology with a more attractive price point. We decided to build and patent a multi-modal, device and algorithm independent, biometric software platform which we call Biometric Engine. We believed that when biometrics came in the consumer mass market use, there would be many different modalities used because of the many different situations that have to be addressed and that this ”back-end“ platform approach would be a far superior way to go as opposed to the use of individual single modalities. Today the Biometric Engine sits at the heart of our product offerings and anchors our newest products in the cloud and mobile computing space.

MIDW: Can you describe your GoCloudID and GoMobile Interactive products for mobile identification please?

IW: Sure, let’s start with Cloud. In the same way that cloud computing has really redefined computing by replacing the conventional client server organization centric model with a highly configurable distributed on demand data centric model, ImageWare’s CloudID extends that vendor independent  biometric platform and brings it across an entire identity platform. We offer identity management on demand and as a service. Our goal is to further our vision that biometrics are situational, and at the same time addresses evolving requirements in the marketplace, which allows our users to leverage a substantial investment that they have already made. With our approach, an end-user can either keep or change their hardware or biometric algorithms as they wish, and purchase as a service on a per use basis. With this offering, we are addressing any perceived risk and cost of adoption of new technology and of course all of this is optimized for use in cloud computing

As we take GoCloudID.com to market, we are very excited about our partnership with Fujitsu.  Built on Fujitsu’s IaaS TPS5, ImageWare’s CloudID product suite aims to deliver enterprise level, real-world solutions to meet current and future biometric identity management, enrollment, authentication and verification needs. End-users can get the best of both worlds: a superior cloud offering (aka Fujitsu’s worldwide trusted cloud platform attached to a number of very secure data centers), and a superior biometric security offering, that is hardware and software independent. We are seeing a lot of interest coming from some very large organizations that Fujitsu is privileged to call its customers on our hosted “Biometric as a Service” offering, and we believe ImageWare’s GoCloudID is a “first-of” type of product in the marketplace.

Next is about our mobile offering. Obviously biometrics is becoming the next huge drive in the mobile industry as we all see nowadays. Our GoMobile Interactive product addresses this need by allowing biometrics to be put on as security on mobile handsets, tablets or any kind of mobile device. We’re really excited about this because clearly mobile is the way of the world whether you are looking at electronic payments, accessing medical records, or securing data. I think we would all agree that PINs and passwords are dying and headed for extinction and probably should be, not only from security standpoints but just from a convenience and user standpoint. The mobile product is a great combination of our push messaging technology and our Biometric Engine. Here is an example of how it works. Say you are, and we’ve all had this happen, buying a product using your credit card in a foreign country for a charge of $400 and if you were a GoMobile Interactive user you would get a push message to your handset stating, “Peter did you just spend $400 at the ABC Boutique in Barcelona, Spain?” You could then tap on, “Yes I did.” Another message would then appear stating, “Please authenticate yourself”. You would then be prompted with one of the biometrics that you had preregistered and your financial institute, for example a bank, could ascertain that it was really you making the purchase in Barcelona and not someone else using your identity to make the purchase. The key benefits here are convenient, for you as the user, and security and assurance for credit card and financial institution processors. And if you are like me, and lots of people are, have had the experience of having your credit card turned off in a place and then spending several hours justifying your identity to get it back online, this is a far superior way and a much safer way to do business. And, of course, with the Biometric Engine at work, our customers can use any biometric combination they wish and know that they can change those out or even adopt new biometrics as they come to market on mobile platforms. Our product is available on the Android and the Apple operating systems and we are showing that at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The reaction and interest in the product is very exciting.

MIDW: Well we have been following the mobile shift for about the last three or four years and have predicted some of this activity. With the Apple announcement last year it really kicked into high gear, I would agree. Actually in our latest Year in Review the industry declared that mobility was the growth area and driver over the next few years. ImageWare saw this coming pretty far off and you have now positioned yourself to take advantage of this. How did that happen for your company?

IW: Well our crystal ball isn’t always so clear but I must say that several years ago we said very publicly that we were going to use and direct our resources to building a suite of products that addresses the coming proliferation of cloud computing users as well as the explosion in mobile devices, and that’s precisely what we did.  

