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Exceeding Innovation Expectations (INTERVIEW)

Biometrics Solutions Division, NEC
Michael Hemsworth
January 13th, 2014
International IT company NEC features the tagline “Empowered by Innovation,” and it stands as the basis for a passionate team that’s always thinking of not simply improving lives today, but in future years going forth. Although the company features a plethora of divisions that touch multiple sectors of the electronics industry, the biometric solutions division stands as one area in particular where the company is exceeding customer and consumer expectations. Director of Technology & Solutions Kris Ranganath and Senior Account Development Manager Allen Ganz of the Biometrics Solutions Division explain the exciting feedback that NEC has been receiving with regard to its facial recognition and facial detection technology, and Marketing Manager Frank Puglia helps give a more detailed explanation that speaks across the breadth of the innovative brand.

Four Questions with Kris Ranganath, Allen Ganz & Frank Puglia:

Do you use any resources to spot consumer insights or trends?

Kris: We’re always looking at how we can bring solutions to today’s market. If you look at what’s happening in today’s market, you have all this social media and smartphone usage that is producing a lot of information. In 2013, the amount of data stored is close to 3,000 exabytes and as we go towards 2020 or so, this will increase to around 40,000 exabytes. Consumers are taking so many photos, and we’re constantly thinking about how we can derive the intelligence from that to deliver something that allows for better organization and retrieval. We look at these types of problems and come up with solutions. Our focus is more on large data analyses and how we can use our company asset to solve bigger problems.

Frank: NEC is a global company that’s involved in many different industries and has a number of different products. When we look at trends and developing products, the different divisions all have their own approaches as to how they go about doing that. You’re going to see a wide range of scenarios that do come into play from focus groups to talking to customers. In the enterprise space, when we are talking to mid- to fortune size companies, we have a user group that gives us feedback and so forth. There are many sounding boards and many ways for us to determine if our solutions are in fact getting traction and helping our customers make progress.

What is the biggest challenge you face when innovating?

Kris: Anytime we have an idea, we want to take it to the customer. One approach is to develop the innovation, release it to our customers and see what happens. Our approach is more customer-focused in that we’re always adapting an agile process wherein we engage the customers to get their feedback. If the feedback and the information is not good enough, the product will go through several versions/changes. Capturing the user requirements in a very detailed way is always a challenge.

How has NEC expanded with regard to biometrics solutions?

Allen: We’re involved in facial recognition and facial detection, and there’s a difference between the two. The technology itself has really matured over the last few years and in particular NEC has done an amazing job in furthering the state-of-the-art in facial recognition. It’s not myself or NEC saying that, but actually the U.S. government. As tested by NIST, the technology was shown to be overall eight times more accurate than the competition at twice the speed, which has opened up a number of very interesting applications for this technology beyond the traditional security-related space.

One of the larger implementations we have for that is with Universal Studios Japan. They’re using this technology for their season pass holders; over 500,000 people per year are recognized using our facial recognition. What’s interesting is that Universal had two objectives: they wanted a very secure system for people to gain access to the park and secondly they wanted the initial experience for their guests to be a "wow" experience. People are all smiles when they’re recognized and allowed access to the park; it’s a fun, cool technology to use and to be recognized by.

With facial detection, we are providing real time analytics on customers, for instance, as they entering a retail store. This is anonymous recognition, so we’re not recognizing the individual, but rather that a person has entered the store, recognizing their gender, estimating age range and the count of the customers coming into the retail establishment. This is a new set of metrics that retailers did not previously have access to, which can then be used to make informed decisions.

There are not many verticals that can’t be touched with these technologies –- from retail to hospitality –- and it’s really helping to enhance the overall customer experience.

Looking to the future, how is NEC going to be a leader in innovation?

Frank: Fundamental to NEC in terms of our mission and what the company stands for is innovation. It’s fundamental to who we are as an organization. It’s something we strive for each and every day in terms of how we address our customers, our market and how we develop new solutions.

Kris: If we want to be a leader in the future, we need to look at the changes that are happening in the society. Our R&D and management are always questioning what the future will hold. We see very clearly that society is expanding and that more people are moving into urban settings. Our goal is how we can improve the safety of the people, which is where biometrics and public safety come into play. Then, how we can enhance the security and convenience. The amount of data that is available today and that will be available in the future is something that we’re constantly questioning how we can use it to extract analytics to forecast future possibilities, future growth, future infrastructure and also to solve today’s problems.
References: trendsreports, nec