August 1, 2017 Chris Riddell

Qantas have seen their Future. It’s Facial Recognition

And it’s their biggest technology play ever

Most passengers will be familiar with the facial recognition cameras that are widespread through our international airports in Australia. For the international traveller it’s something of a normality walking into the glass box at immigration, while the cameras scan your face and check you against your passport details on the immigration database. It takes just seconds, the doors slide open and you’re off. It’s almost a shame to not get the stamps in your passport anymore.

Minister Peter Dutton just this year announced his intention to deliver “world-leading automated and contactless traveller clearance process for people arriving in Australia by air” through embarking on a $22.5 million upgrade over the next three years. I got to see this in action, first hand as a prototype just recently at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection Summit in Melbourne. It was an industry event, where I was the opening keynote speaker talking about the new era of experiences and consumer expectations.

The Australian Department of Border Protection and Immigration 2017 Summit

The new facial recognition technology is, well – very sensible. It’s the next logical step. Also it’s actually not that new, and that’s not a bad thing. This is incremental change and it represents an extension of what we have already seen and been used to, at least from a passenger perspective. More broadly speaking it’s designed to make the entire experience even quicker and safer when you arrive into and depart from Australia.

The truth is that travel in Australia has always been pretty easy for the most part. We have it way better than many other countries, including our friends in Europe and the United States.

Qantas are now watching you. From above

Just recently I was having a one on one discussion with an industry expert who is deeply involved in the technology programmes going on within Australian Airports. We were talking about the future when it comes to analysing people, and movements throughout the terminals, and how the exponential amount of data being generated is now just mind boggling. Until today, only the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and other security agencies have installed and had access to facial recognition camera technology in Australian airports. Change is now flying through the air at lightning speed, as there is a new Sheriff in town – and it’s a big red hopping kangaroo.

Facial Recognition is the next frontier for brands unlocking personalised experiences

Qantas have just started a brand-new programme of trialling facial recognition to enable them to monitor passengers from the very moment they check in, all the way through to the gate when they board the plane. They’re also going to be monitoring everything in between, including what café you getting your coffee at, and where you are shopping for that last minute pair of jeans. They’ll also know what electrical gadgets you were playing with at the tech shop, and whether you were too busy trying free shots of cognac to buy that gift for your other half that you promised, but then ‘forgot’.

Depending on whether you are a glass half full or empty person, this is a very clever move indeed on the part of Qantas.

Bigger Data. Bigger Game.

Make no misunderstanding – this has nothing to do with airport or passenger security. Qantas have nothing to do with airside security, that is handled by the Australian Federal Police and Border Force with their colleagues.

This is a big retail play by the red kangaroo and it is pushing the national airline into very new and unchartered territory. Qantas are exceptionally interested in the movement of people through the terminals, and how they spend their time.

Qantas will want to know what people are doing, how long they are doing it, which shops they are spending the most time, and which shops they spend the least time in. By combining that with the incredible amount of data from frequent flyer programme and passenger information they collect, they’ll be catapulting themselves into the world of hyper intelligent retail.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t just Qantas that are hoovering up your data. All the airlines are doing it. The truth is though, few are using the data they hoard with any level of real sophistication for the customer.

Airlines are relentless when it comes to collecting data on our personal preferences

Take a moment to think about this. All airlines know who you work for, who you book travel through, where you go on holiday, where you travel for work and for how long you are away for. They also know what food you like, what food you are allergic to, and who you bank with. They also know where you live, and who lives there with you, whether you’ve got children, and how old they are. The list goes on…. If you’ve linked other loyalty programmes to your frequent flyer account, they also know a whole lot about your shopping habits. Scared yet? Well don’t be. Not quite yet anyway.

Innovating Beyond Tomorrow

Qantas have never been shy of innovating hard in some areas, particularly when it comes to technology. They were the first Australian airline to launch an in-flight app for on board customer service staff, back in 2008 when Blackberry were the king of the hill. They rolled out over 400 blackberries in their quest to arm cabin crew with near real-time data profiles for all passengers on board. It contained every bit of information you can imagine from frequent flyer status, your connecting flights, traveller history and more. It was a game changer and the start of a data journey that would fly Qantas into the future.

Even though it has evolved dramatically from where it started, that very app continues to live on to this day. Thankfully, Qantas saw fit to throw the blackberries overboard and they have since rolled out iPads that you will occasionally see the more senior crew members using. The ‘Qantas RED’ app is an experience enabler when it comes to cabin crew being able to deliver more personalised experiences, at the time it matters most.

Alan Joyce takes no prisoners when it comes to flying Qantas into Beyond Tomorrow

In the spirit of being truly honest, Qantas don’t always get things right, and they know it. They often struggle in areas which just seem silly. Consistency remains one of their biggest challenges but that’s a story for another day. There are however two things thing I do tip my hat to them for. Firstly their relentless push to be a business ‘beyond tomorrow’ and secondly – they’re also brave. Really brave. Qantas aren’t playing the short term game here, they’re playing ahead of the curve and they’re playing to win.

Alan Joyce is relentless as a leader when it comes to innovation and challenging the status quo

The CEO of Qantas, Alan Joyce doesn’t take prisoners, and he certainly isn’t someone who understands the word fear. He’s long scrubbed that word out of his dictionary, as he continues to reinvent the national airline and push it into Beyond Tomorrow. That’s the new game in the skies.

What next for Facial Recognition?

We all live in a world where data is king, and it’s every business’ new currency. Today, understanding your customer down to a macro level is more critical than ever for you to be able to deliver services and experiences that are relevant, personal and predictive.

Next up will be the delivery of experiences in real-time as you are in an airport retail store. Facial Recognition technology will be able to deliver you services based on how you feel at the exact moment it matters.

This is the future, and it’s called emotional analytics. Watch this space. Retail will be taking off from Gate number 3. The only question now, is when will that be?

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