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TT Innovation: Thinking big, innovating, and tapping AI to expand overseas

First published in The Straits Times on 15 October 2021.

TTIT sales executive Betty Huang

A 29-year-old sales executive is behind the creation of a security system that measures your temperature, recognises your face and, among other things, scans your body.

And the company behind her is a small but bold homegrown outfit.

Ms Betty Huang works for TT Innovation and Technology (TTIT). She joined the company only two years ago and has no experience in research and development.

Yet she was picked to lead the development of a potentially game-changing security tech system.

Why? “Betty was the best fit in the company to lead the project because she handles the sale of many of the core products in the system, and is the most familiar with the factory and suppliers we needed to work with,” says TTIT director Thomas Ting, 59, who co-founded the company in 2014 with a partner.

His belief in empowering his people reflects the company’s culture. It encourages each individual to think big and develop beyond their job scope.

The result: TTIT has consistently punched well above the weight of its lean 22-member team, growing quickly and widening its reach globally.

The team believes in seizing opportunities and innovating, says Mr Ting, whose approach stems from his years of experience in the security technology industry starting in 1983, including in a multinational corporation and a small and medium enterprise (SME) which he founded in 1996 and sold in 2013.

TTIT director Thomas Ting

In Singapore, TTIT’s security systems help protect many well-known locations, including the Esplanade, Family Justice Courts, School of the Arts and Outram Community Hospital.

Overcoming hurdles

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit last year, TTIT seized the chance to capitalise on the demand for contactless temperature screening systems.

Ms Huang’s five-member team created a security screening system that combines a thermal camera, full-body scanner, metal detector, turnstile, facial recognition and other technologies to meet the health, safety and security needs of its clients.

TTIT temperature screening systems

Ms Huang and her team researched and developed the system in nine months, working with vendors supplying different components of the product.

There were setbacks, says Ms Huang. “Nobody had done this before, so there were some issues along the way.

“Our first design didn’t work because the turnstile, which has metal parts, was too close to the full-body scanner and was interfering with it.

“We also had to figure out how to incorporate the thermal camera, QR code scanner and other things so they were easily accessible.”

After two prototypes, the system was ready for its launch in July.

So far, the Indonesian government has installed six units of the new system, including one at its attorney-general’s office building in Jakarta. TTIT is also fielding enquiries from potential clients in other countries such as Thailand and New Zealand.

Ms Huang credits the success of the project to her team’s determination and Mr Ting’s support. “It was very stressful, but we came together and persisted.”

Mr Ting says of his people: “As we’re a smaller company that is still growing, our staff wear many hats. We also try to foster innovation by providing our employees with more opportunities to learn a variety of skills.”

For example, its salespersons not only look for customers but coordinate research and development projects with vendors.

Enterprise Singapore (ESG) supported TTIT through the SME Centre@ASME, which was set up by ESG and the Association of Small & Medium Enterprises (ASME).

SME Centre@ASME provides business assistance and drives capability upgrading among SMEs. For TTIT, this included advice on how to use existing inventory to create the system and help in evaluating vendors.

“Without the assistance (of SME Centre@ASME), we might have given up,” says Ms Huang.

Post-project, SME Centre@ASME has been connecting TTIT to potential overseas business partners, including in Indonesia and Thailand, and working with it to improve its business continuity plans.

It expects to grow its revenue by 10 per cent this year, compared with eight per cent last year.

Advancing with AI

TTIT is innovating further by using artificial intelligence (AI) to power its next generation of security products.

For example, it has developed prototypes of smart software systems to upgrade closed-circuit television systems for various security and healthcare applications.

One such system can be programmed to detect two different types of security events — such as a person holding a gun-like object, or of someone raising his hands — before alerting security guards, thus reducing or preventing false alarms.

TTIT principal consultant Tony Lugg, 61, says: “We could also program the system to ‘pop-up’ feeds where something is happening, so you wouldn’t need many screens in the first place. You would be policing by alarm management, rather than trying to police everything.”

He adds that such smart systems would be a boon to security guards tasked with monitoring banks of screens for long hours. It reduces the risk of missing incidents due to fatigue or distractions.

TTIT is also exploring other ideas, such as body-worn cameras embedded with facial recognition that can detect unauthorised people at a particular site and vibrate to alert guards.

To motivate his team, Mr Ting often tells his staff: “We can’t do the same things over and over again.

“We must look ahead and try things that are different from the norm. That’s the only way we can move forward. I have a very good team that is willing to take on the challenge.”

Growing together

Mr Ting has a piece of advice for SMEs aiming to make it big: Reach out, get help and collaborate.

“If you want to grow, seek help when you need it. Talk to government agencies and other businesses to see what you can work on together,” Mr Ting says.

Before TTIT started developing its slate of AI-powered security software systems, it sought help from the SME Centre@ASME to reach out to a range of experts.

These experts included specialists in car parking systems with expertise in smart monitoring systems that prevent drivers from evading parking fees.

“Companies, especially SMEs like ours, must always think out of the box, think of the next step, and think of how to change for the future in order to keep growing,” he says.

At a glance

  • Manpower: 22
  • Overseas markets: 5
  • Security solutions: 14