Can You Really Predict Technology Trends?

Every year there are always plenty of fresh predictions and industry trends brought forward and discussed. They make for interesting reading, and beg the question – are they really predictions or are we just susceptible to the power of suggestion?

Many predictions have solid backing, such as Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends, announced at the Gartner Symposium / ITXpo. Gartner defines a strategic technology trend as one with the potential for significant impact on the organization, including a high potential for disruption to the business, end users, or IT; the need for a major investment; or the risk of being late to adopt. They look at trends that will impact an organization’s long-term plans, programs, and initiatives.

For 2016, Gartner predicted the following trends:

  • The Device Mesh
  • Ambient User Experience
  • 3D Printing Materials
  • Information of Everything
  • Advanced Machine Learning
  • Autonomous Agents and Things
  • Adaptive Security Architecture
  • Mesh App and Service Architecture
  • Internet of Things Platforms

In another set of predictions, No Jitter showcased the top four UC predictions for 2016. These included:

What Do They Have In Common?

When we read some of the trends and predictions, they almost seem too good to be true. It would appear that technology is moving toward almost an AI state where we can rely on it for everything. Science fiction aside, the one constant we do see is how technology improves the lives of those in business, communities, government entities, law enforcement, and individually at home and school. What we see is that all these trends have a common thread, one that we believe is critical to consider with every innovation we create at NEC – effective communication, collaboration, and orchestration of lives using Smart Solutions to improve and enhance every aspect of our lives.

For example, when adding UC to Workforce Management, contact centers are even more empowered to provide excellent customer service. If you combine Unified Communications with SDN, you have a powerful system that not only ensures your employees are communicating in a more efficient manner, but the system is now able to align itself with any traffic, making disaster recovery or even challenging inclement weather much easier to overcome.

CTA_download_smart_enterprise_drivers_ebook

Biometrics is another solution that has so many applications to positively impact our lives. Whether it’s the ability for law enforcement to rapidly and correctly identify a bad guy on the spot, or retail establishments to provide their customers with an amazing experience, biometrics will impact a multitude of industries, improving customer experiences and empowering the forward momentum of the Internet of Things.

Information is at an all-time premium, as businesses move toward more efficient and effective operations. When combining SDN with our server technology, our clients now can focus on their business needs and let the technology support the flow of data in an efficient manner to ensure constant access and improved uptime.

Of course, when you think about the Information of Everything, it is important to include data analytics as a foundational element. According to Gartner, by 2020, 25 billion devices will be generating data about almost every topic imaginable. There will be an abundance of data, but how do you make sense of it? Data analytics is no longer a single solution to consider, but a necessary component to capture data and provide appropriate information to create actionable results. Those companies that harness the power this data provides will have a competitive advantage.

Speaking of data, companies are not the only ones who have a significant need for big data, analytics, and positive user experiences. NEC focuses on various solutions, such as water leak detection systems; integration support for semantic interoperability into the NEC Internet of Things and Smart City Platforms; and integrated platforms for distribution of grid management, energy efficiency, distributed generation, and energy storage, just to name a few.

Just like Gartner and No Jitter, NEC invests significant effort and resources into research to ensure that solutions we develop will not only meet the needs of our clients today, but also their upcoming needs tomorrow. This serious focus on research and development has been part of the core philosophy of NEC since our inception. We believe that as recognized innovation leaders we can ensure our solutions truly meet the needs of our clients while continuing to keep pace with emerging trends and the expanding capabilities technology affords for the future.

Can you predict technology trends? We believe so—but only by keeping your finger on the pulse of business and societal needs.  NEC’s focus on solutions perfectly aligns with the trends we see, combining powerful technology to empower our clients and enhance their lives. Whether  providing platforms for significantly improved communication, ensuring improved flow of information through powerful data analytics, or inventing new solutions for society that support a better life, NEC will continue to focus on improving our lives through technology.

NEC Strengthens Its Biometrics Solution by Partnering with Expert Dr. Anil Jain

As a society, we’re increasingly comfortable with cameras being a part of everyday life. They’re built into our phones, hanging over every traffic light, and placed behind most cash registers. Still, for law enforcement, a perfect image of a face can be hard to come by, especially when suspects intentionally try to obscure their identity.

