Friday, August 03, 2007

ID card bidders jostle for position

By Maija Palmer
Published: August 3 2007 22:06
Last updated: August 3 2007 22:06
A host of companies, including the big IT services companies such as CSC, IBM, EDS, Accenture, BT and Fujitsu Services, are expected to bid for contracts to build the £1bn biometric identity card system.

These systems integrators are being asked to put together consortia of biometrics companies that can deliver every part of the programme, from initially storing people’s fingerprint and facial details to manufacturing the cards and managing the database of biometric information.

The biometrics companies that expected to play a key role include Sagem of France, Nec of Japan, LG of South Korea, Dermalog of Germany as well as US companies L-1 Identity Solutions, Motorola, Cogent and Cross Match.

The exact pattern of alliances between systems integrators and biometrics companies is being feverishly negotiated and a number of partnerships are expected to be announced in the next few weeks.

Some are still hesitant about clinching deals, however, as the details of the ID cards system have yet to be finalised.

“We are standing around the walls of the dance eyeing each other up, but until we know what tune is going to be played, we won’t know exactly how we want to partner up,” said Malcolm Stirling, executive for public sector projects at CSC.

A complicating factor is the fact that the government has structured the framework contracts so that it can switch between different suppliers on different parts of the project if it chooses. The network of suppliers a systems integrator lines up may not, therefore, be the one it ends up working with.

The project has been designed in this way to avoid the problems experienced during the revamp of the health service IT system, when failures at one software vendor, iSoft, resulted in long delays across the project.

Siemens Business Services, which works with the Identity and Passport Service on biometric passports, is thought to be in a strong position to win work with the ID cards scheme. Similarly, L-1 Identity Solutions, which provides technology for e-passports, is thought to be in pole position.

However, other companies have been getting biometrics experience over the past year. Accenture completed a six-month trial last spring of a biometric identification card for frequent flyers at Heathrow’s Terminal 3. The company is also involved in managing the database for US Visit, the US biometric border control scheme, which has more than 70m records so far.

CSC has been involved in creating identity card systems in Belgium and Malaysia, and Fujitsu Siemens has been working with biometric passport schemes in Finland and Japan. BT is also understood to have spent a great deal of research and development funding on biometrics.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007