BOB ECKEL, CEO OF AWARE - INTERVIEW WITH WBM TOP 100 INNOVATION CEO
BOB ECKEL, CEO OF AWARE HAS BEEN SELECTED BY THE JUDGES OF WORLD BIZ MAGAZINE'S ANNUAL AWARDS TO BE A RECIPIENT OF THE TOP 100 CEOS IN INNOVATION AWARD 2021. THIS SELECTION FOLLOWS A STRINGENT PROCESS THAT EVALUATED OVER 40,000 NOMINEES TO SELECT THE EXCLUSIVE LIST OF 100 WINNERS.
Bob Eckel has been Aware’s Chief Executive Officer and President since September 2019. He also serves on the board of directors for the International Biometrics and Identity Association (IBIA) as a strategic advisory board member of Evolv Technology, and as a consultant for Digimarc Corporation.
Over his career, he has held many positions of note within the biometric and identity space, including: Regional President and Chief Executive Officer of IDEMIA’s NORAM Identity & Security division from 2017 to 2018; President and Chief Executive Officer of MorphoTrust USA, LLC from 2011 to 2017; Executive Vice President and President of the Secure Credentialing Division of L-1 Identity Solutions Company from 2008-2011; and President of the Identity Systems division of Digimarc Corporation from 2005 to 2008.
He received his master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of California Los Angeles, and his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Connecticut.
During his tenure at MorphoTrust USA they were awarded the James S. Cogswell Award for Security Excellence, and he has personally received the Distinguished Engineering Service Award from UCONN. He is also a holder of 27 technology and systems patents personally.
"Aware has always been at the forefront of biometric technology and applications. For more than 25 years Aware has been providing its customers with industry-leading biometric solutions, and this long-proven track record has resulted in our current position as one of the industry’s leaders."
Tell us about Aware's role in the biometric technology industry.
Aware has always been at the forefront of biometric technology and applications. For more than 25 years Aware has been providing its customers with industry-leading biometric solutions, and this long-proven track record has resulted in our current position as one of the industry’s leaders.
Currently the biometric industry is contending with difficult and demanding problems. Caring for privacy and protecting peoples’ identity data is serious business, and we take great care to not engage in trends which either trivialize these challenges or make them insurmountable. In a digital world the integrity of identity claims, the smart devices that use them, and the transactions which make use of them are all critical to societies and open commerce.
Elevating our industry begins with understanding and empathy. Customers trust us, and we have an obligation to preserve the integrity of their biometric data, strive to help with privacy concerns, and enable them to have control over their identity data and the proper right to use it. Our company is very respected in the field, and it’s thanks to our longstanding commitment to innovation and our customers’ needs that we enjoy this leadership position.
Why is your company's unique approach crucial at this time?
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought safety and usability to the forefront of the interaction between humans and machines. In a world where we have technology to provide a safe and touchless experience to maintain hygiene and safety, Aware believes we should make use of such tools.
At Aware we have taken significant strides to make such technologies available to users and have invested considerably to make the use of biometrics frictionless. We make our technologies seamlessly integrate in common scenarios, without adding constraints or learning curves. In fact, we are already at a point where biometric authentication is as simple as taking a selfie!
Over the last two years Aware has further focused its efforts.
1) While our products have served our customers extremely well, we are offering our customers flexibility in our deployment models and how to consume our products. The growth in biometric transactions managed by our systems suggests that we are responding well through thought leadership.
2) Our markets demand offerings to solve complex problems. We have taken steps to offer pre-configured bundles to our customers reducing complexity and their time to market.
3) We chose to address emerging market needs by competing on adaptability. We have organized our business to respond to our customers’ changing needs and deliver faster than ever.
Turn on the news and you’ll see exactly why our work is so crucial. Identity theft, large-scale data breaches, ransomware attacks are all being spurred on by more sophisticated attack methods and outdated authentication workflows. By using a person’s unique physical characteristics instead of something a person has, biometrics serve as a much stronger authentication than contemporary methods.
