Interview with Raffie Beroukhim, Vice President, General Manager – NEC Biometrics Solutions Division at NEC Corporation of America
Recently, NEC Corporation of America (NECAM) announced that its biometric technology ranked first in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)’s Fingerprint Vendor Technology Evaluation. The accolade is in step with NEC’s long history of successful NIST testing, the company having claimed top spot in fingerprint and face recognition evaluations many times before.
FindBiometrics president Peter O’Neill had a chance to speak with Raffie Beroukhim, Vice President and General Manager of NEC Corporation of America’s Biometrics Solutions Division, about the recent NIST achievement and the challenge of maintaining the reputation that comes with it. The conversation moves on to the newly launched NeoScan 45 mobile fingerprint collection device, the recent mainstream growth of the biometrics industry, the enterprise market and what’s next from NECAM.
Peter O’Neill, FindBiometrics (FB): I’d like to start off our interview today with the recent press release on March 9 about NEC’s ranking first again in NIST testing for the Fingerprint Vendor Technology Evaluation. Can you please tell us about this big news?
Raffie Beroukhim, NEC Corporation of America (NEC): Thank you so much Peter. NEC is proud to have once again done well in NIST based testing this time with our performance at FpVTE 2012. As you know and as you reported, 18 companies participated in this testing and NEC’s proprietary fingerprint template test was found to be the most accurate. Now this is the one that is actually the benchmark test for all AFIS vendors as far as the fingerprint accuracy is concerned. For about a decade now, we have participated in FpVTE so it is really encouraging to be able to continue our commitment to the innovation and bring the most accurate technology to the market. So we are quite pleased with the recognition that we have received from NIST and I think it is a demonstration of the commitment we have to this technology and the loop back that we have for our continued research and development. So yes thank you for asking about that. It was really worthwhile news to see.
FB: It is difficult to always stay on the top year after year. You are also, this past year, recognized by NIST for I think the third consecutive time ranking first again for your facial recognition technology. What makes your solutions stand out?
NEC: Well I think with regards to our facial recognition FRVTe2013, you are right, that was the third consecutive time that we were recognized as the highest rated provider particularly after MBE2010. I think what makes us stand out is that we try to solve real world problems. We have a very close relationship with our research team and we establish collaborative relationships with our customers to solve difficult cases for them.
One of the advances that we have made with facial recognition obviously in the last few years is the ability to identify poor quality images. We have been able to work with the end users, the customer base and the technologists in a drive to solve real world problems. We do research to help provide a safer community, and that is what I think sets us apart from perhaps others. We take that research and we implement it in our solutions. We bring it to market and we obviously get a good response from the market as well. So we are proud to have this cycle of innovation and introduction and continued innovation and introduction as we have done in the last 30 years at NEC.
FB: Speaking of innovation, you recently launched the NeoScan 45 Mobile Fingerprint Collection Device, what are the advantages of this new product?
NEC: We introduced NeoScan 45 after about a year and a half of research. We felt there was a gap and we wanted to have a product that was the lightest and the thinnest FAP 45 device on the market today. We have been able to introduce a device that is a FAP 45, it has a large sensor, and it is FBI certified and it allows for rapid capture of either two fingerprints and a set of rolled prints. It fits easily in the shirt pocket and it has numerous advantages including the most intuitive man-machine interface that would guide the user through the capture of fingerprints. This product is also Apple MFi certified! This certification (Made for iPhone, Made for iPAD) certifies the device to seamlessly interface (Bluetooth and Wifi) with these Apple devices. NeoScan 45 also interfaces with all Android devices as well. So its size, its graphical user interface, and its certifications from FBI and Apple set it apart from all the others that have been introduced to the market already. I would like to add that even though we only introduced it into the market in January we have seen a considerable amount of interest and have a significant backlog. So again it really is a complement to our engineers and our go-to-market organization that we bring these products to the market, they are well received and I would say within months of the initial introduction we have sizeable orders which confirms the business plans that we have put together earlier.
FB: That is very exciting news, Raffie, on the mobile front, especially the fact that it works with both Apple and Android. I just returned from the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona with 90,000 of my closest colleagues where biometrics were front and center, which is quite a change from previous years where biometrics would only be found in maybe the back corner of these large exhibit areas that they have. Now they are the featured products. How are you seeing the recent growth change in our industry?
NEC: I could not agree with you more. I see a great change in the industry with more emphasis on the enterprise and mobility markets. Not a day goes by where we are not approached by large fortune 100 or other large enterprise customers looking to incorporate our technology. Facial recognition has opened a great set of opportunities in a number of markets particularly for example, in the edge device authentication as well as hospitality, retail, financials, education and healthcare. I agree with you, I think the world has changed from where biometrics was just a niche in a corner of a room without any IT presence. NEC leads information technology practices, standardizations, open platforms and these are the kind of changes that we have made to embrace these new opportunities. We look forward to it and I think it is going to be a bright future in the years to come for biometrics. It is a good field to be in and I am very pleased to be able to be a part of it.
