Don’t I know you? How facial recognition is improving security – and business intelligence

Andrea Sorri

Imagine walking into a store that you frequent regularly and immediately upon entering, a sales person has items that suit your particular taste, size or budget preferences. Or entering a hotel and having the front desk clerk knows precisely your room preference without even having to ask. It’s as if the minute you show your face, the business knows how to customize the experience for you.

Having a camera or computer that can recognize a person is no longer the stuff of James Bond of Mission Impossible spy films. Indeed, despite having its roots in intelligence agency research first conducted in the 1960s, facial recognition systems are becoming mainstream.

Thanks to better performing technology and lower prices of camera-enabled systems, market analysts are predicting an average annual growth rate of 25% for the facial recognition market. By 2020, the market will be worth 6.18 billion U.S. dollars, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets.

That’s good news for anyone who can use the efficiency and security a facial recognition system can bring to any type of environment – and not just for super high security applications.

Sure. Facial recognition has proven very effective in security critical environments, such as airports, border control areas, and high-security access control situations. In these types of installations, fast and accurate recognition of known criminals, illegal aliens, or people with elevated access privileges makes life easier and safer for those responsible for controlling those areas.

But significant improvements in facial recognition technology – and costs –  are making this capability attractive for a much broader range of industries and applications beyond security. These performance improvements are mostly due to advancements in the software algorithms used, but at the same time, the quality of the video cameras used to capture images has also played an important role.

Perhaps one of the more intriguing areas to apply facial recognition is in marketing and business intelligence. Matching the face of a customer to a known database can also allow retailers, hotels, banks or casinos to quickly identify customers eligible for VIP treatment, for example.

Likewise, automated facial recognition is becoming a powerful business intelligence tool, beyond recognizing the specific identity of a person. In a retail setting, it can collect customer demographics and behavior patterns by tracking how female and male customers or younger and older customers move through a store, where they tend to linger, and what attracts their attention. In this application, the software does not need to identify the individual, but it can tell, with high reliability,  whether the customer is male, female, young or old.

It works like this:


The possibilities from there are nearly endless: The facial recognition software can be integrated with a marketing system that automatically displays tailored promotions to the customer. Aggregated data collected over a period of time gives the retailer a much better understanding of how the shop layout affects sales and conversion rates. Based on that, he or she can easily make the necessary improvements – all just by evaluating the automatically collected data.

The ‘cool’ factor of facial recognition will always make it an appealing technology for spy thriller movies, and its underlying capabilities have undoubtedly made the world a safer place. But we’ve really only scratched the surface of the potential of what is can to not just protect us, but improve our lives through better service and user experience in any number of situations.