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How Certis is digitising security operations

Certis has developed more than 50 applications in a year to help employees do their jobs better and has set up an AI centre to tap the potential of robotics and video analytics in security

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck Singapore, Certis was caught off-guard as it did not have a system in place to monitor the temperatures of its 16,000-strong workforce.

The supplier of armed security officers to government organisations and businesses quickly dialled up its software development efforts and managed to pull together an application within two weeks for employees to record their temperatures and make health declarations.

All the information is collated on a dashboard and monitored daily, so that Certis can enforce health and safety protocols and monitor staff who may be at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19, according to Ng Wai Kit, senior vice-president for corporate development and chief security officer at Certis.

Ng said the use of the application had been extended to resource partners and was now being used to monitor staff who had returned to Singapore via green lane schemes that allow essential travel between Singapore and a handful of countries.

That Certis has been able to respond quickly to the pandemic was the result of its digital transformation efforts that started a few years ago when it set up a digital transformation committee, in which its group CEO plays an active role.

Ng said over the course of a year, Certis had developed more than 50 applications, including those that enable employees to apply for leave and submit claims. It is also using a robotic process automation tool to automate some backroom functions.

Certis builds its software using OutSystems’ low-code development platform, which lets professional and citizen developers build applications more quickly by alleviating them of the need to write code line by line. This has also helped Certis speed up its application development processes and contributed to its pandemic response efforts.

Even as Certis has been able to move quickly in digital transformation amid the pandemic, Ng admitted that there had been challenges along the way. For one thing, not every employee in the company’s diverse workforce is a digital native and there are some who take a while to embrace technology.

“We have people who are in their 20s through to their 60s and 70s, and we have people who understand English perfectly and those who don’t,” said Ng. “There are people with smartphones and those without smartphones, and some of those with smartphones do not have data plans.”

To get employees up to speed with the use of its applications, Certis rolled out training initiatives that cater to different learning needs. For example, while some employees could follow online tutorials, others would need more hand-holding in person, said Ng.

A common strategy to get employee buy-in on technology initiatives is to demonstrate how a technology will help workers in their jobs. To that, Ng said information that employees require in the field to perform their jobs is now available at their fingertips.

“For example, when a fire alarm rings and it turns out to be a false alarm, they will need to press the correct buttons to reset the fire alarm panel. Instead of looking for a hard copy file stored in the office for that information, they can just go to the smartphone.”

Such technology-enabled productivity improvements are necessary in an industry that is facing a manpower crunch along with rising wages.

In response, Certis came up with a security service called Security+, which applies technology to integrate and orchestrate multi-service digital operations that include guest services, integrated facilities management or other critical, non-core services.

At Jewel Changi Airport where Security+ has been rolled out, Certis has deployed 5,000 sensors, 12 different systems and 700 video surveillance cameras, orchestrated through a command centre manned by under 10 people. It also provides security and guest concierge services in the airport mall, and has even deployed a robot to look out for illegal parking.

Read more about digital transformation in ASEAN

Looking ahead, Ng said security professionals would need to be retrained and redeployed in new roles to remain relevant in an industry that is increasingly tapping technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to beef up security operations.

Noting that AI has had many false starts, Ng said the technology has started to prove its worth in recent years. To tap its benefits, Certis has set up a centre of applied intelligence staffed by AI researchers from Singapore universities and elsewhere.

Some of the centre’s work has already been commercialised. These include video analytics solutions that can be used to detect smoking in areas where smoking is prohibited, and to identify crowds for public safety.

There are also security robots that patrol public spaces. Ng said the jury was still out on whether security robots would replace human security officers, especially if the robots were armed. “There are many hurdles to cross – and many are not technical – before you will do something like that,” he said.

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