Service at Their Fingertips


SBE Entertainment Group is warding off incidents of buddy-punching via a biometrics fingerprint reader.

Privately held Los Angeles-based hospitality company SBE Entertainment Group (SBE) is known for its portfolio of premiere restaurants and nightclubs. But being a high-profile company doesn’t exclude it from experiencing operating challenges similar to other restaurant chains and retailers.

For example, a variety of disparate POS platforms made it difficult to establish a common way for servers to sign onto the network during their shift. While the chain outfitted employees with magnetic-stripe cards to identify themselves, these cards held their own challenges.

“Servers constantly fumbled to find the cards and gain access to POS systems, and ring up orders,” said Steve LaBrie, VP of IT, SBE.

The other challenge with magnetic-stripe cards is that they are a breeding ground for shrink, as they can be lost, stolen or shared. Regardless of the motive, users who let magnetic-stripe cards out of their sight are only setting the stage for “buddy-punching,” or the practice of an employee clocking in for another.

“We never encountered buddy-punching as a problem, but we wanted to be proactive,” LaBrie said.

When SBE made the decision to standardize its POS system across its restaurants, as well as add a wireless handheld “Digital Dining” system, the company decided it was time to make an internal change as well.

While researching the ideal POS platform, SBE wanted to also ensure it could protect itself from any potential shrink problems among employees. That’s when SBE began exploring the potential of a biometrics-based system.

By adding biometrics for fingerprint authentication, SBE would be primed to create a user-unique audit trail that could monitor employee access to POS terminals. It also promised to help eliminate employee theft and maintain regulatory compliance, as well as an audit trail to ensure employees were complying with internal and industry mandates.

SBE is not alone in its commitment to biometrics. According to International Biometric Group (IBG), a New York City-based integration and consultancy firm, the market for biometrics is expected to more than double between 2007 and 2012. More specifically, the market is expected to jump from $3 billion to $7.4 billion by 2012.

Further, the firm estimated that fingerprint-based systems encompassed 38.1% of the biometric market in 2007.

Armed with statistics and a game plan, the rest of the chain’s requirements were simple: SBE wanted a peripheral fingerprint reader that could be replaced within minutes if it became damaged. It also had to be a plug-and-play solution.

Digital Persona, Redwood City, Calif., had the ideal option. Once Digital Persona’s reader hardware and U.R.U. software was installed on existing POS systems, registering servers was just as easy.

Employees register their index fingers on the reader, and the U.R.U. software creates four images of the print, saving the best image. The print is broken into 40 data points and encrypted as a text file and stored in a database.

Each time an associate logs onto the POS, they are prompted to place their finger on the reader and input a password for extra security. The software matches the print to the user, and positive matches give users access to the system.

When the chain completed its POS installation in July 2007, each location’s POS units also supported a Digital Persona fingerprint reader. Currently, all seven locations are using the solutions.

While the readers and software were originally expected to ward off any potential shrink caused by buddy-punching, the technology fostered other benefits. “Since our staff no longer physically had to punch in and out, our payroll became much more accurate,” LaBrie said. “Biometrics make it easy to calculate the number of hours employees actually worked, and that is accurately reflected in our payroll and their paychecks.”

“It is an ongoing battle to try to prevent possible shrink or buddy-punching,” he said. “This solution is helping us to proactively prevent the situation from ever happening.”

SBE is also pleased with the return on investment that the venture is producing. He declined to quantify SBE’s specific savings, but LaBrie reported, “We are saving thousands of dollars per terminal.

“The readers are very inexpensive, and have a price tag of less than $30 per unit,” he reported. “We have between 15 and 20 readers live per location, depending on the number of terminals. And, since the readers are inexpensive, we keep a few on hand as a backup in case we need to replace them.”

Moving forward, SBE plans to add fingerprint readers to all new POS units, “regardless of whether they are stationary units or Digital Dining handheld units,” LaBrie said.

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