Covid-19 outbreak accelerates security sector's adoption of technology

While the change to a more technology-based and manpower-light operational set-up would have come eventually, the outbreak has accelerated it. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - In the last year, Singapore's security sector has had to adapt to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the change to a more technology-based and manpower-light operational set-up would have come eventually, the outbreak accelerated it.

Mr Nelson Tee, president of the Security Systems Association of Singapore, told The Straits Times: "The Covid-19 pandemic was a catalyst to quicken the adoption of new technologies. Without Covid-19, there would still be change but at a slower pace."

Where it was previously common to see two or three security officers manning a condominium security post, one is now the norm.

Booking-in applications and online pre-registrations for condominium visitors offer convenience and less exposure for both visitors and security officers, said Mr Tee.

Foreign workers returning to their dorms experience added automation via automatic temperature and personnel identification screening gantries, overseen by a single security officer.

The shift in the security landscape came at a time when government agencies were expected to adopt outcome-based contracts (OBCs), which focus on expected outputs and outcomes rather than manpower needs, by May 2020.

At last December's Singapore Security Industry Awards, winners were recognised based on their competencies in implementing OBCs, said Mr Raj Joshua Thomas, president of the Security Association Singapore (SAS).

He told the ST: "OBCs require that service providers are able to, on their own or in partnership with other firms, provide not only manpower, but technology as well.

"Security agencies hence need to evolve becoming one-stop shops, able to service buyers from the initial consultancy stage, to the installation of technology and eventually the deployment of security officers, who will also operate the technology."

One of the winners, Singapore Exchange Limited (SGX), bagged a few awards such as Excellence in Video Analytics Implementation and Excellence in Job Redesign.

Mr Tan Hock Seng, head of workplace services at SGX, said the exchange was able to roll out OBCs as a result of investing more time in developing new infrastructure and processes, backed by a strong set of experienced security partners.

He said: "We redesigned our security officers' jobs holistically so that the officers are able to handle multiple responsibilities and yet increase the level of security vigilance and deterrence. We are now able to conduct security surveillance more comprehensively, with less manpower."

One of SGX's partners, Lorin, an international security consulting firm based in Singapore and Israel, said the pandemic "has pushed the security industry for solutions which are less dependent on the human factor and physical interaction".

Mr Yaniv Peretz, managing director of Lorin, said: "System integration and remote command and control are a good example of how to achieve this. Physical security information management systems are able to integrate and remotely control security sub-systems, such as access control, CCTV, and alarms."

Staying competitive is vital to a company's survival, said Mr Melvin Singh, chief financial officer of a 17-year-old security company.

His company recently spent $50,000 to upgrade its command centre. While most clients demand automation, some may not be willing to invest in technology-based security, especially older condominiums and commercial buildings.

Said Mr Singh, 40, who has 160 staff: "You got to spend a little money in order to save a lot more money."

While SAS president Mr Thomas acknowledged the significant upfront costs of implementing technology, he said buyers stand to benefit from savings through longer-term contracts.

Mr Thomas added: "This having been said, the Government should consider introducing incentives for buyers to implement OBCs as well, as demand drives supply."

Undoubtedly, times are hard for smaller security companies.

One owner, who gave his name only as Mr Roy, said the coronavirus had wiped out the prospect of deploying security officers from his three-year-old company at events.

Mr Roy, 41, said: "Overnight, I saw my business drop by 30 per cent. Also, I have to compete against bigger companies who go by volume and can afford to make less profit per contract."

Mr Roy, who has a staff of about 60, said he has been able to survive due to government grants.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.