Sustaining the future of the security industry: Moving forward with digitalisation

- All Industries -  |  11 Oct 2022

As Singapore heads towards a digitalised future, so too must security companies to remain relevant in a modern society. By weighing their current obstacles, the industry-specific emerging technologies and the government support available, firms will be better equipped to navigate and reinvent themselves for a more secure future.

An overview of the security industry

The shift towards digitalisation is not new in Singapore. Especially after the Covid-19 pandemic, more industries are turning to virtual businesses and digital practices. The President of Security Systems Association of Singapore, Mr Nelson Tee, cited the pandemic as a catalyst of change which led to rapid adoption of technologies in the security industry. Although some may assume the security industry to be labour-intensive and in turn low-tech, the reality is starkly different: industry transformation efforts, from government support to employer-led training, are underway to advance the industry.

From our quarterly Business Sentiment Survey (BSS), we found that in the period of Apr-Jun 22, more security companies in Singapore perceived that their current business situation was good, as compared to the previous quarter and other industries. At the same time, 62 percent of the security companies polled expected their business situation in a year’s time to be the same, while only 19 percent had an optimistic outlook. As digitalisation becomes more integrated in security companies, how can technology revitalise the industry and boost their business situation?

Stacked column of Security firms’ and Overall Industries’ perspectives on how they are performing and their future business outlook in a year’s time.
Perspectives of current and expected business situation for the security sector

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Current obstacles faced by security firms

While the security industry contends with an uncertain outlook, there are several obstacles that firms already face today. Manpower crunch has been a constant in the list of woes faced by local companies. A report from Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower showed that from 2012 to 2021, security guard roles were amongst the top four non-PMET (professional, managerial, executive, and technical) job vacancies yearly in Singapore. Despite the importance of the security guard’s role, it is consistently one of the hardest jobs to fill.

Certis Technology’s vice-president and deputy head, Mr Tan Meng Kwang, stated that young graduates were more likely to consider well-known technology companies rather than a “security guarding company”. To overcome this, companies are shifting away from over-relying on manual work by integrating digitalisation to fill in the gaps and offering higher-skilled positions.

With digitalisation comes the need for employees to possess the requisite skills. Are companies willing to go the extra mile and invest in their employees’ training? From our BSS in 2021, we found that 72 percent of the 82 security companies surveyed sent their employees for formal training, compared to 37 percent across all industries. This showed that the security industry was more willing to send its staff for training than other industries, which portends well for the industry moving forward.

Bar charts of the security and overall companies that sent their employees for formal training, where 72 percent out 83 security companies did but only 37 percent of overall 5370 companies did.
Bar charts of the security industry and overall companies that sent their employees for formal training

Rising operational costs is another common concern for all industries in Singapore. The budget needed for a company to digitalise can be substantial; it would inevitably be expensive to replace existing infrastructure and overhaul security practices to integrate technology into existing systems. Yet, despite rising operation costs, and combined with the cost of digitalisation, most security companies are still profitable. Two-thirds of the security firms polled from July 2020 to June 2022 cited that they were profitable in the Financial Year 20/21, higher than the overall average of only 57 percent for all sectors.  Perhaps this may quell the worries of employers that investing in digitalisation will compromise profitability.

Pie charts showing the profitability of security sector compared to overall in FY2021
Profitability of the security sector compared to overall in FY20/21

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Technologies for companies to digitalise

While most companies know why they should digitalise, some may be unsure of how, or which areas, to digitalise. Innovation in the security industry comes in different forms. The Apollo Global Academy, a provider of accredited security systems engineering training in Singapore, visualizes four facets of security technology management.  This model covers the integration of technology starting from the physical side of security, i.e., physical access and alarm systems, to the virtual side, i.e., automation and surveillance technology. This helps firms understand which level they want to prioritise and digitalise. Technology should be meaningfully incorporated in the different facets and roles so that firms can operate more effectively.

Detailed process of 4 levels of security technology management, from Access Control Management, Alarm System Management, Robotics and Automation Application, to finally, Security Surveillance Management.
Four facets of security technology management, from Access Control Management, Alarm System Management, Robotics and Automation Application, to finally, Security Surveillance Management

Following the model, a trending feature for access control management is contactless biometrics as more may favour hygienic ways to provide access after COVID-19. Systems like iris recognition not only reduce unnecessary physical contact, but also drastically reduce the likelihood of security breaches. Today, video analytics is used to prompt security officers of abnormalities instead of officers monitoring the screens. This improved alarm system also enables security officers to move on to higher value tasks.

