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Benefits of biometrics

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Biometric technology has become an integral part of many of the access control, security, asset protection and risk management systems. The benefits are significant, not just in terms of security, but for enablement of related business processes, like time an attendance, says KOBUS LE ROUX of Jasco Security Solutions.

Failure of any component in the biometrics system can compromise the security of assets, operations, the safety of personnel and the accuracy of reporting systems. The risk to business, and its bottom line, can be considerable over time.

There are two key considerations. Accurate setup and configuration of the hardware, software and network components are very important, but you can’t ‚”set and forget‚”. Similarly, once the physical components are installed and integrated, a ‚”break-fix‚” approach to ensuring the system is functioning optimally is not acceptable if the risk profile that these systems facilitate is to be maintained.

Setup and clean up

Successful setup of a biometrics system hinges first and foremost on accurate registration of unique identifiers e.g., fingerprint or iris scans that are entered into a database. If the registration process is faulty, the system will deliver false positives or erratically deny access. Administration of the database also needs to be meticulous much like other access control technologies, if someone leaves the company or their status changes, the database must be updated and ‚’cleaned’. This is crucial as biometrics databases usually have a limit to the number of registrations they can efficiently process. Exceed this and the system slows down, stalls and begins to fail, affecting operational and productivity efficiencies and increasing risk.

Wear and tear also has an impact, even if your readers have the toughest (IP66 ruggedised) rating. To put use of biometrics systems into perspective, consider that a larger corporate building may see 3000 to 4000 transactions per day and a large mining operation may see hundreds of transactions over a single shift change.

All the physical components that make up the system need to be regularly assessed for mechanical or other failure. If the biometrics reader gets grimy or is damaged — through use or exposure to harsh environments or the elements (rain, dust, heat) it can literally collapse the entire system. Biometrics secured access is also of little use if the door granting access has faulty locking units. In addition, network access and reliability, including quality of service, need to be regularly reviewed to ensure the biometrics system and all the processes it enables (access, time and attendance) can operate and respond efficiently.

Maintenance optimises performance

Regular maintenance every three months or as often as use demands could eliminate these challenges and extend the life of the system. To also optimise the performance of the system it is crucial, however, to appoint a service provider with the appropriate technical skills and insight.

The ideal partner for such maintenance is a company that understands, and has broad experience of installation and management of biometric technology and related systems access control, CCTV, alarms, etc — across a variety of industries (corporate, manufacturing, mining, transport, public sector) and technology platforms. This partner should have a track record and qualified staff and most of all be flexible to attend to your specific maintenance needs.

A maintenance agreement of this sort should include doing the necessary diagnostics on all systems, critically assessing the network, the database, environmental factors, and the impact of other devices on the biometrics and related systems. The service provider should also be able to proactively address or make provision for changes in organisational processes, infrastructure and personnel. Identified challenges would need to then be addressed in a way that improves overall performance.

As technology becomes increasingly part of physical operations, it’s easy to overlook the fact both technology and physical maintenance is needed and that service providers offering such maintenance need to have both skills. Maintenance to biometrics systems is becoming non-negotiable as companies increasingly come to understand how this can impact mission critical processes and affect the effective and efficient operations of extended systems. Don’t get caught short.

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SA chainsaw operators now train in VR

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Developed by Forestry South Africa (FSA), the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Sector Education and Training Authority (FP&M Seta) and industry partners, this solution trains chainsaw operators in a safe, simulated environment before they test their skills in this high-risk activity in timber plantations.

While the number of chainsaw operators employed in large commercial plantations has declined in recent years, the opposite is true in small-scale and community forestry, where suitably trained chainsaw operators need to be equipped with this scarce and critical skill.

Although forestry has used simulators over the past decade, their use in the training of chainsaw operators is an innovative development.

Mobile, cost-effective, learner-adaptable and injury-free

The cost of practical training has risen substantially. The sector sought a solution that would not only provide a cost-effective coaching medium with minimal risk, but a means whereby trainee operators could gain a feel for their equipment before taking their first steps into the field or forest. 

Safety concerns have proved to be a limiting factor in the training of chainsaw operators. Other constraints include unwieldy class sizes and a limited number of trees available for practical instruction.

“Besides the obvious benefits that our industry stands to gain from this project, VR is the future of skills development and training. It transports learners into the environment for which they are being trained, promotes interactivity and improves the retention of information through experience,” says FSA business development director Norman Dlamini.

“I am holding the very first chainsaw in the world that has been wired with sensors and can transport a learner into a virtual timber plantation,” says Dlamini in a video developed to promote and demonstrate the application.

The solution is remarkably simple to operate and offers significant value for money. All that is needed is a dedicated computer, a VR headset, a specially adapted chainsaw with sensors and a customised mobile gazebo. The total cost of the hardware to run the app is approximately R35 000, while the software is available free of charge to FSA members.

