Toby Koh: Securing the future for Ademco

Security firm Ademco’s forward-looking planning and use of technology has made it more resilient to external shocks

As a major player in the security business in Singapore and the Asia Pacific region, Ademco Security Group has been at the forefront of adopting technology to stay ahead of its competition. Under the leadership of Group Managing Director Toby Koh, the company has pioneered a number of innovative security solutions while expanding its footprint in Asia.

Amid the current crisis, Ademco continues to look for new opportunities to grow even as it deals with immediate challenges. Mr Koh speaks to BiZQ about how his company has leveraged technology, and why it’s important for business owners to have a “healthy dose of paranoia”.

Toby Koh, Group Managing Director, Ademco (middle)

What are the challenges facing Ademco now as a result of the pandemic?

Everyone is affected by this crisis. The difference is we’re much prepared as compared to others for such a situation. We’ve had a business continuity plan for an outbreak for the past seven to eight years, and we review and rehearse our action plans annually. But the current situation is very dynamic and we’ve had to adapt quickly along the way.

The security industry is a very resilient vertical. In good times, the business will grow because newly built infrastructure and capital expenditure is amply budgeted. And in bad times, while new projects will slow down, the maintenance and monitoring of existing security systems will continue. Ademco’s central monitoring and command centre (CMCC) for security intrusion and fire alarm monitoring is a good source of recurring revenue as it provides us with the financial stability for both good and bad times.

How have you leveraged technology over the years to stay ahead of the competition?

When it comes to adopting new technology, the thought process comes from understanding what the problem statement is, regardless whether it is for internal use or for our customers. What do I need to resolve or improve? What gaps can I fill? It’s not always about adopting the latest technology; the latest may not be the best. More importantly, we need to understand what is available and look to deploy tech that is reliable and cost-effective.

When there were floods in Orchard Road many years ago, the water got into the telecommunications rooms. As a result, the phone lines, cellular and the Internet were down. As alarm signals are transmitted by phone lines, cellular, and now increasingly over the Internet, we identified a potential gap. We asked ourselves: ‘What if we have a true wireless network that can communicate even in emergencies; even in war situations where the enemy destroys all telco exchanges?’.

So we decided to build our own wireless packet data network that transmits alarm signals back to us. We are the only security company in Singapore to operate our own network with island-wide coverage and this doesn’t just benefit the customers, it has become a differentiating factor and unique value proposition for Ademco.

We also approached Grab a couple of years ago to include an emergency button on their app. If a passenger hits that button, it connects to our CMCC and they can instantly communicate with the support team. We will be able to determine who the passenger is and which vehicle he or she is in. This has helped to avert potential dangers and activate medical emergency resources.

What else have you done to build a more resilient and sustainable business?

We have sought to build the company’s resilience by having the right infrastructure and by diversifying the business with varied product and service offerings, across different industries and geographies. We also ensure that our supply chain is not being dependent on just one single source.

We have also been using Cloud applications since 2009. So when COVID-19 hit, most of our platforms were already on the Cloud and we didn’t need to scramble to upgrade our digital infrastructure.

It’s important for businesses to leverage their existing technology and embark on product and market diversification to become more resilient.

Are there any opportunities that have emerged for Ademco during this challenging period?

As many companies are currently grappling with wage costs, we have sought to offer our customers solutions to help them mitigate cost issues as much as possible. By using our remote monitoring solutions and other security technology solutions, companies would be able to free up their staff to take on higher-value work and help professionalise the role of the security officer.

What advice do you have for business leaders during this time of crisis?

I would encourage leaders to not to be self-defeating. There are things you can do even in a crisis as long as you have a good strategy. Mike Tyson said that ‘everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face’, and I think that’s true. Businesses often start to scramble when hit with a crisis.

I think it’s good to have a healthy dose of paranoia, so that you can identify blind spots and areas that might affect the business.

What are your plans for the business going forward?

We are looking at the managed service model, where we can help secure our clients’ sites from our Command Center remotely. It is also logical that we try to replicate this model outside of Singapore.

Hence, we will continue to grow our footprint in the region. Most of our entities outside of Singapore are joint ventures with local partners. I must emphasise that finding the right partner is extremely important. The business has suffered in the past because we did not have good partners. We have since learnt our lesson.

We are also looking to invest in blockchain technology. We believe that blockchain will be the cornerstone of the security industry in time to come.