It was this issue that Dr. Anil Jain, distinguished professor of computer science and engineering at Michigan State University (MSU), set out to solve Using a database of unconstrained images – also known as “faces in the wild” because pictures are pulled from sources like social media – Dr. Jain and his team (Dr. Dayong Wang, a postdoctoral researcher, and Charles Otto, a doctoral student) created an algorithm that quickly generates a list of candidate matches to help identify unknown faces from surveillance camera footage or crime-scene images.

NEC recently partnered with Dr. Jain and MSU to license this large-scale face-search system and will use it to enhance its current facial recognition solutions.

“NEC has a very powerful face recognition software called NeoFace that was primarily designed for mug shot to mug shot matching,” said Dr. Jain, “and it has performed extremely well compared to its peers in that kind of scenario. So, they were looking for a solution for the problem where query images have rather large variability in terms of pose, illumination, and expression, and still need to be searched against large face databases.”

“NEC is committed to maintaining its leadership position in facial recognition solutions,” said Raffie Beroukhim, vice president, NECAM’s Biometrics Solutions Division. “In addition to our own continued research, partnerships with academia, in particular Michigan State University, is an important aspect of this commitment. We look forward to the fusion of MSU large-scale face-search algorithm with our industry-leading NeoFace facial algorithms to offer more compelling solutions to address ever-increasing security threats and enhance public and national security.”

“What we provided is a prototype,” said Dr. Jain. “NEC will modify the algorithm that we provided, integrate it with their existing systems, and improve the overall face recognition performance.”

Since joining MSU in 1974, Dr. Jain has received numerous recognitions for his contributions to the field of pattern recognition and biometrics, including his February 2016 election to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), one of the highest professional distinctions bestowed on an engineer.

Interestingly, he didn’t set out to specialize in biometrics. His career took a turn when the U.S. government engaged Dr. Jain, about 25 years back, to find civilian applications for a government-designed hardware, the Splash 2 processor, that was based on FPGA technology.

“They didn’t tell me to work on biometrics, but the hardware that they provided us made us realize that it was extremely suitable for a generic image processing operation, called point matching, where we extract landmarks from two separate images and put them in correspondence or alignment. And since fingerprint matching is done by using point (minutia) correspondence … it was like serendipity.”

For years, biometrics was primarily used for law enforcement and government applications. Over the past five years or so, we’re seeing more consumer applications of biometrics. We use fingerprints to unlock smartphones. There’s even a facial recognition application that can estimate a subject’s age and gender for targeted advertisements. According to Dr. Jain, the rise of biometrics in our everyday lives has had an element of serendipity as well – where market forces have had to align with high usability and low cost to facilitate adoption.

“Who would have imagined just four years ago that everybody would be using a fingerprint to unlock their phones? Biometrics for mobile devices had been available earlier, but it didn’t really become popular until Apple introduced the Touch ID fingerprint sensor in 2013. This shows that sometimes, even though the technology may be ready, the technology doesn’t lift off unless it’s packaged properly – like Apple putting the fingerprint sensor in the home button.”

Dr. Jain and his doctoral students continue to use their research laboratory to investigate real-world issues and address long-standing research problems. In addition to the large-scale face-search system, recent topics include a study on the persistence of fingerprint recognition accuracy over time and methods to prevent printed photo and replay attacks on a face recognition system.

“We’re really proud of the work we did on fingerprint persistence and face spoof detection because these fundamental problems needed to be answered,” said Dr. Jain. “And these are the issues that need to be addressed for every biometric modality. The impact of the problem is what we keep in mind when we choose which topic to work on. Sometimes, more than technology advancement, we take pleasure in advancing fundamental scientific work.”

NEC is proud to collaborate with visionary leaders like Dr. Jain. NEC already has one of the strongest biometrics offerings available, and as we continue our own research and forge partnerships with biometric leaders, the future of biometrics is something to look forward to.

NEC Named One of the 50 Most Innovative Companies

It is with great pride that I can announce NEC was chosen as one of the 50 Most Innovative Companies, according to a recent Boston Consulting Group innovation survey. With thousands of senior level executives participating in this study, our commitment to improving the way people live, work, and communicate is gaining recognition from accolades such as this, which is a testament to the dedication of our organization.

