Demand among Gulf companies for personal identification technology using biometrics - retina scans or fingerprint recognition - is on the rise. RCG Holdings, a company based in Hong Kong that sells "employee attendance solutions", has expanded its reach into the Middle East, recently announcing it has added a number of new clients including Oman's Diwan of Royal Court and Air Arabia in Sharjah.
Demand for technology that uses biometrics is rising, said Danny Chew, who heads RCG's Dubai office. Two years ago, the company had about 50 clients in the region. Today, there are nearly 300. "In the Gulf region especially, a lot of employees don't come in on time," Mr Chew said. The company's best-selling product for the region is the I-9, which has a Wi-Fi enabled touch-screen that can process 3,000 fingerprints a second.
The hardware costs US$1,500 (Dh5,509) but for a company with about 100 employees scattered among branches, custom software must be written at an added cost of at least $150,000. Rather than scanning a company ID card as they enter a workplace, a biometric system would have workers placing a finger on to the pad where it would be scanned for a match within the company's employee files. "The old card and PIN [personal identification number] system is not so secure," Mr Chew said. "The company doesn't know if the employee is in the office or if he is being checked in by one of his colleagues.
"When an employee in Oman checks in, you will see it immediately even if the headquarters are in Dubai." The Institute of Management and Administration in the US estimates employers who use a biometric system could save about 2 per cent of annual payroll costs by stopping workers punching in for others and effectively managing overtime pay. These systems can automatically alert employers when workers are getting close to their permissible amount of overtime and assist with discipline for absenteeism or lateness.
Founded in 1999, RCG was listed on the AIM market in London in 2004 and opened its Dubai office a year later. The technology is especially popular in the Gulf, which has a more traditional working environment and has not widely embraced flexible working hours or working from home, Mr Chew said. The monitoring may have one particular benefit for employees: it may force supervisors to give credit to those burning the midnight oil.
"When you work late hours, usually hardly anyone will notice it," Mr Chew said. "In this case, (the bosses) will see it." RCG is now pitching its products to the region's schools to keep better track of younger children. The machines could be placed on school buses and, once the students scan in, an SMS text is sent to a parent's mobile. "I'm sure the teenagers would not like this, of course, " Mr Chew said.