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The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the world in many adverse ways, but while progress has slowed, it certainly hasn’t stopped. Urbanization continues to grow, and countries such as Singapore and China are putting more resources into their respective smart city initiatives.

The point is, progress continues. And an oft-overlooked fundamental requirement for all this advancement is perhaps more essential than ever: Security management for public safety.

Imperfect solutions

Unfortunately, smart security management solutions, which can provide better all-around accountability and efficiency in the security process, have seen low uptake to date.

“Currently, 60% of security companies still use a pen-and-paper solution,” says Talei Stewart, director and co-founder of security software-as-a-service company Security Risk, pointing out that it is a cumbersome way to manage operations. “Things get lost, and it’s hard to provide evidence and accountability to clients.”

Talei Stewart, director and co-founder of Security Risk

Dennis Hooijmaijers, chief technology officer at the startup, explains that another 35% use a wand-based solution, which has its fair share of flaws as well. “Hardware is required, and when they break, it can be really expensive [to replace them],” he says. “Additionally, there’s no real-time reporting. You’d have to wait till the end of the day to see if the patrols actually happened or not.”

In-house and customized solutions exist as well, but high costs present an obstacle to implementation, particularly for a lot of the smaller security companies. Accessibility issues also arise as a result of language and infrastructure barriers: Many security systems feature text-heavy interfaces that only those who are literate can understand and use. Additionally, they require good internet connectivity to run. These features are relative rarities in developing countries.

“We’ve lived and worked in countries where there’s different literacy and numeracy abilities, where there’s poor internet infrastructure, and where people have not had the same access to education or the financial capacity to pay for [security] products. We’ve really built our Security Risk Manager (SRM) platform with those things in mind,” says Stewart.

“We talk to many people and clients in and around the security industry to really get to understand their pain points and needs,” adds Leslie Tan, chief operating officer of the company. “That’s what inspires us to build a robust and accessible solution.”

Firsthand experience

The impetus for solving these issues and setting up a company to do so stems from a personal place for Stewart.

“Particularly as a woman, safety is often at the forefront of my mind. I’ve spent several years in countries where security was not always a given,” she says, sharing that she had experienced a break-in while living in the Solomon Islands with her family.

Thankfully, nobody was injured from the incident. But when Stewart found that there was no way for her to call the police or get in touch with a security company, it got her thinking about coming up with a solution.

In order to make sure that the product they would go on to build would be reliable and effective regardless of varying market conditions, Stewart and Hooijmaijers decided to put boots on the ground. They visited partners in Timor-Leste to really understand the challenges that security operations in developing countries face. This was where they realized that Security Risk’s platform had to be one that could reliably work in low-bandwidth environments and also be easy to use.

Dennis Hooijmaijers, CTO at Security Risk

They witnessed a demonstration where the system took a long time to boot up and also kept timing out due to the poor internet connectivity.

“[Our guide] then showed us that they were using a CCTV setup from China. All the security personnel knew was to press a sequence of buttons whenever a red light would start flashing,” Hooijmaijers says. “He had no idea what that did or how it worked – he just knew that if the red light flashed, he had to press these three buttons to restart the system.”

The problems exposed by the demo really highlighted the importance of accessibility, and they compelled Security Risk to invest in using intuitive iconography to make its products as non-language-dependent as possible. “We’ve also built this with scalability in mind: That it can be used in small countries like Timor-Leste, the Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea, but equally in markets like Australia or Singapore,” says Stewart.

Accessibility in terms of cost is also a built-in consideration in the company’s business model. “Unlike expensive in-house solutions, we use a software-as-a-service model,” says Tan. “This spreads the cost out to everybody, helping to make it more affordable.” He adds that Security Risk has a comprehensive onboarding program, a physical experience center in Singapore that allows security operators and businesses to experience firsthand how the products work, and a 24-hour customer support system that is being put in place – all practical examples of the company’s commitment to meeting client needs.

Leslie Tan, COO at Security Risk

Mission-driven objectivity and values

As a first order of business in setting up Security Risk, the founding team wanted to start with the culture and vision of the company. “We all came together and conducted a values workshop, and what emerged was this concept of ‘keeping people safe,’” says Stewart. “We then focused on hiring people whose values align with ours.”

Making the trip to Timor-Leste is, in itself, an illustration of the kinds of values and culture that the startup wishes to encourage. “I don’t actually have a background in technology. Before security, I was a psychologist and worked with children with disabilities,” Stewart says, also noting that Hooijmaijers comes from an academic background. “We have an open-minded, flat organization that encourages free communication and a diverse staff – 46% are women. This is something quite unique in the tech industry and certainly in the security field.”

Regarding the business viability of the company, Stewart says that the team is aiming for mass adoption. “Values, keeping people safe, being reliable, and making sure we build a product that people trust come first – and the money should flow from that, we’re hoping,” the director says.

The founders pride themselves on their emphasis on evidence-based decision-making and a willingness to keep challenging their own assumptions. They frequently check with domain experts and conduct rigorous quality assurance and feasibility tests with partner clients to make sure that SRM’s product development is on the right track.

“We take the responsibility of keeping people safe really seriously. If you’re using a security app, you want it to work. In fact, it needs to work; it cannot fail,” Stewart says.

This article was first published on techinasia.com and produced by Tech In Asia Studios, which connects brands to Asia’s tech community.

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