Project partners

The project has been substantially funded by the FP&M Seta. “It uses fourth industrial revolution technology to improve the quality of instruction. Excited by FSA’s proposal, FP&M Seta contributed to this initiative,” says FP&M Seta CEO Felleng Yende, who too believes that VR is the future of training and skills development.

FSA executive director Michael Peter explains that capacity building and development are vital to the sustainability of the industry and its future growth. “Our membership includes not only the country’s 11 major corporate forestry companies but 1 300 medium-scale plantation owners and around 20 000 small-scale operators. This development will benefit them by enhancing the quality of operator training,” he says.

Some FSA members have already committed to testing the technology at their in-house training departments and will be giving constant feedback to the development team to refine the design of the product prior to commercialisation.

Where to next?

According to Peter, the app will meet the need for better quality and safer training in the industry while standardising the level of training and assessment of trainees across the country.

Initial demonstrations have been well-received by the industry, with a Version 2.0 already in the making. “During consultation with user groups, we identified two important improvements to enhance the next generation of VR chainsaw training aids,” adds Dlamini.

These will incorporate the use of a wireless module to eliminate cables that interfere with the movement of the learner operator as well as VR gloves to improve haptic feedback from the chainsaw during operation. This will add realism to the experience, enabling trainees to sense vibrations and resistance as the chainsaw engages with the virtual tree or timber.

Learning from this development, FSA is investigating other VR-based training applications for similarly hazardous operations. One of these is firefighting. “Fire knows no sectorial borders, so we would seek multi-sector collaboration,” says Dlamini.

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How to save cloud from complexity

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By DOUG WOOLLEY, GM of Dell Technologies South Africa

Ten years ago, business technologies had saturated to breaking point. The potential they offered were diminished by their deployment and maintenance costs. Then virtualisation, cloud and similar technologies emerged to offer new capacities and optimisation. Companies were able to vastly simplify their technology stacks, as is evident by even large enterprises moving wholesale to service-centric models where you own less and get more.

But that pendulum was going to change direction eventually. The arrival of the cloud world wasn’t just about creating efficiencies. It introduced radical new ways of creating applications and deploying services. The initial gains in terms of efficiency were just the start – once the cloud engine started firing on more cylinders, its true potential came to light. Artificial intelligence, real-time data, IoT infrastructure and other cutting edge services became widely feasible and affordable.

The modern technology era is powerful because of its modularity, but this creates a new type of complexity headache. Several reports have highlighted concerns among modern CIOs that complexity is getting out of hand again. One study found that a single web transaction used to interact with around 22 technology systems a few years ago, whereas today the number is more than 35. That’s a 59 percent increase in complexity.

The major bite is coming from managing multi-cloud environments. Today’s organisation is spoilt for choice. It can juggle hyperscale environments, co-location arrangements, private clouds, application containers and straight service pipes to create the best combination of technologies that enable its desires. But the simple beauty of grabbing an iPad for a performance dashboard belies the agile and complex relationships making that happen behind the scenes.

I can tell you that Dell EMC has been mulling this long before it became a clear challenge. Even before the successful merger that created Dell Technologies, we already pursued ways to better manage the complexity created by cloud environments. I don’t say this to advertise our services, but to point out that we never bought into a blue-skies view of cloud. The complexity was bound to return. If it isn’t contained and disciplined, then the promise of cloud would soon devolve into the familiar muck everyone’s trying to break free from.

We’re not alone: the market has been reaching this conclusion as well. A recent VMWare survey found that 83 percent of cloud adopters are seeking consistent infrastructure and operations from the data centre to the cloud. In other words, they want as seamless an experience as possible between the various moving parts of their technology investments.

Digital maturity isn’t a single curve. It’s more akin to a radar chart, with different indicators spreading outwards to complete the picture. The ability to curtail multi-cloud complexity is increasingly a dominant indicator of digital proficiency. But the means to create that control will depend heavily on the partner of choice.

Reining in cloud isn’t just about a nice management suite. It has to cover a powerful integration of hardware, software, services and consumption options. It also can’t exist to try and cap your cloud capabilities for the sake of stability. Cloud management has to remain dynamic to allow for the agility, accelerated innovation, improved economics and reduced risk that are the promises of the cloud era.

This requires a multidisciplinary approach that no single vendor can comprehensively provide. It needs a stable of different capabilities, such as virtualisation, infrastructure management and mature business thinking. When a company wants to avoid or untangle the new complexities wrought by cloud, the solutions don’t lie in services but how rich the partner landscape is that provides the management services.

Multi-cloud environments are delivering both expected and unbelievable gains, often as smooth interactions for end-users. But the background complexity can diminish returns very quickly and erode digitisation gains. This is the technology conversation of the year and foreseeable future, so let’s start talking.

We will be hosting our Dell Technologies Forum on 27 June at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg. Register now (https://www.delltechnologies.com/en-za/events/forum2019/Johannesburg/index.htm) and take this opportunity to raise your feelings about complexity and how to keep the cloud in line with your business expectations.

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