Another trend making its mark on the security industry is the combination of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) technology, otherwise known as AIoT. From automating surveillance to streamlining operations, AIoT may reduce the industry’s reliance on human and manual work and allow firms to execute more intelligent functions, which is important amid the labour shortage in the industry. For example, low-light imaging technology makes it possible to capture clearer images in dark environments. Other features such as varifocal cameras, multiple lenses and full-colour image rendering can elevate the quality of security surveillance.

Digitalisation and the implementation of innovation solutions during Covid-19 enabled companies to experience first-hand the clear benefits in pushing for digitalisation and innovation to stay ahead of the competition. Through digitalisation and innovation, businesses may also be able to create sustainable solutions, which has seen increasing demand in recent years.

READ ALSO: Ways businesses benefit from IoT


Towards sustainability for a brighter future

Sustainability, a hot topic around the world and industries, is also relevant to digitalisation in the security industry. Both are strategic enablers for companies to grow. Digitalisation allows for greener and more sustainable operations for security companies. For example, with the advancement of low-light imaging technology, there is no need to install more light sources, thus consuming relatively less energy. Of course, companies must also be intentional with their sustainability initiatives, in a way that provides measurable results at the end of the day.

As a result of the global trend of sustainability, consumer preferences are changing. Even in the security industry, the demand for more sustainable security products and services is rising. More consumers are looking past the productive output of high-tech sensors and cameras; they are also questioning how and where these products are made. Some prefer to choose options like lower power consumption products and solar-powered cameras. Others also consider the manufacturing processes: from checking if materials used are sourced responsibly, to seeing if the company adopts lower carbon emissions standards in their work.

In IndSights’ BSS in the period of Apr-Jun 22, 47 percent of the companies polled believed that the increased demand for sustainable and green solutions will bring about new opportunities for their company.

Scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree on the statement of whether growth in demand for sustainability and green solutions will bring about new opportunities for the company.
Companies’ perspective on sustainability and green solutions, their growth in demand and if they will bring about new business opportunities for the company

While a significant segment of companies seems yet to be convinced about the benefits that sustainability can bring, global consultancy firm Bain & Company predicts that by 2030, Southeast Asia could generate $1 trillion in economic opportunities each year. “This includes value from the emergence or growth of new products and sectors arising from sustainable production and consumption, as well as savings from resource efficiencies of using less to produce more,” explained Gerry Mattios, a partner at Bain’s Singapore office.


Navigating the future with government support

For firms looking for support, there are several government initiatives that can help Singapore security firms to level up. These include the Security Productivity Initiative (SPI), Enterprise Development Grant (EDG), and the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG).

The SPI was introduced by Workforce Singapore specifically for security companies to support technology adoption, redesigning existing jobs and upskilling employees. Companies can apply for the EDG for financial support in driving innovation solutions which could contribute to increased efficiency and productivity in their workplace and the ability to differentiate themselves from competitors and in turn increase profit margins. Employers can also apply for the PSG which provides support for employers to tap on equipment and pre-approved IT solutions. Solutions specific to the security industry include surveillance and analytics as well as mobile-enabled patrol and incident management.

From our BSS, we found out that 65 percent of security companies that participated in our survey have utilised government digitalisation initiatives, compared to only 35 percent across all sectors. This further supports the view that security companies are active in driving the digitalisation agenda in their industry. Most cite that these initiatives are moderately or extremely relevant to their companies’ digitalisation needs. As more firms become aware of the options offered to them and take up such initiatives, this will continue to induce steady transformation in the industry.

Application rate for government digitalisation efforts and the relevance of government initiatives to company needs
Column of companies that applied for digital transformation initiatives

In Singapore, digitalisation in the security industry is still a work in progress. Yet, there are encouraging signs of our local firms stepping up to improve and encouraging their employees to do so as well.  With the right mindset and guidance, we may see the security industry achieve new heights and full digital transformation in the near future.

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This article is contributed by Syarah Ali Imran, Research Executive, IndSights Research.


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