Ambition July/August 2014
Core Systems is a world leader in offender software solutions for prisons. Chief Executive Patricia O’Hagan tells Adrienne McGill about its innovative biometric solutions which are playing a vital role in maintaining control within high security facilities particularly in the US. Core Systems has unlocked the jail software market through the development of innovative biometric technology.
The Belfast based company works with the prison authorities in the USA, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland providing security solutions which make custodial facilities safer places for staff and offenders and which also deliver cost efficiencies.
Since the 1990s, the company has been developing innovative biometric software that play a vital role in maintaining control at a number of high-security prisons. Core’s technology can identify inmates and prison officers from personal characteristics such as their hand geometry or even their veins. Unlike a password, pin or swipe card, biometrics can’t be forgotten. The biometrics solution improves security by ensuring certain areas of the prison and information are only accessed by those authorised and improves accountability by enabling real time monitoring.
“Being a software security company based in Northern Ireland has given us credibility and generated interest in our innovations given the background of political instability here”, says Patricia O’Hagan, Core Systems Chief Executive.
Patricia, who has headed the company since 2005, has led it to international success particularly in the lucrative US market. Core Systems is now recognised as a leader in corrections technology. Core Systems has grown from operating within its home market of Northern Ireland to providing offender self-service software to around 30 thousand offenders in over 30 facilities within the USA prison system.
The company recently established a business relationship with a leading provider of inmate services to correctional facilities in America – giving the Belfast firm a direct route to over 50 per cent of the US corrections market. It is, by some way, the largest prison market in the world. Of the 8 million people in custody in prisons around the world, 2.2 million of them are in the United States.
“The US lock people up at a higher rate than anywhere else – their rate is about 1 per 100 per head of population compared to about 1 in 1000 in some European countries,” explains Patricia.
“It’s also a very competitive market and the main reason we’ve been successful is the innovation in our products.”
Today many prison departments throughout the world are struggling with high prisoner numbers, reduced prison budgets and consistent reoffending. Prison facilities are looking for alternative methods which can reverse this trend and deliver benefits to the prison environment. One such innovative alternative that prison facilities are shifting towards is technology and exploiting that technology in order to save thousands of prison staff hours. In recent years technology has been introduced into prisons in many forms including CCTV, automatic key locking units with Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) tags, body scanners, and biometric access control.
These accepted technology advancements in the prison environment have had positive impacts on prison operations and have become part and parcel of the way things are done now. Increased use of technology facilitates prisoners to service their own needs in terms of communication, education, information and much more.
Core Systems’ solution Diret2inmate does just that. The software enables prisoners to email their friends and family under controlled circumstances with messages vetted by prison staff. The software can be installed from the cloud onto existing hardware such as TV’s, communal kiosks, tablets or prisoners’ personal devices. The interactive product provides a secure way for inmates to directly access information and make service requests and can allow prisoners to order items from the prison-shop, communicate with family and friends and report grievances using electronic forms and access learning programmes.
“Our Direct2inmate solution has expanded to include service delivery on various devices including kiosks, computers, TVs and tablets”, explains Patricia.
“We’re very proud of being at the forefront of technology in terms of locking down tablets to a degree of security suitable for prisoners”, she adds.
The biometric system also provides an electronic audit trail that cannot be tampered with – giving prison authorities confidence that the system will help them deliver prisoner services accurately, efficiently and safely.
The company works with the producers of biometrics technology – devices such as fingerprint or iris scanners that identify people based on unique characteristics – to create software that makes identification more accurate, whether for access control or people logging in to find confidential information.
“We have to make sure we get the right information to the right people so we use the identification technology to determine who we’re dealing with and map that against the information they’re entitled to,” adds Patricia.
Following its success in America, the company is exploring further areas of opportunity in export markets specifically in the UK, Europe and Canada.
“We’re currently working on our European go to market strategy. We hope to have at least pilot projects kicking off this year in Europe. It is very localised and in a way Europe is like the US in that we will need local in market partners It’s another big step for us but also very exciting.”
Working in a dynamic environment such as the IT industry, the company places research and development at the heart of its success, and a critical factor in its competitiveness. The privately-owned company commits 15 per cent of its annual turnover to R&D and Patricia believes this is just one of the reasons why it is leading the way with new technology and concepts.
At the end of last year the firm announced an investment of £700,000 in an expansion and R&D project aimed at developing new technologies and pursuing opportunities in other markets.
“R&D is at the very heart of our operations. It has ensured over many years that Core Systems has been at the forefront of security technology and in some cases seen us lead the way with new technology and concepts,” says Patricia.
“It‘s all about innovation, looking into the future, trying to find solutions, sometimes to problems that haven’t quite materialised yet and taking a risk and investing to create solution.”