From its base in Australia Brands Australia has now successfully launched its biometric ID Station in New Zealand, and is on the verge of opening shop in Hong Kong, Singapore and Macau.
‘All three countries are looking at using the ID station software,’ said John Rule, managing director, Brands Australia
‘In the case of Asia, they’re looking at using ID Station software under licence, as they are “starting fresh” and don’t have Facial Recognition Technology for online passport processing.
‘The good news here is… the trade will be 100 percent aligned to government, thus giving industry an edge for consumers to not take photos at home, but go to a professional outlet.
‘In some Asian countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong, the trade has lost the business, but look like they’ll win it back based on this,’ explained Mr Rule.
In New Zealand, where ID Station was launched about 18 months ago, Brands Australia has opened up discussions with the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) to present the case for photo retailers as a reliable passport photo channel.
‘It’s a positive thing to get the photo industry talking with DIA. Everybody benefits whether they use our machines or not.’
There was initially some concern among photo retailers in the New Zealand market when NZ Post adopted a biometric passport photo system (from US company DAON). However, NZ Post is primarily dealing with new citizens rather than the passport photo market as a whole, and photo speciality stores are still a player in passport photos.
‘To the best of my knowledge there’s very little effect on photo speciality from NZ Post. Initially there was a misconception that “NZ Post was in and we are out”,’ said Mr Rule.
ID Stations are shipped with a Direct Capture link for New Zealand passport photos. This allows retailers to take a customer’s New Zealand passport photo and upload it directly from the ID Station to the NZ Passport Portal, making the process for New Zealand passports easier.
While Mr Rule concedes that it’s possible that some time in the future all passport photos will be processed in-house by governments, he sees that as a long way off – five years or more.
In the meantime, the ‘photo specialisation’ of the photo specialist should give the channel an edge.
‘Biometrics in passports is a benefit to our industry as a whole because for MRTD (Machine Readable Travel Documents) to work correctly it has to be a compliant photo, and that requires a specialist.’
Before the advent of biometric passports, consumers would have been able to do it at home, but with 30 separate ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) compliance measurements its unlikely that the average citizen would be able to produce a successful passport photo with a consumer camera and an inkjet printer.
ID Stations passport photos are accompanied by a compliance certificate noting they meet those requirements. In fact the system won’t allow passport shots to be printed unless they comply. (Although there is still a human element for this process, checking things like neutral expression.)
Brands Australia provides in-store, personalised training for every new installation where retail staff are trained on passport photo regulations and provided with all the relevant government guidelines so it’s a simple cross-check.
‘Because of the ICAO requirements, the consumer doesn’t have the expertise. Now in Australia there is a very strong shift to the photo channel from DIY, and outlets such as travel agencies and pharmacies,’ he said.
The biometrics ‘pincer’ is slowly closing in on the passport photos business in Australia, with 700 out of about 3000 Post Offices in Australia now using ICAO-based (DAON) software to check passport photos as part of processing an applicatoion
‘In time it may well be in every outlet,’ said Mr Rule.
‘The dawn of biometric passports is here – it’s where things are going. Globally, it’s a 20 year project and we are well and truly down that road.’
He conceded that experienced retailers who have taken the trouble to familiarise themselves with the ICAO requirements can take acceptable passport photos without the support of a biometrics system, and do it with significantly smaller consumables costs – around 10 cents for a wetlab print compared to $1.37 for an ID Station print.
However, he added that even for the better operators there are other advantages in terms of faster workflow – the ID Station thermal transfer printer creates a print in around 15 seconds; reduced labour costs and expertise – the software knows the ICAO requirements so the individual staff member doesn’t have to be as ‘up to speed’ on the process; and the extended ability to take international passport photos without having to do any research on specific country-by-country requirements.
‘Once the retailer takes the photo, it is automatically wirelessly transferred from the camera to the ID Station tablet, the retailer selects the country and it’s automatically resized to the dimensions for that country, then the retailer hits “Print”,’ explained Mr Rule. ‘ The entire process is faster, easier, and there is far less room for error.’
Brands Australia has been liaising with foreign embassies so that they point their citizens in the direction of a ID Station outlet for passport pics.
Mr Rule said that typically, an ID Station installation will have broken even in around three months, given throughput of five orders per day. Without an accompanying compliance certificate and at a suggested $14.95 price point, break even is 486 orders. With a compliance certificate, at a $19.95 price point it’s 380 jobs. As not all orders require a compliance certificate – pics for ID cards, etc – around 400 orders will have ‘pretty well paid for the machine’.
Retailers can ‘up-sell’ the compliance certificate and increase their revenue. This is something they would be unable to do on their labs.