How has the biometric technology industry adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Like everyone else, Aware had to quickly adjust to the “new normal” brought upon by COVID-19. While certainly an unwanted development, biometric solutions have proven to be uniquely suited for the challenge. Today’s biometric use cases are adopting touchless and contactless methodologies, eliminating the need for shared touchpoints which can increase germ spread. They are very fast, performing highly accurate face or voice recognition in a few seconds, reducing crowding at checkpoints while enabling social distancing. Lastly, modern biometric applications are increasingly mobile-based, providing secure authentication capabilities for people unwilling or unable to travel.
All combined, the contactless, fast, and mobile nature of today’s biometric solutions make them an ideal technology for our modern times. I fully expect that the biometric industry will see increased adoption of these technologies across the board as a result.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a lot of interest in contactless solutions. Biometric software, such as Aware’s, can be integrated into a variety of applications across nearly any market to provide secure, convenient, and contactless authentication for users, and we are seeing a great deal of interest in our software as a result."
What are some of the major trends you are seeing in your industry?
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a lot of interest in contactless solutions. Biometric software, such as Aware’s, can be integrated into a variety of applications across nearly any market to provide secure, convenient, and contactless authentication for users, and we are seeing a great deal of interest in our software as a result.
Visitor or physical access management has also been undergoing a change stemming from the pandemic. With so many offices and buildings now being reopened, many building owners are looking to update their access control systems. By being contactless, fast, and secure, biometric technology can help, without the need for expensive hardware replacements.
Lastly, we’re seeing a strong surge in interest for remote onboarding solutions. Many institutions have historically onboarded new customers in person to cut down on fraud and improve their ability to know their customers. Since COVID, this workflow has been a challenge, with fewer people willing to travel. Biometrics offer an interesting alternative and can perform highly accurate identity enrollment, document verification and authentication via a smartphone, increasing convenience and safety for users while simultaneously allowing businesses to reach new, remote markets.
What drives you as an innovation leader?
I initially got involved in digital identity after the September 11th attacks. I was involved in the air traffic management industry and can vividly remember the impact those terrible attacks had on our country’s infrastructure and confidence. As we learned how the attacks were orchestrated, I realized the critical role identity should play in keeping our country safe and made it my focus ever since.
I believe that companies with a strong, consistent, well-articulated vision for the future and strong foundational values are highly desirable to today’s workforce. Employees want to know where the company is headed and have the confidence that the company is equipped to meet its objectives. Companies with a strong vision must also enable their employees to be a part of that vision and drive results through values. Doing so can have a lasting positive impact on people, and this drives me as a leader of Aware.
"I want people to own their identity. I want them to be able to protect their personal information, decide when and where their information should be shared, be confident that it’s secure, and do so in a frictionless way. The modern world is just starting to take steps toward this future, but there’s still a long way to go."
What excites you about your work in the biometrics industry?
I want people to own their identity. I want them to be able to protect their personal information, decide when and where their information should be shared, be confident that it’s secure, and do so in a frictionless way. The modern world is just starting to take steps toward this future, but there’s still a long way to go.
Today people don’t have their personal information protected to the level it should be, with outdated, fraud-prone passwords a key reason for that. People also don’t know who is using their personal information and how it is being used. To move forward in today’s digital world we must both tighten the security around our personal information and give control to the user directly.
As digital identity solutions continue to become part of our daily lives, Aware will enable commerce to thrive by bringing biometrics to life. We will do this by providing biometric software solutions that enable our customers to bring their identity solutions to life, and enable individuals to own their identity. Only then can we truly begin to address the troubling trends of rising identity fraud and enjoy the benefits digital identity grants us.
What is your vision for the biometrics industry?
Our vision as a company is to enable people to own their identities. With identity theft and large-scale data breaches on the rise globally, it’s more important than ever that people have a way to protect their personal information and assets. Not only that, but users should also have the ability to control how and where and how much of their identity is used.
