Hong Kong CIO shares biometrics deployment tips

Palm and facial biometrics rolled out throughout Hong Kong

CIO of the Hong Kong Housing Authority (HKHA), Raymond Chu, speaks with CIO about the recent use of biometric technology in the department.

In Sydney for the Voice Leadership Forum, Chu said his organisation has moved from simply using fingerprints for identifing staff to facial recognition devices.

“Many technologies can deliver services, but when you look at biometrics it does give us some form of true identities. We’ve been using facial recognition and fingerprints to identify people but when you look at biometrics, it is less intrusive and people feel a bit more comfortable with it,” Chu said.

The HKHA is now using VXML-compliant palm and facial biometrics from Salmat at construction sites to identify security guards and "cleansing" workers after testing the software.

"Before we started the project we obviously had to ensure the technology we used worked at this stage and we tested it and did a pilot. So the first part of our rollout was to the IT department where there are around 250 people where we piloted the biometric technology and in a couple of months we will roll it out to the rest of the organisation which is about 10,000 people," Chu said.

Chu said he faced some privacy and security concerns when rolling out biometrics, but was able to allay these fears by describing the design of the technology to the department.

"People initially were a little sceptical in the way the voice print works. The way the technology works is the voice print is not actually stored, it's a transformation of people's voices into something else that is then stored and they will never be converted. After people realised this, they became much more comfortable in the way the technology is designed," he said.

Chu still offers an opt-out option for employees, but says adoption has been popular overall because of how much time is saved.

"We will now roll it out to the rest of the organisation so we are communicating with the rest of our departments. Employees can choose to use this automated process or they can choose to use the old way of sending the data that takes two or three days."

"It's a really good way to deal with a business process and it does improve the process and shortens it extensivley."

While the Hong Kong Housing Authority is one of the first groups to use biometrics in Hong Kong, Chu said many organisations in both the public and private sphere are beginning to move into biometrics. He also said the next step would be to apply the technology to external contract workers.

Read more: Thought Leadership in Privacy

"In Hong Kong, most of the organisations are looking at using biometrics but they do have to make sure it doesn't violate the privacy of those involved."

"Biometrics has just started here, other types of biometrics are widely used but even though from Hong Kong to China across the boarder we use fingerprints and facial reconition, that doesn't apply to the whole of Hong Kong," he said.

When asked why Australian companies are yet to look more seriously at the use of biometrics, Chu suggested that priorities are different for Australian CIO's and Hong Kong has a higher adoption rate of the technology.

"In Australia, CIO's have other priorities they have to deal with. They aren't using biometrics as much," Chu said.

"In Hong Kong, biometrics just started. Biomertics is a lot more popular when compared to the rest of the world."

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