Screens that scan your eyes, machines that read images of your hands or face, computers you access with your fingerprint instead of a user name and password -- these were once the stuff of science fiction. But in the real-life IT world, biometric technology -- authenticating users based on their physical characteristics -- has gradually become fact.

Government agencies are using biometrics to enhance security in access control, but this technological endeavor, like most others, also can be applied to save time and effort. And since time and effort equal money, biometric deployments also can produce some nice savings.

Hand in Hand

Tahlequah, Okla., uses 11 "hand-punch" terminals -- which record user handprints -- to track and manage 129 city employees. The system replaced paper time sheets, according to Sue Stacy, Tahlequah's human resources director.

"It's just awesome. That's all I can say about it. Before, when I did payroll I had to go through all the time sheets and look to see who took a vacation day," she said. Stacy also needed to post vacation time and other time-related information publicly so others could see it. "Now I don't do that. It's all right there for me," she said.

Tahlequah uses Schlage HandPunch 3000 terminals to record employee handprints. The terminal has a flat metal plate with pegs that ergonomically direct the hand for proper placement. When an employee enrolls in the system, he or she places their hand on the plate three times, and the 3-D hand template is registered in the human resources office and associated with a unique identification number. When employees clock in or out for work, they enter the identification number, place their hand on the terminal, and the handprint is verified against the registered template and identification. The verification process takes seconds.

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Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  | 

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.