Published: September 19th, 2018

With nearly 1,000 people in need of shelter on any given night, many of whom don’t have any form of government-issued identification, it’s critically important for the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre (DI) to know who is entering and leaving the building at any given time.

The DI’s current system, a “time-consuming” fingerprint scanner, a custom database and a binder full of paperwork, helps keep track of clients, says Helen Wetherley Knight, the DI’s director of information technology. But Knight was convinced there was a better way to accomplish this, so the DI turned to Sierra Systems Group Inc. for help.

“We’re now working together to design an Azure-based Microsoft Dynamics 365 system using facial recognition technology,” she explains. “When I investigated the time cost of the staff time using our current system, I found that 10 per cent of our operating costs were spent working around a failing infrastructure.”

The new solution starts with a basic web cam, upon which Sierra layered a Windows 10 UWP to simplify deployment, and the machine learning capabilities of Microsoft Face API for facial recognition. All of those layers are integrated with Microsoft Dynamics 365. Early tests have shown a 99 per cent positive identity rate, says Paul Twigg, vice-president of technology for Sierra Systems. It can even detect different emotions and predict a person’s age.

The use of facial technology is a hot topic among Calgarians right now. A series of investigations into the use of facial recognition technology, without the public’s consent, in at least two malls in the city has put the technology under significant public scrutiny.

This hasn’t prevented Knight from thinking ahead, and talking to other shelters about piloting the technology collectively and adding blockchain to the equation. The combination of technologies would allow clients to identify themselves through facial recognition and, once verified, select what private data to share, or not to sure, with each agency they connect with. During winter storms and heat waves, the solution could decrease lineups and the amount of time people wait outside in dangerous conditions as well. Knight says she wants to pilot the technology for six months early 2019.

CIA judge David Crane said the winning solution impressed him a lot.

“It will make a direct impact and improve people’s way of life,” he says.

In addition to winning the CIA diamond award for top management solution, the gold award for top channel marketing innovation for its Impark solution, as well as the Disruptor of the Year award, Sierra also scooped up the Solution Provider of the Year award.

 

*A previous version of this story had said that nearly 3,000 people are in need of shelter on any given night. The total is actually closer to 1,000. CDN apologizes for the error.