Published: 10 APR 2024

Drawing on the IP and experience of its giant parent company, and adding smarts of its own design, NEC New Zealand has been bringing tech solutions to Aotearoa for more than four decades.

With offices spanning more than 50 countries, and an annual revenue of over US$24.33 billion, the multinational NEC Corporation has a long history of ‘firsts’ – from telecommunications equipment to satellites and supercomputers. The Tokyo-based parent company established its first joint venture in Aotearoa New Zealand in 1981. But even before it opened a New Zealand office, NEC technology was part of the backbone for the country’s crossbar exchange system for 40 years. Nowadays, NEC has offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, investing and operating as any local business by keeping all profits onshore.

From hardware to software

Invest Auckland - NEC New Zealand: Managing Director Mel Barber

NEC – both in New Zealand and globally – has shifted its focus from hardware to software innovation and implementation in emerging sectors, such as smart transportation, biometrics and critical communications.

NEC New Zealand Managing Director Mel Barber explains, "In recent years, we’ve gradually transformed into a technology company. Today we are adapting our parent company’s IP for New Zealand applications. We adapt solutions from large markets for a smaller-scale network, and then we export our solutions to similar markets."

NEC’s focus on biometrics and communications technology covers a broad range of applications, including facial recognition (for user experience and security), point-to-point communications (using digital microwave radio), and transportation (real-time information, automated ticketing).

With the NEC Innovation Lab opening in the Wellington offices in 2022, the team can demonstrate these new technologies in-person to its customers and stakeholders. The engineering team is also still strong here, supporting key customers such as Kordia and One.NZ across Aotearoa.

Biometrics and digital identities

Biometrics is one such technology that supports the development of digital identities. NEC’s NeoFace Watch recognises and registers individuals by face (and, in future, will add iris and fingerprint recognition). This can be used, for example, to customise the onsite welcome experience for visitors – “you can use your face as a ticket at venues,” notes Mel, “or speed up customer throughput in stores, and to tailor site access and security.”

NEC has partnered with Sharp on recognition kiosks, launching a visitor management solution (VMS) in 2021 – at the height of Covid lockdowns – for a wide range of uses, from healthcare and hospitality to schools, businesses, the military and more.

Mel points out how NEC New Zealand adopts and adapts parent IP for local use.

We work with airlines around the world to streamline boarding. Opt-in solutions allow users to pre-register and then leave their passports at the bottom of their bags. That kind of technology was designed in Japan for their massive markets, and our local team customises it to fit the New Zealand and Australian markets.

In biometrics, a long-term local client is the New Zealand Police, whom NEC New Zealand has supported for more than 30 years.

Digital identity ethics and legislation

Biometrics, notes Mel, must be built with safety and ethics at the forefront of development. “If you walk into a site that uses the NEC NeoFace Watch solution and you are not registered, your face is not shown.” Similarly, digital identity software uses a blockchain-inspired approach to ensure that individuals’ information is secure.

NEC New Zealand is supporting Digital Identity NZ, a membership-funded organisation that works towards a sustainable, inclusive and trustworthy digital future for all New Zealanders. “Steven Graham, our head of biometrics and innovation, is a member of the executive council, and the NEC team has assisted with the drafting of legislation,” says Mel.

The team is working closely with many partners developing verified credentials to enable the use of digital identities. “We’re still working through the finer details, as the standards are still emerging; however, NEC continues to work with early adopters to build proof of concepts, and bring good minds together to extend what is possible.”

Around the world, NEC technology assists with important community projects. “We use AI to find landmines in countries recovering from war. We work closely with Gavi to record children’s fingerprints for vaccine rollouts in developing countries, so medical teams can check when kids last had their shots.”

Connecting transportation – in real-time

Smart tech is helping to keep transportation on the move. In 2021, for instance, Environment Canterbury and Christchurch City Council launched their real-time information (RTI) system for the Metro public transport network, replacing the older, radio-based tech with a GPS solution from NEC that includes machine learning for better traffic analysis.

This enables full operator management of the bus and ferry network, improves the journey experience for passengers, and enables future integration with other systems.

Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland makes a great location

For more than 20 years the head office has been based in Viaduct Basin, in the heart of downtown Auckland – a location that puts NEC New Zealand among like-minded businesses. “A lot of our customers are in the neighbourhood,” notes Mel. “This makes business meetings easy and productive, and we can pop out to bounce ideas off the local tech companies.

“It’s also a really nice environment for our team. We work hard to create a local culture that supports people’s career and lifestyle aspirations. NEC Corporation conducts an annual employee survey, and we consistently achieve good ratings across all categories. The locally managed culture is measured globally to ensure each office feels autonomous. This is driven by a strong leadership team.”

Being part of a multinational gives NEC New Zealand ‘the best of both worlds’, says Mel.

Being local and small, we’re agile. But we can also draw on the IP of over 118,000 worldwide employees. All the teams worldwide work together, sharing knowledge. All of our teams across different regions have built strong relationships and collaborate on solutions.

Auckland leads the country in growth

That Auckland is a good home base for companies like NEC NZ is borne out by recent figures which show an impressive growth track record. Over the 10 years to March 2023, central Auckland’s GDP (measured then at $30.4 billion) grew 9.2 per cent, compared with 2.9 per cent for the country overall. And productivity in Auckland city centre was over 40 per cent higher than New Zealand overall.

Professional, scientific and technical services made up the largest share of the city centre’s economy, at over 30 per cent of the total, and the most productive sector was information media and telecommunications.

With so much talent on hand, Mel says it’s easy to hire top-quality staff – ‘the people we find locally are fantastic, though we are also open to overseas talent from other NEC offices to extend the company’s IP’.

Visit NEC New Zealand’s website


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