A key component of this award was tied to research and development, an area NEC has always prioritized, leading to technology and solutions that have a positive impact on both business and society. With more than 65,000+ patents, pioneering IT, communications and biometrics technologies, NEC technology innovation has provided a solid foundation for this prestigious recognition.

Some of NEC’s more recent innovations:

NEC Internet-of-Things (IoT) and Smart City platforms
• Video analytics that can analyze millions of images in seconds
• Predictive analytics that calculates the landslide risk of hillsides
Automated Urban Surveillance and Smart Transportation solutions
• Smart City disaster response solutions
• Biometric health screening technology
Behavior analytics for crowd and event management

These important innovations improve the safety, security and operational efficiency required of today’s society, and when I look at our recent achievements, I know that we are making a difference.

Watch our 50th anniversary in North America video to learn more about our long history of innovation .

6 Reasons for IT Pros to be Thankful

It’s the time of year when we express our gratitude. Just check any social media platform and you will see various countdowns of thankfulness or 40 days of gratitude. People share all types of things, from being thankful for family and friends, to how their dog makes them happy, to how they love a certain food. Let’s face it – we have a lot to be thankful for! And one of those is the way our lives can be positively impacted by innovation and technology.

OK, so it might not make the top 10 list at your Thanksgiving dinner, but for IT professionals, technology is not only their means of making a living, it’s the one thing that can make their lives easier, provide them an opportunity to make a positive impact, and support their organizations in reaching goals.

We asked some IT professionals what they had to be thankful for regarding certain NEC technology solutions, and here’s what they said:

  1. Unified Communications + Software-defined Networking UC is great because I now have a single platform to handle all communications, making it easier to administrate. This improves efficiency while also being more reliable, especially when you add SDN. I never worry about losing connectivity or being out of touch because SDN reconfigures on the fly. There is no concern about missing an alert or important voice mail with this solution.
  2. Retail Solutions for Improved Customer Experience Before being able to combine powerful solutions such as biometrics, analytics and unified communications, I had to work with disparate systems to provide good customer information. Now, I am able to improve both security and our customer service programs using biometrics. Plus, the information we receive is actionable. We can empower sales associates to provide a much better customer experience in the store. And our loss prevention has never been stronger. These are both goals we have strived to reach for a while, and I am happy to see us making big strides in both areas.
  3. Biometrics Support Law Enforcement While I may be in the background, I take my position very seriously. It is important that our men and women serving our communities on the front lines have the best tools available to safely and effectively do their jobs. That is why having biometric solutions such as NeoFace® and NeoScan 45® are so important. They give us accurate information quickly so we can take proper action. Getting the bad guys off the street is important, and making sure we make the proper identification is crucial. These tools empower us to do so, and having the opportunity to support law enforcement teams is powerful.
  4. Network Solutions: SDN, Servers & Storage Empower IT By enabling my organization to use virtual machines much more efficiently, I don’t have to physically reconfigure the network. Plus, I don’t have to hard code as I used to. It minimizes finger pointing between vendors and lets us troubleshoot more effectively. In case of mergers or acquisitions, I can easily integrate two networks while still maintaining administrative capability in an OpenFlow network.
  5. Business Analytics tell the Story Before business analytics were so readily available, we were unable to provide empowering data to our customers. Using business analytics gives me information to more efficiently do my job. For example, with the ability to see historical data, we can now ascertain that the sales spike we are seeing is temporary, so I can use my existing infrastructure more effectively. I can analyze the data usage by every department, and because business owners can see information on their trends, together we can ensure we are deploying resources to accommodate their critical business goals and initiatives. It’s seamless to our internal customers, and ensures that everyone has what they need from a computing power standpoint.
  6. Uniquely NEC – #SolutionsforSociety We have a tendency to take technology for granted now, having it so readily at our fingertips. However, NEC’s major initiative to use technology to innovate Solutions for Society is a prime example of how we can use technology to create a better world. With solutions focused on transportation, water conservation, improved communication and quality of life, we are orchestrating a brighter world through technology. That is something to be thankful for!


