Wheat and rice.
It is probably the last thing you’d spontaneously associate with biometrics. Yet, when you’ve met with Digvijay Singh Kanwar, Vice President for India at Next Biometrics (Next), chances are your perspective will drastically deepen and change.
Money matters. Cynical as it sounds, it is probably why the last piece you read about biometric technology or business most likely covered it from a financial perspective. Having worked in the biometrics industry for over fifteen years, Digvijay Singh Kanwar has witnessed firsthand both the impressive changes taking place on an infrastructural level – as well as the sometimes very touching moments of personal, positive change biometrics has created for vulnerable individuals.
As of this writing, he has just closed a USD 6 million deal for Next. A hard-working salesman and engineer at heart, he’d still prefer to shift focus and rather we highlight the human-centric aspects of the strong biometric momentum in India.
”How can biometrics change the lives of the people who really need it? I genuinely believe our technology is contributing to constructive changes, doing good for people. It is very important for me on a personal level to be involved in driving positive change,” says Digvijay.
And there are lots of opportunities to continue on that path.
”The largest consumption of fingerprint sensors is happening in India right now, because of the Aadhaar program,” he explains.
”It is becoming a very big pull for Next and other ecosystem partners.”
What’s so special about India then? Digvijay says one of the reasons is the country is well known for leapfrogging technology, thus often driving progress on a global infrastructure level.
And he is not alone in his view on the growth opportunities here. According to the Economist, many ”high flying businessmen”, such as Apple CEO Tim Cook, are also persuaded about India’s attractiveness for new business. Its GDP grew by 6.1 percent during the first quarter 2023 and investments as a share of GDP is at its highest for over a decade. Goldman Sachs projects India’s GDP will overtake the euro areas in 2051 and America’s by 2075, that assumes a growth rate of 5.8 percent for the next five years.
The world’s largest database
There are no shortcuts to progress of course. However, the government has long not only had the trust of its citizens, but also high ambitions and the resources to provide the tools needed for change and growth.
”When Aadhaar was introduced, roughly 17 years ago, it changed the lives of hundreds of millions of people in India,” Digvijay explains.
”Prior to Aadhaar, sadly, the country’s large number of people living below the poverty line used to become victims of corruption and bureaucracy. During the previous conditions, for every 100 rupees aimed for a specific beneficiary, only about 15 of those rupees would ever be received by the entitled beneficiary in the end.”
Today, the corresponding efficiency is 100 rupees received by the beneficiary in need.
But what exactly is Aadhaar? How does it work and what has it got to do with Next Biometrics? Not to mention wheat?
”Essentially, Aadhaar is just a mechanism for the government to deliver their duties or their services to the citizens. This could mean free food, free education, healthcare or other services such as issuing birth certificates or a driver’s license,” says Digvijay.
The Aadhaar enrollment process includes visiting one of the many enrollment centers that are spread all over India. Once the resident has filed the enrollment form, gotten his or her demographic and biometric data captured and submitted proof of identity and address document, he or she can now collect the personal acknowledgement slip containing the personal enrollment ID needed to finish registration in Aadhaar. When this process is finalized, your very own Aadhaar number is issued, and you can manage your e-identity through the digital app, mAadhaar.
Now, reading about the program and its progress is one thing. Seeing and experiencing the enrollment and its impact, live, is of course something completely different states Digvijay. He shares a personal memory of helping a few of India’s poorest enroll their fingerprints for the very first time, in order to become entitled to their own Aadhaar ID.
”They had never done it before, so they walked slowly and placed their thumbs on the scanning device. It verified them, they saw the green light come and then the government official informed them ´Hey, this is for you. Here is a sack of wheat and rice. Please eat, this is for you. You are entitled to it, and it is free´ and they became so happy. So happy!”
The memory, a humbling experience, has stayed with him.
”Then and there, I really understood how well this is working and what’s even more important: it is really biometrics doing good. In the end, it is all about helping people.”
