FOR a decade, security guard Tamilselvan A/L Poongan endured 12-hour shifts, worked even on weekends and public holidays, and brought home a basic monthly pay of S$750. Today, he works only during office hours, five days a week, and his basic pay is S$1,350 - a marked improvement, thanks to an invention by his employer, Concorde Security.
Mr Tamilselvan is stationed at a building cluster in Bendemeer where a working prototype of Concorde Security's i-Man Facility Sprinter (IFS) has been deployed since October.
IFS is the brainchild of Alan Chua, executive director of the security agency; it was borne out of his desire to improve the working conditions of security guards. In his 25 years in the industry, Mr Chua had not seen any significant improvement in the guards' arduous shifts and low salaries, despite all that has been promised.
He adds with a tinge of incredulity that employers are also able to apply for overtime exemption from the Manpower Ministry for the guards to work up to 14 hours a day.
"They're living like robots," he says.
But with his patent-pending innovation, guards will only work in the day, after which IFS will take over and replace the night-shift guards for a cluster of up to 30 buildings.
And IFS has turned out to benefit more than just the security guards.
On top of doubling the guards' basic pay and almost halving their work hours, Mr Chua says that IFS will slash security costs for building owners, boost security in their buildings, and rake in extra income and increased productivity for Concorde Security.
It is expected to bring the company higher profit margins of 30 to 40 per cent, up from 20 per cent, which translates to the higher pay for its guards.
More importantly, with the invention, the security industry is in for an overhaul.
What lies ahead
A drastic headcount reduction is on the horizon - manpower requirements will fall by half when IFS is fully implemented in one or two years, Mr Chua says. He is confident that will address the industry's growing manpower shortage.
By 2020, he expects the industry to be left with only 10 to 20 per cent of the current headcount. By relying less on manpower, IFS also minimises human error and speeds up responses to security breaches and fires.
Come April, the company will officially introduce three IFS vehicles in Singapore and one in Iskandar Malaysia. And Concorde Security is not stopping there.
More than 10 parties, including businesses, government agencies and international bodies, have expressed interest in using IFS, Mr Chua says with pride. At least two of the companies who are keen on IFS are based in London.
In Singapore, he hopes to have 50 IFS vehicles within the next five years, capturing up to 30 per cent of the market share. His eventual goal is to have 100 vehicles here, although he concedes that it will take a lot more market recognition and acceptance.
Also in the pipeline are more security inventions by the company.
For instance, the patent-pending i-Man Access Control System (I-Macs) will be launched in a few years. I-Macs integrates the kiosk and access card control system, and will do away with the need for physical guards at building entrances to issue visitor passes.
Another upcoming product combines a secured aerial viewer and a cruise vessel, for which the company has filed a patent application.
Considering Concorde Security's success, it is hard to imagine that the man behind it had intended to retire by last December.
Having dedicated more than half his life to the industry, Mr Chua says that he had been feeling fatigued and uninspired by the monotony of the past two decades.
The business was stretching the 48-year-old thin. He was managing more than 200 security guards, and his employees and customers could call him at any time - even at 3am - if they had problems or complaints. He often jokes with his staff that he has not slept for more than 20 years.
Furthermore, he believed that he had maximised Concorde Security's potential.
"I thought whatever I could achieve, I had achieved already," he says. After all, his business was achieving a consistent annual turnover of S$10 million and had more than 250 staff, which he says is no mean feat for a company providing manpower services.
But he caught a much-needed spark of inspiration at a 2014 business seminar by Swiss academic Yves Pigneur. He was struck by what Dr Pigneur said - the best time for a company to transform its business model is while it is still successful.
That gave Mr Chua the impetus to finally develop his long-held idea of IFS, and change Concorde Security's manpower-intensive business model to one rooted in technology and innovation. When his inventions later materialised, the notion of retiring was promptly pushed to the back of his mind. "It's exciting, and once I get fresh ideas like these I put a lot of effort into them," he says.
Today, even while he works on IFS and I-Macs, he is already thinking of new disruptive technologies and cannot wait to develop them.
However, due to the company's limited resources, new ideas will have to be put on the back burner. Mr Chua is nonetheless already seeking help from Spring Singapore to develop his team's manpower capabilities.
The innovations have undoubtedly given Concorde Security a refreshing second wind.
Last year, the company received the Business Model Innovation Award from the Singapore Manufacturing Federation for its smart solutions.
In June, it will also be taking part in an international security exhibition in London which had 30,000 visitors last year.
Its next move will be to bring its products abroad, especially to Europe. Besides working with IE Singapore on his business expansion plan, Mr Chua is also eager to find a business partner with an international brand so he can "move IFS out as soon as possible".
Looking at his company's new direction and promising future, Mr Chua can now say with certainty that he has shelved his retirement plan for good.