We saw the advent of mobile wallets, we saw the incredible explosion in electronic payments and unfortunately Peter, for us all, we saw a pretty big explosion in fraud and online theft of data and a struggle to reconcile all of that with what are now decades old security measures. If there was ever a time and place for biometrics to come to market in a big way it is to help with this security issue that we are all facing in everyday life. Identity theft has become rampant and unfortunately those folks that practice that breach of the law have gotten smarter and they exploit a system that needs to be overhauled. Unfortunately, identity theft is a problem that isn’t going to go away. It’s with us, it is one of those things that we get as part of our life in modern times but happily we believe there is a solution in the types of products that ImageWare has built for just precisely these kinds of issues.  

MIDW: I couldn’t agree more and you throw in the dismal failure of the password like you were referring to earlier on top of that and you have a lot of drivers. Thank goodness companies like yours exist that can rapidly replace and start to drive the identity marketplace in a new direction.

IW: Agreed. And again, the advent of the smartphone makes so much of this possible. Number one it is ubiquitous, we all carry it. I grew up in an era when the smartphone wasn’t prevalent and now I’m the same guy that gets halfway to work and turns around to go get it because I can’t imagine spending a day without it. I’m probably not alone in that thinking. It’s robust, it’s reliable, it’s relatively inexpensive and combining push messaging technology, which is easy to use, it also allows the carrying and the movement of biometric templates so you can bring biometrics right to your handset, pad or tablet in a simple, reliable and easy to use way. We are really excited about the places these products will go. Folks like Gartner study the markets and say that a full 30% of the world’s payments will be mobile in the next year, year-and-a-half. We think that the ImageWare brand is the perfect way to solve the many security concerns in the market.

MIDW: You mentioned a couple of the vertical markets that you are focusing on, what are the main vertical markets that you are concentrating on?

IW: We came to market targeting three: retail, financial institutions and services, and medical. Medical is particularly exciting. On the GoMobileInteractive platform, which combines push messaging and our Biometric Engine, we will be debuting a product in Barcelona called the pillphone. The pillphone is built for medical and health care uses and it addresses a number of medical/health industry concerns. It is a medication reminder, it allows for the electronic reordering of prescriptions, it allows for a secure communication of medical records and medical information, and it has a medication reference library.

So as that information is moved via a mobile device, you can use biometrics to make sure that the only people looking at your medical information is you, not me pretending to be you. We also see a big use for it in clinical trials. Clinical trials are an area in the medical field that has been paper based and journal based forever. Now we see the use of products like the pillphone to record information used in clinical trials for medical devices and medication and the movement of that information using biometrics to secure it in a very, very fast and efficient and cost saving way. So those are the three main target markets.

MIDW: Well I think we agree, those are some of the markets that we focus on as well on the mobility side of the equation and they are moving very, very quickly. By the way I love the name of your product, “pillphone”, I think it is brilliant. What is the greatest challenge facing the industry during this rapid growth phase?

IW: Well I think that the technology the industry develops needs to be both useful and useable. At ImageWare we believe this must be the case in order to successfully address mass market adoption. This technology cannot be packaged in a way that requires people to read extensive manuals. It cannot be technology that requires people to have advanced degrees just to use it. It has really got to be very, very simple and straightforward and, I’ll say, packaged in a way that is fun to use. I think that if the industry can build products that meet those requirements we will all be very, very successful. I think that some of the biometric technology, and understandably I think this is part of normal evolution of any technology, that has come out has been a little clunky over time and that has inhibited its use outside of custom government use cases. No matter what the product, if it is hard or difficult to use, folks won’t use it. If it doesn’t work, they will discard it pretty quickly and that was true in the public sector for government, and I think it even more so as we go towards the consumer market. I know here at ImageWare we are big believers that these products need to be reliable, they need to be simple and they need to be fast. I think that if you can address those concerns that you have a winner.

MIDW: Jim congratulations on your forecasting of the marketplace and having products in the market as quickly as you have. I think it is a very exciting time for both the industry as well as for ImageWare and I look forward hearing more about your company as the year unfolds.

IW: Thanks Peter. Lots of good things to come and we look forward to sharing it with you and your readers as well.