Next generation biometric standard
And the journey to help more people through secure ID authentication, continues. As the popularity of Aadhaar increases, so has the government’s wish to further strengthen its already strict security measurements. All biometric devices used by the government enrollment offices for enrollment of the three mandatory biometric modalities iris, fingerprint and face, must be registered within Aadhaar for the encryption key. Every physical device with a sensor also has its unique identifier allowing device authentication, traceability, analytics and fraud management.
Earlier this year, another step forward was announced.
Indian authorities now launched the next generation biometric standard called the L1. A change which means the end of life for so called L0 certificated devices as per June 2023. After June 2023, a valid L1 certificate will be mandatory in order to be integrated in Aadhaar ecosystem. In short, becoming L1 certified means the Aadhaar partner has successfully proven its capability to provide the highest possible technical protection and encryption of the biometric data.
It’s a generational upgrade that also creates further momentum for Digvijay and his team. As of this writing, Next’s partner in India, Access Computech Pvt. Ltd., has just received its L1 certification. The company is ready to launch its product featuring Next’s FAP20 sensor. As the L1 certification is now confirmed, Next’s prospects of increasing its market share through the integration with its partners, looks optimistic. Not only does the certification open doors to more market implementations, approximately 4.5 million L0 certified devices either have to be replaced, or migrated and upgraded to L1 certification.
Since 2018, Next’s technology has been L0 certified and through its Indian partners, integrated in the Aadhaar program.
Next’s thermal sensor solutions have steadily gained more attention in the industry. It offers an attractive, large FAP standard sensing area combined with an ultra-thin form factor. Compared to competing technologies, Next’s Active ThermalTM sensors also offer many advantages such as sunlight interference immunity, very low power consumption, working well with moisture and sweaty fingers and a low sensitivity to electrical and environmental noise. Thus, it provides great image performance for both indoor and outdoor applications.
Despite many additional features, it remains at a attractive price point compared to most high-security applications. Although Next’s unique technology comes with lots of advantages and creates attention from curious customers, it is not without its challenges, Digvijay explains.
”There are no ’traditional’ buyers anymore, today it is all about partnerships. Our customers are also our technology partners. And they look towards us for expertise in biometrics, our guidance and know-how.”
An ongoing challenge he is working on is increasing the general knowledge of thermal technology. How does it differ from optical and capacitive sensors? What’s the use case for Next’s clients, what’s in it for them that motivates switching to Active ThermalTM ?
”Once our client or partner understands the unique characteristics of our thermal sensor technology, they typically get interested in investigating how to take things further. What could we do together? How can we join forces to approach the UIDAI certification process?”
Partners letting the government know they’d prefer a device including Next Biometric’s Active ThermalTM sensor help drive organic demand.
Does it sound familiar? It should.
”It is very similar to how Intel did their marketing,” confirms Digvijay and smiles.
”Remember: Intel never made a computer, but they made the microcontroller or the CPU, which runs the computer. Just like back then, translated to our own market: today it could really be any device as long as it has got Next Biometrics’ fingerprint sensor in it, so people can see and experience for themselves how great and safe it is. It works all the time.”
Culture (still) eats strategy for breakfast
And useability is no tiny thing here. With approximately 1.2 billion enrollments as of this writing, Aadhaar remains the world’s largest biometric ID program. Outstanding technology is of course a prerequisite to compete, but taking the time to get to know your clients and partners is what really matters and create a long-term impact on the Indian market.
In the end, business success on the world’s hottest biometric market is all about a human-centric approach, says Digvijay. Trust.
”Achieving your goals in the semiconductor industry requires a lot of patience and practice. It is very much like running a marathon. Everyone who’s been long enough in the industry knows the importance of finding a solid and resilient partner to team up with.”
He also notes Next’s customers keep choosing Next for its high level of support, its kind and close customer interaction and the genuine care about its customers and partners.
It’s an approach he’s proud to be executing; and keen to continue.
”Giving up after let’s say 10, or 15 km, when the race typically start to get really rough, is simply not an option. It may take a while of course, but we take great pride in always finding that ideal, joint running pace with our clients and partners. We’ll start – and finish – the marathon together.”