EVERY day, commuters pace up and down the escalators at Singapore's Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations, but few know who is behind the civil engineering works there and in some, the exquisite beam structures of these escalators.
SIAC Pte Ltd is the name behind some of Singapore's prominent local infrastructure works. Its diverse portfolio includes works on MRT platform screen doors, designing and building of school auditoriums, construction of the Star Performing Arts Centre and, more recently, the installation of over 4,000 SIAC doors across a variety of projects, including the new Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.
The company's business model involves all aspects of a project - from the initial diagnosis of customer requirements, procurement, manufacturing, installation and finally to maintenance - taking charge of multiple operations from start to end.
As one of Singapore's most reputable companies for noise-control products, SIAC is a one-stop solution provider for any residential, commercial and industrial application. To SIAC, every job is unique, complex and challenging in nature; some are more sizeable than others.
Mike Chin, the managing director of SIAC, believes that exposure and experience are of fundamental importance in propelling SIAC towards edging out its competitors and becoming a globally competitive company in the acoustics industry.
Though not an easy feat, SIAC has found a way to structure its competitive advantages within its business model, by providing specialised products, a "one-stop shop" approach and excellent customer service.
Mr Chin says having a specialised product is key to helping the company maintain its market position. "Your product must be innovative; it must be adaptable to the market conditions that customers want."
In line with this mantra, SIAC has incorporated new technologies to produce various in-house innovations such as its trade-marked acoustic wall and ceiling lining, the Noisetone. Quality is never compromised in the process. "All our products are tested and verified by independent parties like Tï¿½V Sï¿½D," says Mr Chin.
The company also holds regional agency agreements to integrate components produced by the likes of Panasonic and Saint-Gobain into its products, gaining cost advantages at the same time. With a solid portfolio of products and strong acoustic expertise, SIAC markets itself as a one-stop solution provider. This differentiating factor stems from a strategic decision in 2004 to diversify into the construction industry.
Back then, the company's operations were concentrated on supplying acoustic products. "We realised that in order to grow this business, we have to move into another area. So what we did was we moved into the infrastructure market," recalls Mr Chin. This move to diversify the company's range of product and service offerings then encouraged SIAC to undertake multiple consultancy and engineering projects.
Recognising that referrals form a sizeable part of its consumer base, the company has made excellent customer service a big focus of its business model. This includes active interactions with its customers to better identify their needs, and its dedication to smooth execution and timely delivery of all its projects. Mr Chin puts it succinctly: "We don't short-change the clients."
The company's commitment to providing excellent customer service is not lost on its customers. "There will be repetitive orders coming from them. Every time they move, they want something from us, they will contact us," says Mr Chin.
Besides its products and services, SIAC also prides itself on its people. It started with just five employees but over the years, its workforce has grown to more than 150.
Adopting a three-tier incentive system, SIAC rewards its employees every quarter for their diligence and contribution. When it comes to opportunities for its employees' growth and development, SIAC is most magnanimous. It has sponsored two of its employees to receive tertiary education at local universities without a bond.
To reinforce their good performance, employees are given the autonomy to exercise their creativity, share ideas and improve the operations of SIAC. There is always flexibility for them to get involved in projects and contribute during meetings. "Many heads are better than one. You can have a fruitful discussion and come up with fruitful answers," says Mr Chin.
SIAC believes that the role of increasing productivity for its business should come from every employee. It walks the talk by providing regular training and skills upgrading for them. To emphasise the need for hard work to propel SIAC forward, employees are granted a fair share of overseas opportunities. They would visit factories located in other countries to exchange knowledge and expertise. Best practices learnt from the overseas counterparts are then implemented where applicable.
Besides its global customer base, SIAC is well reputed for its credibility and quality via professional accreditations that give it an edge among its competitors. "What makes a difference is that your product has certain special reference or certain requirements," explains Mr Chin. It is with such certifications that large multinational corporations such as Daikin, Jansen, Panasonic, Saint-Gobain, Schï¿½co, Seagate and Sony recognise the company's good track record.
However, Mr Chin duly acknowledges the difficulties faced when working with overseas counterparts. "Every country that we enter, we are facing a different setup structure," says Mr Chin. When SIAC tried to expand into Dhaka, the differences in both culture and banking facilities were apparent which required the company to quickly develop the know-how and expertise of the market.
Fortunately, Singapore government agencies such as International Enterprise Singapore have supported SIAC by providing it with incentives and funds as it undertook "calculated risks" in the process.
To date, SIAC has subsidiaries in Malaysia and Thailand, with a factory in Malaysia and branch offices in Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines. Still, the company is looking to expand. It is focused on growing its presence in the UK by setting up representative offices and is in the process of obtaining a CE Marking on its products.
To further differentiate itself from the rest, SIAC is continuing its efforts in offering innovative products that are adaptable to market conditions. In designing new acoustic products, SIAC continues to utilise the latest technologies from around the world.
"We are working with a German company which has developed a product called the acoustic camera. Its main function is to identify the different sounds and pinpoint the source of the noise using many microphones mounted on a carbon fibre array," says Mr Chin.
With this new technology, SIAC is able to accurately detect where the noise is coming from, enabling the company to target the weakest areas and enhance the sound insulation of its products. This targeted improvement process helps SIAC to increase its efficiency and precision in designing future products.
The prospects of these new developments are promising. However, opportunities are more often than not accompanied by threats from competitors. Amid all competition, SIAC remains resolute in its vision of becoming the choice supplier of acoustic products. Currently weighing on the shoulders of Mr Chin is the selection of a successor to take over the reins and lead SIAC well into its next phase of growth.
The company's strength lies in the tenacity of its people - the founder and his employees. Mr Chin strongly believes that there is no substitute for working hard. To him, without hard work, nothing prospers.
- The writers are students of NUS Business School