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Benefits of biometrics

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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Uberising solar energy

A team of students from Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya on Thursday walked off as winners with R20 000 in prize money for an innovative concept to provide equitable energy access to remote villages based on, among others, “Uber(ising) solar energy.”

The team was one of four university teams participating in the African Utility Week and Powergen Africa conference and exhibition’s first ever Initiate! Impact Challenge. The 19th edition of the event gathered thousands of power, water and gas industry experts in Cape Town this week and ended on Thursday.

Student teams from Stellenbosch University, the University of Cape Town and the University of the Witwatersrand also took part in the three-day challenge sponsored by the Enel Foundation, the Innovation Hub, Lesedi Nuclear Services and the Russian Nuclear Agency Rosatom. The Initiate! Challenge aimed to create a platform for students and start-ups to drive innovation and share ideas for the energy sector.

Strathmore University’s winning team: (left to right) Fredrick Amariati, Ignatius Maranga, Raymond Kiyegga and Alex Osunga.

The Strathmore University team included engineering students Ignatius Maranga, Raymond Kiyegga, Fredrick Amariati and Alex Osunga. One member of the team will also have the exclusive opportunity to join the 5th annual student fact-finding mission to Russia to visit several state-of-the-art nuclear facilities and dedicated Russian nuclear universities. Maranga said the team is happy and humbled especially because they competed against some of the top universities on the continent. He said the teams’ winning idea is rooted in real life challenges that Kenyans in rural areas face. “The solutions offered so far to expand energy access are not solving these problems as many are not financially viable.”

The team’s idea is to put a solar panelled container in rural villages that will also house a clinic and a knowledge hub like a school for vocational training to teach people about the use and benefits of solar energy. It will also include a shop where villagers can buy daily essentials like milk.

Maranga said: “The school will help with capacity building as villagers will see and learn benefits of electricity and as the business grows, they will want to have electricity in their homes and when that point comes, we will have solar powered tricycles. These tricycles will carry and deliver batteries like Uber does passengers to villagers in more remote areas. The system is modular so we will add another container to charge batteries. These batteries are ferried on trikes, so villagers in more remote areas can request a number of charged batteries on their phone.”

Maranga explained that it is common cause that Africa is big, and many people live in remote rural villages. “So, it is not always possible to extend the power grid to these areas as it is very expensive. So, what do we do instead? Most people own a cell phone, and everyone needs electricity, so you take it to them. They cannot exactly carry a battery for two kilometres so why then not Uber a battery?” Maranga said their company Kijiji, (Swahili for village) will now look at commercialising their idea, optimise it and do market tests. “If accepted we want to roll it out depending on funding.”

The team’s idea appealed to the judges because it was a simple idea that is easy to replicate beyond Kenya to the rest of the continent. Chief executive officer of Rosatom Central and Southern Africa, Dmitry Shornikov, said: “We are very pleased with the solutions presented by the students. The maturity and depth of their research gives us great hope and proves that young Africans really are devoted to solving Africa’s energy challenges.”

Business Development executive at Lesedi Nuclear Services, Shane Pereira, in an earlier interview said the company partnered with Initiate! because it is dedicated to the youth that will be the leaders of tomorrow. “The growth and development as well as training, coaching and mentoring of the youth is critical to the success of our future economy.”

The ideas of the other three teams focused more on mitigating the risk of climate change and came up with ideas ranging from vertical farms to energy boxes.

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Ultra Fast Computing for Everyone?

A new era of enhanced cloud computing is rendering many devices obsolete, writes COLIN THORNTON, MD of Turrito

For those who haven’t noticed, internet connectivity is getting faster. Just how fast and robust the connection is always depends on where you live and work – but worldwide, internet speeds are accelerating. According to a 2018 report by Ookla, an internet analytics company, the world’s average mobile download speed of 22.82 Mbps increased 15.2% in 2018, while mobile upload speed increased 11.6% to reach 9.19 Mbps. Additionally, the world’s average download speed on fixed broadband was 46.12 Mbps, 26.4% faster than in 2017 – while upload speed increased 26.5% to 22.44 Mbps. 

For both businesses and consumers, faster internet speeds are propelling a global shift towards enhanced cloud computing and a diminishing reliance on ‘traditional’ hardware. Indeed, as connectivity gets faster, the less intelligent and complex hardware and devices need to be. We can already see this happening in the online gaming world, with Google’s new cloud gaming platform Stadia. The platform, dubbed  an early beta of the future of gaming, will stream games from the cloud to the Chrome browser, Chromecast and Pixel devices. Stadia’s processing power will sit entirely in the cloud (i.e. a data centre) as opposed to in the gaming hardware itself.

This is nothing short of revolutionary because in the past, gamers have needed very expensive machines with top-end graphics cards, lots of RAM and powerful CPU’s to have the kind of experience that Stadia will offer. The same applies to graphic designers, video editors, architects and more. So as sophisticated cloud computing becomes more entrenched, the need for complex hardware across use cases will decrease. On the other hand, ultra-fast internet connectivity will become essential.  

Rethinking the hardware equation

There can be no doubt that the growing reliance on cloud computing will change the face of the traditional IT hardware industry. Already, businesses have to begin to think differently about their hardware procurement and internet connectivity solutions. This cloud-driven transformation can enable huge increases in productivity, while also decreasing costs – provided that businesses plan ahead intelligently.

So what needs to change?

To begin with, many businesses still choose their connectivity solutions based on the advertised speed (e.g. 100Mbs). However, as reliance on the connectivity speed increases, this will no longer be good enough.

Businesses should be asking their internet providers (ISPs) how contended the line is, i.e. How many other users share it? Another key consideration is latency: How long does it take to send and receive data from a specific place?

When having these discussions with their ISPs, businesses must have a clear understanding of their most critical applications and where they sit in the overall IT equation. For example, if an architectural firm intends on using Amazon Web Services to host and process their CAD software, then they’ll need to choose connectivity which has the lowest latency to Amazon.

Investing in a cloud-based future

Although this fundamental shift in computing will not immediately be tangible in the South African context, it will probably start becoming more relevant in early 2020. As a result, businesses must take the cloud revolution into account when considering any expensive hardware purchases and long-term connectivity contracts.

Arguably, businesses should look more carefully at cheaper and less powerful machines/devices. And with the threat of rolling blackouts (load shedding) always ominously present, choosing microcomputing devices and less power hungry hardware is a smart move.

From a cost perspective, IT support costs will likely decrease because managing the hardware on-site will become simpler. That said, the cost of having ultra-fast internet (which is managed properly) should be factored in.

Powerful computing for everyone 

Looking ahead, the era of enhanced cloud computing and sophisticated streaming capabilities will transform the way we work and learn. In the past, hardware costs limited accessibility. Soon, that will no longer be the case. Within video editing and production companies, for example, there is often just one very powerful machine in the office for rendering video. Now, everyone can potentially have this computing power at his or her fingertips. The same can happen with architects who render high-res 3D images of their building designs. And the impact on education could be enormous, as suddenly a school can offer these types of practical applications to students (without having to purchase hundreds of expensive and power hungry desktop computers).

As with any major technology shift, however, organisations have to buy into the long-term vision in order to truly reap the benefits.

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