FB: Well it is about time isn’t it?!
NEC: I agree. It is a good position to be in. It is a growth market, it is a sexy market and it has a lot of use cases.
FB: You mentioned the enterprise space and again, that was certainly visible in Barcelona so I couldn’t agree more there. When we last spoke, several vertical markets were on your radar; you mentioned some of them. Healthcare, retail, education, are you seeing positive growth in these areas?
NEC: Absolutely. We have actually dedicated a team to the enterprise market in the last year and we continue to grow this team. We are not approaching the market as, “here we are; one-size- fits-all.” We understand that in the enterprise market the needs are different, the environment is different and we have a total team dedicated to addressing this market. We’ve had very good successes and not with our bread and butter products but with innovations that we have brought forth as well. So that is another approach that we are taking. While we obviously have the building blocks but feel our differentiation is listening to the needs of the client and our ability to configure these building blocks in a format that would help solve the problem. Obviously our knowledge, our experience comes a long way; we have been in the industry for a very long time that gives us a lot of flexibility, knowledge, know-how and I feel that is what the enterprise industry is looking for. They have a problem and they would like to know how to solve it. It is a collaborative effort with them and so far the results have been exemplary leading to expansion of our enterprise team as well.
FB: That is certainly exciting to see your push into the enterprise market and I do think that your years of experience would be of tremendous value to approach that marketplace. Let me ask a question about another vertical market you focus on at NEC. You were recently awarded a multi-year biometric contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department. This is one of the largest in the US, what is involved with this?
NEC: We are very pleased to have signed the contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department. Obviously we were not the incumbent and we are pleased to have earned the trust of the LA Sheriff’s Department and signing this multi-year contract. This contract confirms the paradigm shift NEC introduced into the law enforcement market by providing Identity as a Service. We started this paradigm shift in 2012 with the award from the Western Identification Network and we now have confirmed it with LA contract. Earlier this year we also announced a similar award from Las Vegas Metro Police Department. I believe our differentiations with LA were twofold. One, I believe, we had a superior overall technical solution including our facial recognition; and two, we were able to meet their budgetary demands. If you look at, for example, the interview I had with Sheriff Lombardo of Las Vegas Metro PD, he said that not only NEC was able to meet their technical needs but that we also met their financial constraints as well. This is what NEC is capable of doing. We provide an overall solution that meets the information technology and identification needs of the department and also the financial needs of the department. Bringing these packages together has been a paradigm shift in the industry and we are pleased to be leading this shift and as you can see we are not winning only our own existing accounts but we are winning new accounts including the largest sheriff’s department in the country, Los Angeles. So we are extremely pleased to see, as I mentioned, the innovations that we have brought into the market being paid off as well.
FB: My next question was going to be, “Was this a good year for NEC?” but I think we sort of covered that off as it seems that it was a very positive year for your company on all fronts – the NIST awards, enterprise focus, the law enforcement push. Maybe a better question is this: what is next for NEC?
NEC: Let me go back and add that it was a record breaking year for us. Imagine we have been in the business for 30 years and to suggest that we are having a record breaking year is something to be really proud. I am very pleased with the performance of the organization. We thank our partners, clients and customers who have helped us reach this point.
What is next for us? Obviously we have a few other things up our sleeves. We need to continue to grow this company; we also need to pay attention to our customer service. At the end of the day what matters most is that the customer is satisfied and delighted with the delivered solution. I recognize that, my team recognizes that, and we are committed to our customers’ satisfaction as we start this (new financial) year. You will see us make significant announcements on new awards and product introductions. You will see us competing hard for our market share. You will see us going into adjacent markets and you will increasingly see us as a leading provider of biometrics technology to the enterprise market as well. We shall continue to bring the best talent that we can into the organization. We continue to collaboratively work with our clients and partners; and I would dare say that this is just the beginning for us. We are going to forget the past – this is what I tell my team – forget (FY) 2014.This is a new year and a new beginning and we must set the bar even higher again. But this success I can tell you would not have been possible without the feedback that we get from our customers, clients, partners and the dedication and support of the NEC staff. I sincerely thank each one of them.
FB: Raffie thank you very much for filling us in. There is so much going on in your world and congratulations on all the success and we look forward to hearing more on how things unfold with the future direction of the company.
NEC: Thank you very much for the opportunity; it was a pleasure to speak with you again Peter, and I’m looking forward to the next opportunity.