Biometrics are an ideal solution to achieve this goal because they use something that cannot be stolen: a person’s unique physical characteristics. Biometrics allow for people to move past fraud-prone and forgotten passwords and truly take control of their identities in a secure, convenient manner. We believe that biometrics are a valuable solution for virtually any trusted transaction, and we believe that they will continue to be adopted in new applications going forward.
We desire to see the continued adoption of biometrics in use cases across almost any industry. Using biometrics to unlock our phones is a start, but there is so much more that they can do to ensure that people’s personal information and assets are safe and secure, while also being easy to access by the right individuals. The biometric industry needs to do more to demonstrate the wide-ranging benefits of this technology, and we aim to be at the forefront of this frictionless secure technology insertion trend.
Share with us some CSR initiatives at Aware.
Aware is proud to offer our employees paid Volunteer Time Off (VTO). Many of our employees are socially conscious and have longstanding ties to their communities, and we are happy to provide them with paid time off to volunteer for the organizations they feel passionately about.
We have also provided our employees with additional volunteer opportunities, particularly around STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Many students struggle with STEM, and in the wake of COVID it has been a challenge for local charities and organizations to help these students learn these valuable subjects. We routinely encourage our employees—who in many cases have a strong foundation in STEM—to support virtual learning opportunities through organizations such as BoSTEM (a Boston-focused charity) so that our students don’t fall behind.
Lastly, Aware has a strong intern program in which we routinely give aspiring individuals the opportunity to gain hands on experience in the industry. This program both benefits the interns who are provided invaluable problem solving and workplace experience to further their careers. Aware also is able to remain current and get the opportunity to learn valuable viewpoints on the company and its products from individuals outside the industry.
"A company that does not provide its employees with the means and culture to both speak up with questions and insights, and take informed chances on ideas that could benefit the organization greatly, is one that does not thrive."
What are your thoughts on good leadership?
There is no one perfect way to be a good leader. What works for one person might not work for another. That being said, I do feel there are many key qualities of any successful leader.
The first is creating and fostering a strong culture of accountability and inclusiveness. This involves supporting one another and understanding how each of our individual roles benefit the organization and results as a whole. By knowing how we all fit into the bigger picture, and the culture we believe in, we can better anticipate needs, address them competently, avoid last minute “fire drills” or fixes and all pull in the same direction for clear results.
I also believe strongly in encouraging employees to make their inputs heard and take smart chances. A company that does not provide its employees with the means and culture to both speak up with questions and insights, and take informed chances on ideas that could benefit the organization greatly, is one that does not thrive. We want our employees to be able to act on their instincts and benefit as a result.
Lastly, employees need opportunities to grow within a company. It’s not enough to provide them with where they stand within an organization; employees need to know and understand where they can go within a company as well as grow individually and know that the company supports their efforts every step of the way. Since my tenure began at Aware we have instituted new Employee Success Plans as well as Career Development plan processes designed to ensure our employees want to continue working and growing here for many years to come.
Aware is a global leading provider of biometrics software products, solutions and services to empower users to own and control their identity while minimizing friction, ensuring security, maximizing convenience and knowing your customer. Our identity verification and management solutions support financial services, enterprise security, healthcare, human resources, citizen ID, border management, law enforcement, defense, and intelligence. Industry-leading Aware technology helps organizations collect, manage, process, and match biometric images and data for identification and authentication efforts.
We capitalize on our biometric domain expertise and deep customer intimacy to ensure we delight users through a customer experience that leverages the cloud and emphasizes the ease of doing business together for the end consumer. Driven by an understanding of customer and partner business needs and values, we actively strive to maintain our reputation as a service provider trusted to keep identities secure. Customer/Partner success is central to our core values and paramount to our success. As such, our offerings are thoughtfully engineered for reliability, scalability and adaptability to bring forth the next generation in cloud-based, multi-modal mobile biometrics.
Aware is a publicly held company (NASDAQ: AWRE), and is based in Bedford, Massachusetts.