The Stack Archive

The biometrics-enabled office of the future knows how you like your coffee

Fri 28 Oct 2016

Smart office

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “biometrics?” Chances are, you thought of security, which is completely understandable; if you’re reading this on your iPhone, you may have logged in with your fingerprint; if you’re on a laptop made by my company, Fujitsu, it’s likely you used your palm vein to prove you’re you; if you’re in the office, maybe you had to have your Iris scanned before entering. You get the idea.

But, while we’re on the subject of offices, I’d like to expand the conversation around biometrics beyond security applications and share some thoughts about how they can be used to make the smart office of the future a reality.

I like to think that the convenience aspects offered by biometrics are like the QR codes that have become ubiquitous in recent years. You point your smartphone at a random-looking pattern of black squares and bars, and suddenly, you’re whisked away to a website, a video, a coupon or some other value-added content almost instantly.

If you think about it, it’s not the code itself that’s so great, it’s what it allows you to do. With biometrics, it’s not necessarily the authentication mode that’s interesting, it’s the cool stuff that can happen after you’ve been authenticated. So let’s spend a day in the biometrics-enabled office of tomorrow and see how it can boost efficiency, comfort, and yes, security in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago.

7:58 a.m. The day begins

Dave and Susan pull into the parking lot in their autonomous vehicles at around the same time on a typical Thursday morning. They say their hellos and stroll into the lobby, where the security system recognizes them and automatically selects their floor in the elevator. They step off on the sixth floor, head to their desks and find that their computers are booted up and ready to go; the security system is more than just an elevator operator.

The-elevator-of-the-futureAfter putting down her bag, Susan walks to the break room to find her favorite early-morning pick-me-up – a double espresso cappuccino with skim milk – is frothing into a cup, while Dave’s dark black Colombiano is queued to come out next. Now that they’re properly caffeinated, it’s time to get down to business.

11:54 a.m. Dave meets the deadline

As soon as he sits down, Dave is laser-focused on completing a strategy proposal that his boss wants on his desk before noon. The report contains a great deal of sensitive information, including budget projections, client information, unreleased product road-maps and more – not the kind of document you want to leave lying around. Fortunately, with the biometric capabilities in the office, when Dave hits “print,” the file doesn’t come out until he’s near the printer, so he can collect it as soon as it’s done. He puts the document on his boss’ desk with minutes to spare and is ready to go to lunch. He steps into the elevator, triggering his PC to lock; and it will not start until he returns.

2:28 p.m. Susan returns from an off-site meeting

While Dave was racing the clock to prepare his strategy proposal, Susan was racing around town, visiting new prospects that could turn into valuable clients. She was able to connect to the customers’ Wi-Fi and quickly authenticate her identity using palm vein technology to connect to her office VPN without inputting a password. Once behind the firewall, she pulled up documents from an internal file sharing network and wowed the prospects with her company’s capabilities. If she wins some deals, her future looks bright, and she may be able to hire new staff.

That means an increase in functions that require the smart office to know exactly who is performing an action, in addition to where and when this action is taking place.

The good news is, her managerial tasks will be a lot easier with new biometric technology on the horizon that automatically generates questions like: “Can Bob print customer information?”; “Is he allowed to print customer information on a weekend?”; “Do we require a senior staff member to oversee access to sensitive customer information or high value corporate assets?”; “Is Karen allowed into the stock room?”; “What time did Jane and Sam start work?”; “Does Susan approve the overtime Karen worked”; and other day-to-day issues that tend to devour time that could have been spent strategizing…and bringing in new business.

5:03 p.m. Closing time (for some, anyway)

Dave is done for the day and on his way pick up his daughter from hockey practice, then back home for the evening. Susan, however, needs a little more time to finish loading prospect info into the ERP system for future follow-up.

There are only a few people left in the office now, but the office is equipped with technology to determine exactly how many. Based on its assessment, it calculates and adjusts the optimal setting for the climate control system, which lights to turn on and off, and which pieces of power-hungry office equipment are still running even though there are not enough workers left to justify their use. This is a good way to save money, while also reducing ecological footprint. For the record, Susan didn’t have to stay much later, and was out the door before six – a busy but productive day.

Things work better in the smart office, and it won’t be long until more of us can take advantage of the kinds of scenarios I described above. As I mentioned, the cool stuff happens after you’ve been authenticated with biometrics. I’m a firm believer that we are on the cusp of many, many cool things that were unimaginable just a few years ago, and biometrics is literally the key to unlocking it all.

Derek Northrope is the head of Fujitsu’s Global Biometrics Community and Associate Director of Consulting and the Architecture/Technical Team lead in Ottawa, Canada. Derek has over fifteen years’ experience in biometrics and identity management, including consulting, solution design and standards development.


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