A security company might seem like an improbable early adopter of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. The sector has traditionally relied solely on security officers to watch over malls, banks, housing, public transport, and educational institutions. But that is changing as Singapore-based Certis takes a leading role in adopting AI solutions to transform its business model and provide innovative, analytics-based security services for its customers.
Walk down any street or enter most buildings in Singapore and you will see them: security cameras – so many, in fact, the challenge is to find enough people to monitor them.
That’s where AI solutions have come in. Image recognition technology allows a machine to learn to recognize almost anything — a shoe, a plant, a package, or even shoplifters or a group of people fighting. And, a machine can monitor tens of thousands of cameras at once, 24/7.
“It could be a case where a bag is left unattended. It could be a situation where there’s a fire or where people are venturing into areas which are unauthorized,” says Fuji Foo, Certis’ Vice President of Business Digitalization.
As machines take over the routine task of monitoring and identifying problems via cameras, security officers can focus on what they do best and what they are trained to do – being present to handle intense situations. Thanks to the company’s integrated security operations using cognitive services, Certis’ AI works hand-in-hand with security officers, enhancing their situational awareness, and making their jobs more engaging and rewarding.
“Our officers on the ground will focus on areas where human interactions are crucial or having a physical presence is important,” says Foo.
AI solutions have made Certis a technological leader by amplifying and complementing the capabilities of its security staff.
Addressing labor shortages, boosting productivity
By its very nature, the security business is labor-intensive. Certis itself has 34,000 employees globally, including 16,000 in Singapore where a labor crunch has prompted many security companies to look abroad for employees.
“The industry we are in is very manpower intensive. We are looking at various ways of achieving our outcomes with the adoption of technology as part of our operations to complement what our service staff does and to address staff shortages. Which is why as an organization we are very much driven by what we call Ops Tech. It’s more than just tech, it’s operations and technology. That is very key for us in driving all these creative innovative initiatives that we have within our organization,” says Foo. “AI is a way to address staffing shortages through improved productivity.”
A recent survey by Microsoft and IDC identified higher productivity as among the top five business drivers for AI adoption. It also suggested productivity gains could almost double over the next three years thanks to AI solutions.
“We started this journey two years ago. It’s not just about optimizing manpower or even cost for that matter, but it’s also about how we have to translate that value to a customer,” says Foo.
Certis now has very different conversations with its customers than it did just a few years ago when the discussions usually centered on the number of security officers.
“Essentially, these days our conversations are revolving around how we’re able to have a connected community, how we’re able to have a smart campus, and within the smart campus — for example an institute of higher learning — how are we able to ensure safety and security, connectivity as well as community. So that is the kind of value that we are able to bring together with AI now,” he said.
What does this mean in real life? One example is public transportation.
Certis plans to transform security at transport hubs, like bus interchanges, with an AI solution built on Azure Cognitive Services. For instance, it recognizes when passengers require help, by accurately identifying things like wheelchairs, crutches, and walking sticks. It then alerts service staff so they can give assistance when needed. Foo sees this a perfect use case of AI as “a way of serving our customers, as a way of working towards a more inclusive society.”
Through AI, he hopes to create more value for Certis’ customers. The incorporation of AI solutions will further assist customers to enhance commuting experience, achieve higher commuter satisfaction and foster community bonding.
“It’s actually the consumer-oriented companies, the retail companies and the production companies. All of them are having a very deep process of thinking through what it means and how technology actually impacts their businesses, their products,” Foo added.
A game changer for many industries
Certis is now considering its next steps, acknowledging that it cannot be complacent. Foo says that while Certis is currently an AI leader, its rivals are not far behind.
Soon, the company will be deploying Certis Concierge Robots at their customers’ sites. The patrolling robot, with facial recognition and natural language processing capabilities, can aid in providing directions, preventing intruders, and presenting information to name a few.
“It’s no longer something we feel will give us a competitive advantage, but if we don’t do it we feel it will give us a competitive disadvantage,” he said.