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I’ll admit that I got a great first impression of NEC’s facial recognition technology a few years back, when the company showed it at Enterprise Connect for the first time. The application was in digital signage, where the NEC technology used embedded cameras to analyze the faces of people looking at the sign. The idea was that a company could learn some basic, if approximate, demographic facts about who was looking at its message on the sign, and how long they stayed engaged.

One of the pieces of information the system provided was an estimated age of the viewer. When I peered at the sign, the system knocked a good 15 years off my true age, and for that, I was extremely grateful.

Facial recognition technology has only improved since then, and now it’s a piece of a really interesting workplace application suite that NEC showed off at Enterprise Connect 2019 last month. NEC is calling the suite “Smart Workspace,” modestly dubbing it, “The Ultimate Employee Experience.” That’s definitely the aspiration, and there’s plenty in this new product that should encourage us to change how we think about employees’ interaction with their workspaces.

The application is optimized for the employee’s smartphone, and the top-level interface is a 3x3 matrix of buttons representing different functions. For at least the current version, those are:

  • Parking
  • People
  • Meeting
  • Desk
  • Phone
  • Locker
  • Check-in
  • Visitor
  • Settings

By integrating on the backend with the various enterprise apps for each of these workplace features, employees can go through their days, reserving parking spaces, lockers, desk (in hoteling arrangements), and using their phones to badge into the building. The system uses a combination of biometrics (like facial recognition) and QR codes to facilitate the processes—for example, using a dynamically generated QR code to open the locker that’s been assigned.

Those biometrics or other information collected on the front end integrate to the enterprise’s backend systems, such as Internet of Things (IoT) or business applications, using middleware that NEC calls “adapters.” The adapters can integrate to NEC’s UC platform or other communications applications so that, for example, the system can generate outbound SMS texts to alert an employee when a visitor has arrived or which parking space to use; or, via a Microsoft Outlook integration, it can send email notifications.

I chatted with Ram Menghani, vice president at NEC Corporation of America, who said the company already had customers achieve ROI with elements of this strategy, for example by cutting down on the number of receptionists they’ve had to retain in building lobbies once the facial recognition function is deployed in building access systems.

The idea of giving an employee a single interface to control all of their work life is appealing. But the Smart Workspace application is a great lens through which to view the challenges that enterprises face as they attempt to give their employees, to paraphrase NEC, “the ultimate experience.” A company has to upgrade all those systems, from lockers to seating arrangements to parking and building access, before they can be integrated. And they need to address various concerns around compliance and privacy for systems like facial recognition.

Beyond these concerns, the enterprise needs an overarching workspace strategy that aims to engage employees, and that requires answering questions like: What’s your philosophy on hotdesking or hoteling? Do you have the right plan for meeting room deployment and access? What amenities should you provide for your employees?

The Smart Workspace application gives a graphic illustration, at a glance, of the opportunities (and challenges) we’re addressing with our new WorkSpace Connect event. You can check out our earlier blogs on the website, where you’ll also find information about the event. We’ll be posting our program soon, so I encourage you to check back as sessions start going up on the site.

Eric Krapf
GM & Program Co-Chair WorkSpace Connect &  Enterprise Connect
Publisher, No Jitter

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