Using an Iris for Time and Attendance
- By Mohammed Murad
- Nov 01, 2015
At the peak of El Salvador’s sugar harvesting
and processing season, the Ingenio
Azucarero Injiboa mill in San
Vicente becomes incredibly busy as
hundreds of employees change shifts
throughout the entire day, typically seven days a week.
Ingenio Azucarero Injiboa is one of the country’s
largest sugar mills, which processes sugar cane into
raw sugar for export to refineries in North America,
Europe and Japan. Sugar is El Salvador’s second
leading agricultural crop after coffee.
Officials of the privately owned mill faced the challenge
of getting workers through shift changes without
long delays while maintaining accurate records
of hours worked. Standard time clocks and cards resulted
in long queues. There was also the potential of
fraud, such as “buddy punching,” where an employee
clocks in or out for a friend.
At shift change, the clatter of time clocks has been
replaced by a quiet time-and-attendance system based
on iris recognition. The lines have been reduced and
time fraud eliminated. The system, from Cranbury,
N.J.-based Iris ID, is based on the same biometric
technology used in high-security government facilities,
military bases and research laboratories.
Using iris biometrics to automate the collection of
employee hours reduces manual data review, correction
time and payroll error. The mill achieved quantifiable
return-on-investment (ROI) benefits within months of
implementing the time-and-attendance system.
Until recently, cost and usability concerns have
limited the technology’s application in a Central
American sugar mill. However, recent technological
advancements and reductions in product and deployment
costs have made iris-enabled time and attendance
a practical investment for organizations of
almost any size.
“Before settling on the iris recognition system, mill
officials considered other biometric technologies such
as face and fingerprint recognition, and hand geometry,”
said Faucy Brand, CEO for El Salvador-based
ScreenCheck, the security systems integrator completing
He said the mill had even installed—and soon
removed—face and fingerprint recognition systems.
With these technologies, changes in weight, hairstyle,
finger or hand size, cuts or even the effect of the mill’s
manual labor could trigger the need for re-enrollment
in the system, he said.
The iris, the colored part of the human eye surrounding
the pupil, is like a snowflake; each one is
unique. A subject’s left and right iris is as different
from each other as they are from any other individual.
Even genetic twins have different iris patterns. It has
been calculated that the chance of finding two randomly
formed identical irises is 1 in 1078—a number
roughly equal to the estimated number of atoms in
the known, observable universe.
The structure of the human iris is fixed by about
one year in age and remains constant (barring trauma,
certain rare diseases, or some ophthalmologic
surgical procedures) over a person’s life.
Accuracy was an important factor in the mill’s
choice of technology and provider. Authentication errors
could cost both time and money. The mill’s iris
recognition system provides an unmatched false accept
rate of 1 in 1.2 million events. Other electronic
authentication technologies sometimes return templates
representing “possible” matches—requiring
human interpretation and less accuracy.
Brand said system speed to keep shift changes
moving quickly was another important consideration
for mill officials. Again, iris recognition technology
was the best choice. A study conducted by the U.K.’s
National Physical Laboratory found iris technology
was capable of nearly 20 times more matches per minute
than its closest biometric competitor.
Also, iris recognition has the smallest outlier population
of all biometric technologies. Few people can’t
use the iris-based system as most people have at least
one eye. In a few instances, even a blind person has
successfully used iris recognition as the technology is
iris pattern-dependent, not sight dependent.
Another factor was scalability. Ingenio Azucarero
Injiiboa hires hundreds of temporary workers during
the six-month sugar harvesting and processing season.
According to Brand, all of those factors made
the iris-based system the best choice for the mill.
“The iris-based system offered the most speed,
highest accuracy, reliable performance and secure
operations—all in a very demanding environment,”
Brand said. “Plus, it is the only technology proven to
work with the entire company employee population.”
The mill’s iris-recognition system consists of a digital
video camera used to capture the data from each
employee’s iris. System software creates templates from
the iris photos that are stored in the terminals used to authenticate employee identifies.
The enrollment process is safe as it
involves no lasers or bright lights. During
enrollment, mill employees could
stand as far as 10 inches away from the
camera and even wear glasses or contact
lenses without compromising the
The camera captures more than 240
unique characteristics to form an algorithmic
template of each employee’s iris.
The resulting 512-byte templates are
encrypted and can’t be re-engineered
or reconstituted to produce any sort of
visual image. Yet, the small templates
contain more data than is collected in
creating templates for a finger, face and
hand combined. This is one reason why
iris recognition can accurately authenticate
identities even when significantly
less than the whole eye is visible.
Brand said full enrollment mill employees
took less than two minutes each
and included instruction on how to use
the system for time and attendance. In
addition to the temporary employees
hired each harvesting season, the mill
also enrolled its administrative, technical
and security personnel.
During peak season, mill officials set
up four reader stations for employees
to clock in and out on each shift. Using
the iris recognition hardware is easy and
intuitive. Proximity sensors activate the
equipment, which incorporates mirrorassisted
alignment functionality and audio
auto-positioning prompts. Once the
authentication is completed, a 4.3-inch
color LCD displays the date and time,
employee’s name and ID number.
Authentication takes less than two
seconds. As a result, the long lines of
employees from punch-card time clocks
have been eliminated.
Joel Moran, head of information systems
development for Ingenio Azucarero
Injiboa, said he was happy to have replaced
time cards and badges that were
capable of being lost or altered.
“The iris recognition system is a precise
time and attendance solution for us,”
Moran said. “It has reduced our payroll
and administrative costs, and helped to
eliminate time fraud. Those savings have
provided a high return on investment.”
Even the smallest error in employee
payroll can create significant operating
costs for the mill or any other organization.
Studies by the human resources
consulting firm, ADP, have shown that
payroll errors and fraud may add up to 10
percent to an organization’s payroll costs.
Moran said as an added plus, the
iris-based technology also inhibits the
transfer of virus or bacteria, as there
is no direct employee contact with the
Iris recognition technology—until
only a few years ago considered by
many the stuff of a spy movie—is now
used daily in rural El Salvador, as well
as authenticating millions of identities
in airports, border crossings, correctional
institutes, data centers, office
buildings, hotels and many more locations
on six continents.
This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Security Today.