A Cornucopia of Standards

"Whoa! How many standards does this industry need? Seems like I receive e-mail on a weekly basis about a new standard." -- An application developer responding to the recent announcements of biometric API standards.

A couple of issues ago (Nov/Dec. 1997) I wrote a column extolling API standards and I invited you to support the newly-deployed Speaker Verification API (SVAPI) standard. The biometrics industry must have been listening. In December, there were announcements of two generic biometric API standard proposals followed by another proposal in February. Another proposal, the BioAPI, was announced at the CardTech/SecurTech conference on April 27.

One could argue that it was not my column that provoked the onslaught of standards proposals. In fact, standards are a natural byproduct of market acceptance because they support rapid, widespread deployment of biometrics. In short, the biometrics industry is ready for standards. I agree.

Each of the biometric API-standard proposals has something interesting and unique to recommend it. None of the proposed standards - including SVAPI - has been officially sanctioned by a standard body, such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and none has received widespread support from the marketplace. Consequently, it can be argued that none of them is a standard —yet.

There is simply a growing number of competing standards proposals.

I am concerned about the presence of multiple, competing standards, even though they do not necessarily compete directly with SVAPI. One of the most serious effects of this situation is reflected in the complaint issued at the start of this column. Competing standards confuse the market.

Having multiple biometric standards proposals represents a problem for vendors as well. Porting to one standard demands time, resources, and money. It is, therefore, not surprising that vendors balk at porting their APIs to four (or more) separate standards. At the same time, they hesitate to port to a standard that may not survive. This is a familiar problem for the speech-processing industry since it exists for speech recognition as well as for biometrics.

Until there is a standard based on marketing acceptance, the benefits that accrue from an API standard do not apply. Fortunately, some of the developers of the three biometrics API standards already proposed have begun working together to establish compatibility, if not convergence. It is also important for all of us: vendors, value-added resellers (VARs), original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), independent software vendors (ISVs), consultants, and end-user organizations to add our voices to the consolidation effort.

I invite you to suggest methods that could be applied to the consolidation and compatibility effort. I will print your suggestions in a future column.

Judith Markowitz is president of J. Markowitz Consultants, and can be reached at Northwestern University/Evanston Research Park, 1840 North Oak, Evanston, Ill, 60201, or by e-mail at jmarkowitz@pobox.com.

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