Thanks for stopping by and we would like to wish our IT professionals, friends, and families a warm and Happy Thanksgiving.

Digital Retail Signage Solutions Come of Age with Additional Technology Capabilities

When was the last time you went to a retail store and had a great experience? No, I don’t mean customer service or super cool music in the dressing rooms. When was the last time that you went into a retail store and had a memorable experience that made you smile, or gave you more information about a product or service in real time than you might have gleaned online?

Retailers in particular have become more intrigued with digital signage over the last decade. The shift to digital meant that organizations could change their pricing, menus, or other details in real time, without needing to change out physical signage. Today, three types of digital signage are typically used in customer-facing environments.

Passive Signage

Passive signage is what you would encounter at a fast food restaurant at the airport. This type of digital signage is typically displayed on one or more screens, and either remains static all the time or changes at set intervals, such as a digital menu board that switches over at noon. Passive signage can be hosted on a local machine or over the Internet, and it’s generally more cost effective than running print jobs every time your business wants to make a change. It’s very utilitarian. However, it lacks the interactive element that really draws people in.

Interactive Signage

Interactive signage takes many forms, and is generally designed to provide a level of user interaction by being “triggered” by an event. Think of an iBeacon that sends a coupon to your mobile phone when you walk into your favorite clothing store or displays information about a painting when you hold your smart phone up next to it at the museum. Another example is signage triggered by sensors – when you lift that bottle of Bordeaux at the wine store, perhaps a light sensor is triggered and you see a map and information about the wine on a screen. Or you hold a piece of clothing up to a mirror in the changing room, and its RFID tag triggers signage behind a translucent mirror suggesting other pieces that may go with the skirt. This type of signage is indeed interactive and can be engaging, but the engagement is not always intuitive and there’s typically only one level of engagement between the individual and the signage.

Intelligent Signage

This brings us to a new type of digital signage. What if there was a way to create compelling in-store experiences in which customers could interact with a truly intuitive digital system, perhaps even order products on-screen, while also feeding interaction data back to the retailer or business owner? It is for this use case that intelligent signage, perhaps today’s most cutting-edge technology in retail and digital advertising, was designed.

One of the most interesting of these new systems is Microsoft’s Inception solution, which uses the Microsoft Kinect sensor to detect an individual’s proximity from the sensor, his/her age and gender (using NEC biometric facial recognition technology), and his/her interaction with products on a shelf. Different distances and interactions can trigger different layers of contextual signage, such as static or video advertisement screens, product pricing, technical specs, user reviews from the web and more. The system also records anonymous data such as the demographics and engagement time of individuals with various products, allowing advertisers and business owners to better understand their audience and the effectiveness of their signage.

Intelligent signage systems use advanced yet inexpensive hardware including the Kinect sensor and lightweight PCs such as those embedded in NEC commercial displays, and they can be combined with sensors in the ceiling (in-store heat mapping) or at a point of sale. This solution gives the business owner a broad understanding of how people traverse a particular store or the ages and genders of customers who are buying which products, at which times of day. Intelligent signage systems introduce analytics for the real world, and it’s going to change the way that we experience in-store retail.

But analytics, particularly analytics using Big Data, require more than an intelligent signage system to provide the analytics that will make them most useful to retail companies. One option is using Azure StreamAnalytics. This new offering from Microsoft provides real-time insight into what products are attracting the attention of shoppers, how product interest varies by age and gender, and which displays are attracting the most attention. Stores will be able to tune the shopping experience to maximize sales. Microsoft Azure StreamAnalytics is a new addition to the company’s Azure IoT (Internet of Things) Suite enabling the retail industry to build and deploy IoT solutions to transform the shopping experience and their business model.

What’s Next

With the digital signage market projected to grow a staggering 65% in 2015 alone, it’s more than likely that intelligent signage and audience measurement systems will be arriving soon at a business near you. Overall intelligent signage could lead not only to greater efficiencies in the retail sector, but also far more interesting in-store experiences for shoppers.

Where Can I Test Drive One of These Systems?

The Inception system will be demonstrated at the upcoming Microsoft Build (April 28 – May 1) and Microsoft Ignite (May 4-8) conferences.