Should I buy a fingerprint access control system?

Issue 1 2022 Access Control & Identity Management

Fingerprint access control and time and attendance systems are fast, secure, convenient and can handle thousands of employees or members. They are the right solution in many, but not all cases. Here are six factors to consider when deciding if fingerprint biometrics are right for your company.

1. Convenience

Convenience is one of the top reasons customers cite for using fingerprint readers. Employees or members can leave RFID access cards at home or in their cars, but their fingers are conveniently attached to their hands. In other words, they always carry their access tokens with them.

Beyond being user-friendly, the lack of physical RFID cards makes biometric fingerprint readers, sometimes called fingerprint scanners, the preferred choice of HR, IT and facility management teams. When an employee leaves the organisation or a person’s membership lapses, there is no card to collect in person. Revoking access just takes a few clicks in an integrated security platform like Suprema’s BioStar 2.

It’s almost always more convenient to use your fingerprint for authentication than to fish out an ID card.

2. Reliability

Reliability is the top concern for Suprema customers considering fingerprint readers or fingerprint door locks. Early fingerprint readers often required more than one try and were especially prone to failure in very cold or dry environments that tend to dry out the skin on people’s fingers. Dry fingerprints look smudged or blurry to some fingerprint readers, increasing the false rejection rate.

While we cannot speak for competitors, at Suprema we have addressed the dry fingerprint issue by introducing a Conformance Decision Engine to ensure that our fingerprint readers capture accurate fingerprints. We have also introduced deep learning technology into the fingerprint analysis process. The result is 31-times greater performance indoors and 19-times greater performance outdoors, compared to other fingerprint readers on the market.

If you are in a region such as Korea, South Africa, Australia, or the Middle East, where it is especially dry seasonally or all year long, be aware that the reliability of fingerprint readers varies meaningfully by manufacturer.

Fingerprint readers are more reliable than ever, but some brands greatly outperform others, especially in harsh climates. Fingerprint biometrics are inherently secure. Statistically, a 500-person company is unlikely to have more than one false acceptance of a fingerprint in 37,8 years.

3. Sensitive facilities trust Suprema’s fingerprint readers

There are other behavioural considerations that also make fingerprint access control more secure than physical badges. People tend to leave their security badges in unsecure places where they can easily be lost or stolen and used by unscrupulous individuals. In one widely reported example, 1400 security badges went missing from a US airport over a two-year period. These badges provided access to areas including runways and boarding gates. When was the last time you left your finger on the table in a restaurant or in your car?

If you are looking to secure an especially sensitive facility like a data centre or research lab, fingerprint readers can provide a second layer of security with two-factor authentication (2FA). To gain entry, an employee first taps an RFID access badge and then authenticates their identity by touching the fingerprint reader.

Fingerprints are unique and inherently secure. That’s why they’re so widely used at high security facilities.

4. Cost

There are two main factors to consider when it comes to the cost of an access control system: The initial cost of buying and installing the system and the long-term cost of maintaining the system.

The price of the most basic fingerprint-enabled access control readers are about double the cost of the most basic RFID card readers. The gap narrows, however, when considering the total cost of a system including installation, electronic door locks and access control units.

Fingerprint access control systems may have a cost advantage when you factor in the cost of buying and replacing RFID access cards. Base prices are low for these cards but rise quickly when you add in custom printing and lanyards. Staff time spent retrieving physical cards is also an important cost consideration. We also estimate that RFID cards contribute to about 1,4 million kilograms in landfill waste every year. That’s the equivalent of tossing out about 900 family sedans. For organisations that care about sustainability, reducing plastic waste is a major concern.

As a general rule, the larger the organisation and the higher the turnover, the higher the cost will be to buy and manage physical access cards.

Fingerprint readers cost more up-front, but may be cheaper in the long run because you don’t have to buy and replace physical access cards.

5. Guest access

The first step in using a fingerprint reader is enrolment. Before you can open doors using your fingerprint, you have to be enrolled in the system, which creates a template that maps out the unique features of your finger.

Enrolling a new user in a fingerprint access control system is quick. It only takes a few seconds. However, it is not ideal in every situation. Few employees will question the need to store a fingerprint template on a secure server managed by their employer. Guests and visitors may be less accommodating. Why store my fingerprint long-term if I’m only visiting once? How else will you use my fingerprint?

For guests, using physical or mobile access cards is likely a more convenient and quicker option. Luckily, most fingerprint readers – including all access control fingerprint readers from Suprema – support RFID cards in addition to biometrics.

6. Time and attendance

One of the main uses for fingerprint readers is as part of a time and attendance system that records when employees and contractors enter and leave. This is especially common in industries like construction and retail, which have large workforces. Ease of integration and management are two reasons fingerprint readers are popular. With Suprema’s X-Station 2, for example, managers can enrol employees and check logs directly from the terminal’s screen, without having to use a separate computer.

Another reason fingerprint readers are commonly used for time and attendance is that they keep everyone honest. Buddy punching, also called ‘time theft’ happens when an employee checks in for an absent co-worker. It is an unfortunate practice that fingerprint-based time and attendance can solve. While it’s easy to hand your ID card or employee number to a friend, it’s far more difficult to lend them your finger for the day.


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Further reading:

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Access Selection Guide 2023
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The Access Selection Guide 2023 includes a range of devices geared specifically for the access control and identity management market.

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