2022 SIA Women in Biometrics Awards winner Gena Alexa is the CEO of Dignari, LLC, which she founded in 2013 to provide program strategy, human-centered design, emerging technology and data analytics services to the federal government. Alexa, who has held key technical and management roles in the delivery of strategic government biometrics programs for more than 20 years, started her career as a software developer and architect.
“In the late 1990s I was recruited out of college by Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and was placed on a contract with the Immigration Naturalization Service (INS). My first assignment was on the help desk for all of INS’ automated inspection systems, which used hand geometry as the primary biometric for enrollment,” said Alexa. “I found myself troubleshooting all sorts of issues not only for hand geometry, but also for the card issuance technology. EDS put me through their systems engineering development program, which landed me as a software developer on trusted traveler programs like the Global Enrollment System, INSPASS, NEXUS and SENTRI, all before 9/11.”
Alexa initially worked on a variety of biometrics and credentialing programs writing the code that integrated biometric devices, card printers, RFID readers and smart card readers. Following 9/11, she became a lead software developer of enrollment systems that collected biometric and biographic data, performed identity proofing and issued a credential (RFID or smart card), including solutions for US-VISIT, the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) and TSA Registered Traveler.
“I then began participating in the standards community to support the implementation of interoperability standards for biometrics (ANSI-378, etc.),” Alexa said.
When the TSA Registered Traveler program moved to a private-sector model and the issuance of HSPD-12/development of PIV was in its infancy, Alexa took a new job at Unisys as a solutions architect for identity management solutions, supporting programs around the world as a subject matter expert in biometrics and identity management programs, including working with the EU and New Zealand.
“I gained experience tying technical knowledge in biometrics and smart cards with operational understanding at the Port of Los Angeles (POLA), whose terminal operators were struggling on how to implement the TWIC requirement without impacting operations. I led the technical design for three terminal operators to enhance security while facilitating access,” she said. “After POLA, when Unisys had won a program called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), I was selected for a program management role responsible for deploying infrastructure to the top 39 land ports of entry to identify passengers and vehicles using RFID and license plate reader technology.”
The success of WHTI led to Alexa’s promotion as vice president responsible for all CBP solutions. She left Unisys in 2011 to explore a role with a small business focused on CBP and ICE Intel solutions.
“In 2013, I founded Dignari when tapped by a prior client (former SIA Women in Biometrics Awards honoree Colleen Manaher) to assist when she became responsible for U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP’s) implementation of Biometric Entry Exit,” said Alexa.
Since founding Dignari, Alexa has overseen the delivery of biometrics and identity programs within CBP and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Department of Defense. Her teams support transformative initiatives including CBP’s Biometric Entry Exit program and TSA’s Touchless PreCheck. In 2021, Alexa’s team won a five-year single-award blanket purchase agreement to provide identity, credentialing and access management services across DHS and its component agencies.
“My No. 1 proudest accomplishment is starting Dignari, where a core capability is the delivery of biometrics and identity management solutions,” said Alexa. “I’ve had the privilege of hiring so many of the experts I’ve worked with over the years who are the best in the business, where we work on programs utilizing biometrics to enhance security while improving business processes.”
Alexa says her most significant contributions in biometrics also include being a co-author of the TSA Registered Traveler Interoperability Consortium Technical Interoperability Specification, which set the standard for one of the first implementations of biometrics interoperability at the edge across solution providers; developing the DHS Biometrics Strategic Framework, which brought together all of DHS’ requirements for biometrics; writing the CBP Biometrics Entry Exit Strategy and implementing biometrics pilots across air, land and sea processing; and managing the first joint initiative between CBP and TSA for seamless travel at JFK Airport. She holds an MBA from George Mason University and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from James Madison University.
Alexa was honored, along with four other recipients of the 2022 SIA Women in Biometrics Awards, on May 24 during a special award ceremony at the SIA GovSummit, SIA’s annual public policy and government security conference.
The SIA Women in Biometrics Awards are generously supported by 2022 sponsors IDEMIA and Paravision and organizational and media partners AVISIAN, Biometric Update, FindBiometrics and SIA’s Identity and Biometric Technology Advisory Board and Women in Security Forum.