MS LILIAN Koh's technology company may be barely two years old, but it still beat several multinational Goliaths to win a $7.8 million contract with the Singapore Sports Council (SSC).

The woman behind this triumph is no IT novice, but someone who retired by age 35 after selling her first tech firm for millions.

Now 49 and back in business as chairman of iAPPS, Ms Koh is eyeing a greater challenge: Convincing people to share her vision of developing Singapore into a "smart city".

Often, people she meets are not only unable to grasp how fast technology is changing the world, but also find it hard "to see beyond things that are not yet in place", she said.

The visionary in her, however, foresees that consumers will pay with mobile phones and not plastic cards. "It is like a virtual wallet. Imagine ordering your drinks and paying for them using your mobile apps from your table in a cafe without having to join a queue," she said.

"I have been trying to explain to Singapore businesses that their little plastic cards will become obsolete one day."

Ms Koh has frequently been ahead of the curve. Her previous company, Network Integration Systems & iCommerce, helped set up an Internet shopping site for supermarket chain Cold Storage in 1997, before online shopping took off worldwide.

"About 90 per cent of the population is using smartphones today. So, using mobile phones to engage their customers is the way to go. No more using plastic cards when a customer can store 1,000 cards in a smartphone."

A pioneer of Singapore's information technology (IT) scene, which dates back to the 1980s, Ms Koh did her A levels in Victoria School - now Victoria Junior College. She obtained a professional postgraduate diploma in IT at Ngee Polytechnic and joined the government-linked National Computer Board, which was involved in nationwide civil service computerisation projects spanning about 15 agencies.

After close to a decade there and at its subsidiary Singapore Network Services, she set up Network Integration Systems & iCommerce in 1994.

Four years later, it was acquired by US-listed firm Sterling Commerce in "a multi-million-dollar deal" that allowed Ms Koh to retire and relocate to Australia with her two daughters. Her husband remained here for work.

When she moved back in 2005, she helped develop and conduct the first training programmes on Radio Frequency Identification - a technology used in the ERP system - for the Singapore Manufacturing Federation, National University of Singapore and Thailand's Ministry of Information.

By 2012, the "geek" in her became really excited over how much technology had advanced in "engaging consumers on the go, using mobile phones". That led her to start iAPPS in August 2012 with $100,000 and 10 employees.

Today, the firm has a capital of $6.13 million, with more than three times the number of staff, said Ms Koh. To add to its growing reputation, it took the industry by surprise when it won the SSC contract in November.

Savant Infotech Solutions manager Catherine Quer told The Straits Times: "It is not easy for a small, local firm to fight with globally branded vendors to clinch a government contract."

iAPPS project manager Evonne Tang, 38, said it is the largest project the company has won so far. She and her colleagues are pulling out all the stops to prove they can deliver, "even though we are a small firm".

To ensure the smooth launch of the SSC project in April, all the people involved, including Ms Koh, have been clocking more than 12 hours a day.

"Seven of my colleagues have even checked into the Park Avenue Rochester Hotel next to the office (paid for by the firm) to cut the time they have to spend on travelling from home," said Ms Tang.

And to reward her staff for their commitment, Ms Koh has doubled their salary this month.